A pensive cadet listens as President Barack Obama speaks about the war in Afghanistan at the United States Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2009.
A pensive cadet listens as President Barack Obama speaks about the war in Afghanistan at the United States Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2009. Charles Dharapak/AP
What was that again? Why must we send another 30,000 American soldiers to Afghanistan? Can you tell me? Or start to take them out again in 2011? Couldn't they just stay home? (Oh, right. Here, they have no jobs.) The big speech, of course, addressed theoretical quibbles of boys in think tanks, boys inside the beltway. I guess I've spent too much time in Afghanistan. All I could hear was Karzai laughing up the wide sleeve of his chapan. Afghan and American profiteers will do as they please; ordinary Afghans and Americans, too, in our own way, will suffer. Just as the surge in Iraq cleansed Baghdad of Sunni citizens, this surge may decimate Afghan Pashtuns. Who knows how many of our own young people we'll lose? This is truly a tragic mistake. But in the end, much poorer and no wiser, we'll say we won. Isn't that all that matters?
President Obama said he's not against all wars, only dumb ones. The war in Afghanistan is now, tragically, a dumb war.
We have no reasonable goal. To deny al-Qaida a base in Afghanistan? What does al-Qaida care, when it has cells all over the world?
We support a puppet government as contemptuous of women, democracy and human rights as the Taliban, and much more corrupt. We declare it legitimate, though Afghans know it's not.
We hand over "development aid" to the U.S. military and corrupt American for-profit private contractors, so it doesn't reach ordinary Afghans. Then we blame Karzai for not aiding citizens.
We focus public discussion exclusively on military matters — the McChrystal plan — although Afghanistan's problems of poverty, unemployment, illiteracy, malnourishment, ill health, infant and maternal death, government corruption, Islamist extremism and institutionalized misogyny can only be made worse by war.
We pin our hopes on such dubious military "strategies" tested in Iraq (a far different country) as bribing the enemy to shoot their cousins instead of us.
We see an exit in the fabulously expensive project of training (and paying indefinitely) an unsustainable 400,000-man Afghan National Security Force — with no guarantee they'll fight on the right side, or fight at all.
We ask men and women of the U.S. military to put their lives on the line for this enterprise while we put flags and yellow ribbons on our cars.
Courtesy of Ann Jones
Ann Jones is a correspondent for The Nation and author of Kabul in Winter: Life Without Peace in Afghanistan. She has done humanitarian work with women in Afghanistan since 2002.
Writer/photographer Ann Jones is a correspondent for The Nation and author of Kabul in Winter: Life Without Peace in Afghanistan. She has done humanitarian work with women in Afghanistan since 2002. Courtesy of Ann Jones
The historical moment to consolidate victory over the Taliban regime by establishing good government, aiding the Afghan people and stabilizing the country came and went in 2002-2004. It has not come again.
So when the president addresses the nation, I'd like him to speak not from West Point but from his living room, in the presence of his wife and daughters, and say something like this:
"Sorry, folks, but I didn't make this mess, and I won't send any more troops into it. The best I can do is draw our soldiers back to protect the cities for a little while longer and give Afghans some time to get their house in order before I bring all our troops home."
If, instead, Obama announces plans to send more troops, as it seems he will, he won't be finishing an old war; he'll be starting another one. And whatever the final outcome, the cost of his war — in soldiers' lives and civilian casualties, our national treasure, our moral standing in the world, and the further deterioration of our life and our rights here at home — will be another unexpected victory for al-Qaida.
Sad proof that even a supposedly anti-dumb-war president, elected to make "change" at home and abroad, can be caught up in the military-industrial-congressional complex President (and Gen.) Dwight D. Eisenhower warned us against. The hawks and the war profiteers will have won the battle of ideology here at home; and war, which the U.S. has prosecuted overtly and covertly almost continually since 1941 — the long, limitless war fought by the unfortunate many to defend the powerful, profiting few — will take its place openly as our normal American way of life.
Writer/photographer Ann Jones is a correspondent for The Nation and author of Kabul in Winter: Life Without Peace in Afghanistan. She has done humanitarian work with women in Afghanistan since 2002.