Monday, June 14, 2010

Afghanistan: those who willingly serve


Over the last few days I've had some thoughtful conversations with a new friend who lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado. It's not an easy place for a progressive activist to live. It is famous for choosing to close public parks rather than pay taxes, for being the headquarters of the virulently homophobic Focus on the Family organization, for being home to the U.S. Air Force Academy.

She explained to me that, at first, she just felt totally alienated from most people she met in the town. She wasn't even sure she wanted to know the people she encountered. But over time, she learned that her conservative neighbors were sometimes decent, even smart, people who simply had had different experiences -- and that led her to re-examine, not her own progressive opinions, but how she thinks those of us on the leftish side of things need to talk with our neighbors.

In particular, she has learned to recognize and appreciate that many of those who are part of the U.S. military really do think of themselves as volunteering to serve their fellow citizens. They believe they are sacrificing themselves for us all.

That observation ran through my mind as I read New York Times columnist Bob Herbert's blast against the willingness of most citizens to ignore our ongoing Afghanistan war.

There is no overall game plan, no real strategy or coherent goals, to guide the fighting of U.S. forces. It’s just a mind-numbing, soul-chilling, body-destroying slog, month after month, year after pointless year. The 18-year-olds fighting (and, increasingly, dying) in Afghanistan now were just 9 or 10 when the World Trade Center and Pentagon were attacked in 2001.

Americans have zoned out on this war. They don’t even want to think about it. They don’t want their taxes raised to pay for it, even as they say in poll after poll that they are worried about budget deficits. The vast majority do not want their sons or daughters anywhere near Afghanistan.

Why in the world should the small percentage of the population that has volunteered for military service shoulder the entire burden of this hapless, endless effort?
The truth is that top American officials do not believe the war can be won but do not know how to end it. So we get gibberish about empowering the unempowerable Afghan forces and rebuilding a hopelessly corrupt and incompetent civil society.

... Ultimately, the public is at fault for this catastrophe in Afghanistan, where more than 1,000 G.I.’s have now lost their lives. If we don’t have the courage as a people to fight and share in the sacrifices when our nation is at war, if we’re unwilling to seriously think about the war and hold our leaders accountable for the way it is conducted, if we’re not even willing to pay for it, then we should at least have the courage to pull our valiant forces out of it.

My emphasis.

Nine years after 9/11, youngsters who were children on that terrible day are dying in Afghanistan in the service of no strategy that our leaders can explain. For what?
***
Uh-oh ... maybe in the end the war is about this discovery.

WASHINGTON — The United States has discovered nearly $1 trillion in untapped mineral deposits in Afghanistan, far beyond any previously known reserves and enough to fundamentally alter the Afghan economy and perhaps the Afghan war itself, according to senior American government officials.

The previously unknown deposits — including huge veins of iron, copper, cobalt, gold and critical industrial metals like lithium — are so big and include so many minerals that are essential to modern industry that Afghanistan could eventually be transformed into one of the most important mining centers in the world, the United States officials believe.

An internal Pentagon memo, for example, states that Afghanistan could become the “Saudi Arabia of lithium,” a key raw material in the manufacture of batteries for laptops and Blackberries.

I feel for those Afghans who only wanted to live as they always have.

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