Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Hopeless in Afghanistan!

I’ve been reading “The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor,” by Jake Tapper.  It’s an unsparing, brutal tale about what happened in northeast Afghanistan when soldiers were told to hold and defend an indefensible hellhole.  These brave men paid a horrific price in a misguided, pigheaded attempt to win an unwinnable war.  They never should have been there in the first place.

The story begins in 2006, when Iraq was the focus of the U.S. military.  We were in Afghanistan almost as an afterthought – under equipped and undermanned.  It would have been nice if, when Iraq wound down and more resources and attention were directed at Afghanistan, common sense had prevailed.  But it didn’t.  It was still a “We’re going to win this thing no matter what it takes,” attitude, at least on the part of the civilian and military leadership who were nowhere near where the battles were being fought.  Regrettably, it was the soldiers on the ground who would be counted on to do the winning.

Yesterday, I came across an article in The New Republic titled “The Last Men.”  Even though it is a story happening years later than “The Outpost,” it is the same story.  Change a few names and villages and it could be a chapter in “The Outpost.”  Nothing has changed.  Nothing has been learned.  It takes a unique form of American arrogance to ignore thousands of years of history about what happens to foreigners in Afghanistan.  The Persians couldn’t win.  Alexander couldn’t win.  Nor could the Sassanids or the Kushans or (later) the Mongols or the British or the Soviets.  Like it or not, we aren’t going to be the first.

“The Last Men” ends on a plaintive note.  Luke Mogelson, who wrote the piece, is talking with one of his heroes, a Major Roy Rogers, who has tried his best to mentor Afghan police and soldiers to prepare them for the U.S. withdrawal.  Victory for us would be to have the good guys prevail after we leave.  He tells Rogers that the Americans had pulled out of the area in which Rogers had served.  “They can’t survive there on their own,” Rogers said.  “They absolutely cannot survive.”

If that were true, Mogelson asks him, what had it all been for?  “I’m a little confused by it,” Rogers said.

And that sums it up.  When we think about it at all, we are confused.  These days most of the talk is about fiscal cliffs and debt ceilings and gun control.  Not much is said about Afghanistan.  Yet, ostensibly on our behalf, a few of us continue to carry the load – and pay the price – for a hopeless cause.  It is heartbreaking.


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