Pacifying Afghanistan: a dangerous dream
Does President Obama realize the difficulty of the task faced by America’s young men and women there?
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Do they understand that even more of our young men and women would be charged with pacifying a savage mountainous land the size of Texas? One where nearly every male older than 8 stands willing to die in the fight against foreign occupiers?
Even McChrystal doesn't guarantee victory over Taliban insurgents, let alone predict how many decades would be required to win.
"Decades" is a long time for an American public that watched its troops beat back both Nazi Germany and imperial Japan in just four years. Americans turned against the war in Vietnam as the years wore on. The war in Afghanistan is now in Year 8.
As a reporter I have been to Afghanistan, twice with Soviet troops in the mid-1980s and several times in 2001 and 2002 with the Americans. One thing Afghans do well is fight to the death.
I recall a grizzled mujahideen warrior telling me of his admiration for the skill and bravery of Soviet troops. He was wearing a brass hammer and sickle belt buckle taken from a Russian soldier. He asked me if I thought "there was any hope" for his country.
"No" I replied. "Afghanistan is ever at war with itself and is awash in guns."
Fingering his graying beard, clutching his Kalashnikov rifle, the warrior said sadly, "In Afghanistan, a man's business has a lot to do with killing other people."
It's not much of an exaggeration to say that the Afghan countryside is frozen in a time warp. The clock seemingly stopped 700 years ago. It's a nation in name only. For much of his presidency, Hamid Karzai has been little more than mayor of Kabul.
The August election was declared a fraud by international observers, but theft in Afghanistan is not confined to polling places. Corruption is a national disease.
An Afghan doctor told me that medical students are notorious for robbing graves, removing bones for academic study. Often, they bribe the village elder to look the other way. There's also a profit to be made digging up burial shawls and reselling them.
Most educated Afghans have fled, leaving the population in a state of medieval-era illiteracy. Pro-war figures in the US talk about reaching benchmarks for democratic progress, such as the presidential elections this year, which, after considerable dispute, resulted in President Karzai's reelection. But ballots monitored by US troops and international observers don't mean much in a society where so many struggle to sign their own name.