Saw this great edition of Frontline last night on the war in Afghanistan, not sure I’ve got the right link here to the right part of the series, but I’m guessing they are all pretty eye-opening and enlightening:
and this just fed into this recently resurgent conviction of mine–as the U.S. government struggles to pay its bills, educate and keep its population healthy, maintain a working spaceship, etc.–that we have zero business in Iraq and Afghanistan. And I feel like that’s hardly part of the debate anymore, like it’s water under the bridge or something that we went into Iraq under false pretenses or that we’ve turned Afghanistan upside down for a guy who we ended up catching in Pakistan. But is it really water under the bridge or does it have everything to do with how we will never “win” in either country?!
In Washington they still seem to be talking about “winning hearts and minds” and “nation-building” — basically getting the Iraqi or Afghani governments to a point where they can maintain peace and stability and prevent safe havens for Al Qaeda or the Taliban or Rupert Murdoch. If we think about that for more than the minute we usually spend on the news while fighting traffic or making mac and cheese for the hundredth time this year, I think we’d quickly understand what a ridiculous task our elected leaders have set for our armed forces. The *major* obstacle we face is that of our credibility, is it not? I think this is most clearly the case in Iraq where we invaded a country because our faulty intelligence said they had weapons of mass destruction, which by the way, seemed to be a new term conveniently created to build the case for war. How, I ask you, perhaps not as hyped up on coffee milk at the moment as I am, can we expect an entire country of people to respect and follow the path proscribed by a government and army who apparently have no right nor reason to be there? Remember we never found the WMD? We did find Saddam Hussein hiding in a hole in the ground, which was embarrassing for all of us. Makes this all worth it, no? We found a guy in a hole. We tore his statue down. Now, what to do about all these crazy people speaking a crazy language around us? What, there are different groups that don’t like each other? I can’t pronounce that. Wow it’s hot. Let’s set up Fort Drumstick with some AC on the double. Get me a cheeseburger, then we’ll sort this mess out (flash forward many years to now).
As for the argument of “Well, what’s done is done, now we owe it to the Iraqis to set up a stable government and prevent civil war, etc.” I would ask this: do we ask murderers, burglars and other criminals to stick around until they’ve made things right with their victims? No, they are removed from the situation and locked safely away because they forfeited their rights and freedoms when they took away those of others. Now I know that a war between countries is a bit more complicated than that, but I do think in Iraq at least the U.S. has forfeited its right to be a part of the solution or to do anything really in that country due to the chaos, violence and deaths that our unnecessary war has created there for the past 8 years and for years to come. Remember Abu Ghraib? If you try to imagine you’re an Iraqi for a moment, and some foreign army invaded your country and town for no apparent reason and stayed there for nearly a decade sometimes making things better, often making things worse… wouldn’t you prefer to follow the lead of anyone but them?
Afghanistan might be a bit different in that we were ostensibly hunting down the perpetrator of a horrible crime against thousands of people in our country. But I think the Frontline piece last night illustrated the point I was clumsily making just above — that the U.S. army has a limited understanding of the people, places and culture and very little credibility, and how can we really expect the Afghani people to put their trust and literally their lives on the line for a government and system propped up by the U.S.? It’s crazy to think that’s possible! And yet our President and elected leaders and generals all speak like it is. Pragmatists will say they have to speak like there is still hope given our investment of time and resources and the sacrifices so many families have made. It’s very sad if we decide lives have been given unnecessarily here, but it’s more sad to keep piling up the lives lost, no? And it’s more sad to not question these policies and perhaps admit and learn from our mistakes. It’s more sad to be slowly but surely dismantling the credibility of the United States of America worldwide not to mention within our own country.
Patriotism is about serving and celebrating the best of what your country stands for — but it’s also about paying attention and caring enough to speak up when you fear the country’s made a misstep. Or is heading in the wrong direction. With every passing year I’m more and more proud of the fact that we stood protesting on street corners in Baltimore in 2003 when the U.S. was deciding to start a war with Iraq. We held signs for the rushhour commuters saying War is Not the Answer and so on. We had stuff thrown at us and as many people yelled angrily at us as those who honked their support. People seemed to be most upset when we held an American flag amidst our protest signs. I’m sure they feel the same way now, and I’m sad for those who refuse to question any U.S. decisions related to war or the military. I think stopping both wars immediately would do a great deal to solve our federal budget problems and problems as a country as a whole. I would be worried about what more havoc may lie in store for Iraqis and Afghanis — but maybe there are some other countries in the region or world who could help prevent armageddon over there? Whoever might be in charge next in those places will certainly have more credibility than we do, and hopefully a better chance at bringing peace to these long suffering people.