Leaving Afghanistan after two decades

“It’s hard to deny the evidence in front of you.” – General Mike Mullen

AfghanistanI wrote what I thought about the US leaving Afghanistan back in May. But if I noted what I felt about the country ENTERING the war, I don’t recall. I thought it was…inevitable. If it had been tied to the limited mission of capturing Bin Laden and his accomplices, that’d be “reasonable.”

Here’s the really weird thing about our totally unnecessary war in Iraq – which I’ve documented often in this blog – including here and here and here and a bunch of other places. When we entered the Iraq war, it was as though it slipped the collective minds that we were in Afghanistan.

I’m not just talking about the American people. The US government under W was sharing its assessment of its “success” in Iraq but saying relatively little about Afghanistan. Did they… forget?

Anyway, I was going to write something more about the end game in Afghanistan, but all I could find was a quote from the movie The Princess Bride: “You fell victim to one of the classic blunders! The most famous of which is ‘never get involved in a land war in Asia.'”

And a quote that Mark Evanier cited: “A friend of mine spent several years in Afghanistan working as a doctor attached to the U.S. forces. He told me some pretty harrowing tales about his tour o’ duty here but the thing I remember most is when he said, ‘Staying there is a disaster. Leaving there would be a disaster. Nothing about the country is not a disaster.’ I think that’s proving to be the case.”

I agree with much of is linked to here, even when they occasionally contradict each other.

Linkage

Bloomberg: Why Both Russians and Americans Got Nowhere in Afghanistan. If you’re not going anywhere no matter what happens, or what price you’re forced to pay, you can outlast superpowers. (You may recall that the US and other Western countries boycotted the Moscow Olympics in 1980 because of the Soviet incursion.) On one of the news programs recently, a general suggested that American hubris was the reason the US thought it would succeed when the USSR failed.

Alan Singer in Daily Kos: “Nation Building” Fails in Afghanistan

Nation of Change: Why did a military superpower fail in Afghanistan? This external approach, based on military occupation, to promote democracy in occupied foreign countries was “doomed to fail.”

Daniel Larison: Biden’s Prudent Decision to Withdraw from Afghanistan. It doesn’t say much for our political culture that it takes far more political courage to end a pointless war than it does to start one.

Matthew Yglesias. Biden (and Trump) did the right thing on Afghanistan
The war was lost long ago — if it was ever winnable.

Fred Kaplan of Slate: Trump’s New Big Lie: Afghanistan. Biden has handled the withdrawal very badly. That doesn’t mean Trump would have done better.

Seth Meyers

The “liberal press”?

Weekly Sift: Afghanistan, Biden, and the Media. “What struck me about that discussion, though, was how one-sided it was. Even ordinarily liberal MSNBC shows, or newspaper outlets like the Times and the Post, were unified in their denunciation of the Biden administration and its plan to withdraw our troops. I haven’t seen that level of unanimity since the post-911 era, when the Iraq and Afghanistan wars started. A lot of bad ideas sneaked into the discussion around that time, and didn’t get criticized because there was no room for criticism.”

Fred Kaplan in Slate: A Top U.S. Military Officer Finally Admits He Was Wrong About Afghanistan

The Atlantic: What I Learned While Eavesdropping on the Taliban

Cartoon: Leaving Afghanistan.

Foreign Policy: Two Talibans Are Competing for Afghanistan. The gap between the group’s international leadership and its rank-and-file fighters has never been wider. (This is why the messaging about Taliban 2.0 seems inconsistent.)

Afar: The Organizations Aiding Afghans and How Americans Can Help

Withdrawal from Afghanistan

forever war

AfghanistanThe Weekly Sift looked at both sides of the debate regarding the planned US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan by September 11, 2021.

“Pro: Leaving saves American lives and resources and gives our military more flexibility to confront challenges more central to our well-being… Con: Without us, the Afghan government will probably fall to the Taliban…

“But one argument has been conspicuous by its absence: If we stay for six more months, or a year, or three years, Afghan democracy will stabilize, the Afghan Army will finally have enough training, and the government we leave behind in Kabul will be able to sustain itself.”

He is siding with Joe Biden on this. “Whatever our original intentions might have been, by now, it’s clear that we’re not building a secular, democratic, pro-Western government that will someday be strong enough to stand on its own.

