When listening to U.S. officials, military and civilian, discuss the current situation and the outlook for Afghanistan, one could be forgiven for thinking about the ROTC student played by Kevin Bacon in the climactic scene of “Animal House,” shouting “Remain calm, all is well,” as mayhem swirls around him.
One might say that U.S. officials view Afghanistan through rose-colored glasses. Actually, it seems more appropriate to say they view the country through Ray Charles’ glasses.
Despite a mountain of evidence to the contrary, American generals and the Obama administration seem to think that if they keep reassuring us (themselves?) about Afghanistan, it will all work out. History and common sense – and daily news dispatches out of that country – suggest they are wrong.
Just a few reports from the past couple of weeks:
• Even though the Taliban are no longer in control of the country, and despite initial advances in rights for women in Afghanistan, we now learn, from an Associated Press report, that hundreds of women are currently jailed for such “moral crimes” as “leaving their husbands, refusing to accept a marriage arranged by their parents, or choosing to leave their parents’ home with a man of their choice.”
• The New York Times reported that tens of millions in U.S. funds, in cash, was delivered by the CIA to the offices of Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai, where it reportedly was doled out as bribes or to curry favor with Afghan warlords.
• According to an Associated Press report, Afghans still cannot debate religion or question Islamic teachings without fear of punishment.
• And hardly a day goes by that we don’t receive news of deadly insurgent attacks, sometimes resulting in the deaths of American servicemen and women.
None of this has stopped American officials from touting the progress made in Afghanistan and advising that Afghan forces are almost ready to handle the country’s security on their own. For the record, we’ve been hearing that “almost ready” mantra for years now, but it never comes to fruition.
Of course, these statements were being made at the same time the Taliban announced the launch of its spring offensive, in which it vowed “every possible tactic will be utilized in order to detain or inflict heavy casualties on the foreign transgressors.” According to an AP report, that would include suicide attacks on military bases and diplomatic offices.
Despite this, Maj. Gen. Robert B. Abrams, who leads U.S. and NATO forces in southern Afghanistan, is suggesting that the Afghan people have mounted “a sort of homegrown, anti-Taliban movement” and will never again fall under the sway of the extremist group.
That’s fairly easy to say now. We’ll see how well his prediction holds up when there are no longer 60,000 American troops in the country. And what happens when the pipeline of CIA cash dries up and the corrupt Karzai can’t keep trading money for security? Or do we keep sending tens of millions to Karzai so that he can keep warlords and erstwhile terrorists on the “payroll”?
Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, who commands all U.S. forces in Afghanistan, knows what will happen. He told the Senate Armed Services Committee the other day that if U.S. troops leave at the end of 2014, as scheduled, “it would be a question of time” before Afghan security forces began falling apart.
Dunford’s answer to that is to extend our troop presence in Afghanistan. What Dunford doesn’t recognize – or deliberately refuses to acknowledge – is that no matter when our soldiers leave that country, it almost certainly will fall into chaos. The financial costs of the war in Afghanistan are measured in hundreds of billions. The death toll for our servicemen and women there is approaching 2,200. Nearly 20,000 more have been wounded, some so grievously that their lives have become irrevocably and horribly altered. We should spend no more of our money, or our soldiers’ lives, on this losing proposition.