U.S. in Afghanistan: a Perpetual Motion Machine for the Generation of Grief

Afghans voteHow does our presence in Afghanistan harm it as well as the United States? Let us count the ways. On second thought, they’re too numerous to catalog. We’ll just cite some of the lesser-known examples instead.

For instance, last Sunday in the New York Times, Nicholas Kristof wrote of having tea in Kabul with a woman named “Soora Stoda, who runs a logistics company serving the American military. [She] despises the Taliban and shudders as she remembers her terror as a seventh grader when the Taliban stormed her secret school for girls. . . . Yet Ms. Stoda, like all contractors, has to pay off the Taliban directly or indirectly to work in insecure areas. [For instance, last year] she had a $200,000 contract to transport laptop computers to the American military in Kandahar. The Taliban seized the shipment, and she says she had to pay $150,000 to get it released.”

Kristof concludes:

With the money they milk from the United States, the Taliban hire more fighters. One security expert here did the math for me. A single American soldier in Helmand Province, he estimated, causes enough money to leak to the Taliban to recruit another 10 fighters trying to kill that American.

No one writes more powerfully about how such Americans are killed and maimed in Afghanistan than Brian Mockenhaupt in his November Atlantic piece The Last Patrol. Along with wrenching readers’ guts as U.S. soldiers fall in action, he makes us feel other afflictions to which they’re subject. Of the squad he covered, he writes:

They moved east through a long, dense orchard south of the compound . . . the temperature now well over 100 degrees. Already some of the new soldiers, unconditioned to the heat, terrain, and weight of their gear, were falling behind. . . . A new soldier, underhydrated and overheated, passed out. Then another. . . . The two soldiers were unconscious—one had stopped breathing—and if their temperatures rose much more, their brains would bake. [Then] a third heat casualty. The soldier lay on the ground and moaned, his muscles racked by heat cramps. . . . Soon after, a fourth 101st soldier collapsed. . . . But the situation at the compound wasn’t much better. Two soldiers brought another man, barely conscious from heatstroke, into the dirt-floored room being used as an aid station. . . . Two more 101st soldiers were brought in, dazed and dehydrated.

Even the experienced soldiers suffered.

Pfc. Larry Nichols pitched a grenade to McDaniel, who was so exhausted from running that he had trouble pulling the pin. . . . The group stumbled across the road and into the next orchard. . . . Luke took point. Jackson, his muscles weak from dehydration, nearly collapsed. McDaniel vomited and kept running.

Why are we putting our young people through this again? Oh yeah, to institute, among other things, democracy in Afghanistan to fortify it against the incursions of Islamic insurents. Afghans are not exactly thrilled with the Taliban, but, beside abject fear of them — and even if civilian casualties caused by U.S. and NATO forces didn’t turn them against us — their priorities and values prevent them from aligning themselves with us.

Craig S. Barnes was an attorney as well as a mediator who once negotiated nuclear issues with Russia’s Academy of Sciences and facilitated talks in the war between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Theses days he hosts a radio show called Our Times on KSFR in New Mexico. What follows is from a transcript of the podcast of a speech he gave.

Late in September . . . I was in Chicago for four days participating in a seminar for nearly 60 Afghan Fulbright students who have been brought here to study in the United States. . . . . The Fulbrighters were asked to form groups of five or six and select values of their home culture from a stack of cards upon each of which was written a value. [Both young men and] women offered the following five: religion and spirituality, developing relationships, tradition, extended family, and reputation. Nothing was said by them about advancement, education, speed, prosperity or independence.

Then the groups were asked to identify the bottom five of the values that had been on the cards. They selected: equality, individual rights, law and order, privacy, self as individuals.

The leader of the workshop then provided us a typed page of values drawn from research about Americans. Among those top American values were: equality, privacy, individual rights, law and order, freedom.

Barnes’s conclusion may be an understatement, but it certainly bears repeating: “The conflict in Afghanistan today is therefore in some sense defined by these two poles.”

In other words, two ships passing in the night. Democracy is an abstraction to most Afghans, elections a curiousity.