“There’s a lesson here, and it’s the same lesson we should have learned from Vietnam: To install a new form of government in a country, people on the ground have to be buying what you’re selling.”

For two decades, part of the rationale for the “forever war” was so that the 2300 US soldiers who died in Afganistan will not have “died in vain.”

“Over the last two decades, hundreds of thousands of American troops have served in Afghanistan — most of them honorably and some heroically. It is a shame that their effort and sacrifice have not produced a lasting result that our nation can point to with pride. But more effort and sacrifice will not redeem what bad policy has already wasted. We need to leave.”

Debacle

Chris Hedges in Common Dreams is harsher. He calls it The Collapse of the American Empire. “War…when, as in Afghanistan, there is no vision at all, descends into a quagmire.”

I remember quite well when the war in Afghanistan began. My wife and I, reeling from 9/11 and the constant news about the same, ended up at a bed-and-breakfast in Cherry Valley, about an hour west of Albany, in early October.

The best thing about planning the trip was that there was no television. We’d be news-free! This turned out not to be the case. A radio from an adjoining room blared the news of the start of the Afghanistan war. I knew it was coming, and I even understood the limited intention to root out bin Laden and al-Qaeda from that country.

Then, the Afghanistan war seemed almost forgotten for a time as the US launched into battle in Iraq, complete with a bogus rationale.

Nine years after bin Laden’s death, in Pakistan, no less, and with no US troop deaths in the past year or so, it’s time to move on. Whether we ACTUALLY do that is subject to the interpretation of what “leave” means.

Too soon, Boston Globe, too soon

1861, 1919, 1932, 1968, 2020

too soon

The Boston Globe has attempted to make us feel better about 2020. “The news that the president himself had contracted the coronavirus, just days after the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg triggered a high-stakes Supreme Court battle in the middle of a global pandemic that has upended nearly every aspect of modern life…

“‘Is this the most deranged year ever to occur in American history because it certainly feels that way?’ The story was published on October 6. Too soon. There were 12 full weeks of crazy to come, including a sure-to-be-contentious election that won’t be settled on November 4, and maybe not by November 10.

For instance, one of the other contenders is 1861, “the year that the country fractured into the bloody Civil War… The beginning of the war was partly the result of the tumultuous 1860 election… It is encouraging that this year the United States has not plunged into literal war with itself — yet.” Give it time. External war, while still going on, seems less in the forefront than the potential for domestic disturbances.

“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.” The Second Coming by poet William Butler Yeats, 1919 

In 1919, “the country had just emerged from a gruesome global war, and a deadly flu pandemic was killing millions of people around the world. President Woodrow Wilson suffered a severe stroke and became incapacitated…” 2020 pandemic: check.

“In the same year, white citizens led a series of racial pogroms that decimated Black communities, partly in response to Black soldiers’ demands for equality after fighting for American democracy abroad.” A different version of racial strife is taking place this year.

The Great Depression

By 1932, “the Great Depression had reached its peak, with about a quarter of Americans out of work and virtually no federal aid. Families were losing their homes and desperate for food. It was an election year, with Franklin D. Roosevelt running against Herbert Hoover.

“There was also climate disaster happening… In the Dust Bowl, severe drought caused farmlands to literally blow away, killing people and crops and leading to massive migrations.” We have in 2020 record wildfires in the West, hurricanes in the Southeast.

“Against that backdrop, extremism was on the rise worldwide. The Nazi Party became the strongest party in the German government in July elections.” Extremism around the world – we have that in 2020.

And of course, 1968, which featured the Vietnam War raging, including grave atrocities. Student protests erupted across the country. The assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy dashed the sense of hope.

Here’s the real question

So does this mean that if we get a really sucky year every once in a while we’ll be inoculated for a while? History is mixed. Another year of civil war in 1862. Statistical somewhat less violence against black people plus Women’s suffrage in 1920.

The New Deal started in 1933 under FDR, even as the markers for World War II began to build. And I remember 1969 as nearly as contentious as 1968, with Nixon in the White House rather than LBJ, but we went to the moon.

Tell me that 2021 will be better. Lie if necessary. Oh, and you still have until the end of the month to complete the decennial Census. So do the damn  Census. And vote, FCOL. I’m thinking in-person but early, the week before November 3. 2020 may suck, but I’m trying my best…

 

A global ceasefire: a way to remember

blind, deluded militarism

global ceasefireSeveral years ago, I came across a list of American Military Deaths in the Iraq war since May 1st, 2003. Though the list hasn’t been updated since early 2012, and the count since mid-2016, it’s still meaningful. This guy from North Carolina was killed by an improvised explosive device. That guy from Texas died from “wounds suffered when enemy forces attacked his unit with small-arms fire.”

There is something very powerful about seeing the specifics. These people who died aren’t just numbers. They are spouses, siblings, sons, and daughters. My opposition to that war, from before the beginning is well-documented in this blog.

What happens next?

Will the current regime participate in a global ceasefire or more lost wars? As the subtitle of the article reads: “Like his predecessors from Truman to Obama, Trump has been caught in the trap of America’s blind, deluded militarism.”

“Undercover of highly publicized redeployments of small numbers of troops from a few isolated bases in Syria and Iraq, Trump has actually expanded U.S. bases and deployed at least 14,000 more U.S. troops to the greater Middle East, even after the U.S. bombing and artillery campaigns that destroyed Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria ended in 2017. Under the U.S. agreement with the Taliban, Trump has finally agreed to withdraw 4,400 troops from Afghanistan by July, still leaving at least 8,600 behind to conduct airstrikes, ‘kill or capture’ raids and an even more isolated and beleaguered military occupation.

“Now a compelling call by U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres for a global ceasefire during the Covid-19 pandemic has given Trump a chance to gracefully deescalate his unwinnable wars – if indeed he really wants to.” I assume it’s harder to fight a war when your hands are slippery from hand soap.

There was a recent 60 Minutes report about the military during the pandemic. Exercises were canceled. Extra precautions were taken not to infect servicepeople. Fighting an “unseen enemy” has put the brakes on many activities. Perhaps it is a sign of what we should do going forward.

Or not.

The lasting trauma of war

avoiding protracted war in the first place

Normandy landingI never saw the movie Saving Private Ryan. Didn’t think seeing the apparently realistic depiction of hundreds of soldiers being shot during the D-Day action at Normandy was something I wanted to experience.

Even 75 years after D-Day, we’re still learning about the campaign. Classified maps and documents reveal the careful planning that went into the invasion, “as Allied commanders orchestrated how to begin liberating Europe from Nazi tyranny.”

Not incidentally, today, members of the Albany (NY HS) Marching Falcons marched along Omaha Beach from Vierville-sur-Mer to St. Laurent-sur-Mer, two towns liberated during the Normandy invasion by American and Allied forces. They’ll also participate in the wreath-laying ceremony at the Normandy American cemetery.

Most World War II veterans didn’t talk about the war, at least not in their twenties or thirties or forties or fifties. But as they got older, some of them were willing to share their stories, no matter how gruesome and devastating. The storytelling is more important than ever. Out of 16 million US veterans of WWII, fewer than a half million were still alive in 2018, with about 348 dying each day.

Meanwhile, for our more recent veterans, Civilians Are Blind To The Lasting Trauma Of War. “Shortly before Memorial Day weekend, the U.S. Army posed a broad question to veterans, prodding them to talk about how serving America ‘impacted’ their lives. [They]…offered a stream of stories that comprise a very different picture [than expected]: suicide, depression, PTSD, poverty, drug addiction, living with physical disabilities and a sense of abandonment from the Army itself.”

There are ways that folks can give back to veterans. The harder task would be finding Ways You Can Support a Veteran Living With PTSD. Veterans have a suicide rate 50% higher than the general population.

“In recent decades, we’ve seen a widening experiential divide between civilians and soldiers in American life. The U.S. has one of the largest all-volunteer armies in the world, and while that may sound good on paper, it’s really not.

“Volunteerism means that military service is vulnerable to stratification by class and race.” Those distinctions, of course, also existed during the draft for the Vietnam war, but the broader point remains true.

“Addressing war’s lasting trauma — and avoiding protracted war in the first place — should be a defining issue in politics right now.”