Friday, October 9, 2009

The Afghan Situation

President Obama is doing a lot of thinking about Afghanistan this week. To prove it, NBC Nightly News just ran a picture of him sitting at the head of a long table, in his shirtsleeves, surrounded by Cabinet members and the Veep and lots of paper. There wasn't a laptop in sight. The President was the youngest person in the shot by a bunch of years. He's drinking a bottle of water; Hillary's a Coke girl. Not Diet Coke. Regular, full strength classic Coca-Cola. That's one of the few things I think she gets right.

I really hope they recycle at the White House. Otherwise, they're setting a very bad example for our nation.

In another conversation on Afghanistan this afternoon, Campbell Brown couldn't believe that the President was "considering separating the Taliban and al Quaeda. I mean, can you do that?" Um.... yes, Campbell. One is a repressive, hateful-to-women political force with no ambitions beyond its own borders. The other is a terrorist organization with a world-wide vision and no mainstream political ambitions. Al Quaeda isn't running candidates in elections; the Taliban were the ruling party in Afghanistan for many long terrible years. If I know that how can she not know it? Didn't she read Kite Runner?

It's one thing to think that Americans in general are woefully out of touch with the nuances of foreign policy. We're separated by an ocean, we only speak English, we're bigger and better and we know it so why bother. I get it. But she's a television journalist. She's paid to provide insight or at least to prompt her guests to provide it. Mr. McCarthy was wrong in 8th grade social studies when he told us "There are no stupid questions." That was a stupid question.

General McChrystal is talking about Afghanistan, too. Agree or disagree, that's fine. But you're in the military and that's all about chain of command. Shades of MacArthur and Truman, only Obama hired this guy himself. He said he wanted "new thinking" when he replaced General David McKiernan, and it looks like he got it.

The Big Cuter and I were talking about Afghanistan last night. Had his Special Ops friend returned? I've been ever grateful that my boy resisted the temptation to serve his country by putting his body at risk. I'd have been proud of him, for sure. But like his Special Ops' mother, I wouldn't have slept starting from the exact moment he enlisted. It's a land war in Asia; haven't they seen Princess Bride?

And I've been thinking about Afghanistan. There can be plans and strategies and sorties and drones and boots on the ground and better intelligence and we still won't win. It's not that I don't hold our military in high regard. It's just that it's been tried before. The Russians failed. We've been there for 8 years. And, for an historical perspective, Alexander the Great conquered just about everyplace that he knew about except Afghanistan. He stayed there for three years (Iran took him about 6 months) and finally agreed to leave when his troops told him that they were going, with or without him. Alexander the Great. The one who rode Bucephalus. Who conquered the Persian Empire. He couldn't do it. The places in which we are fighting bear more resemblance to the villages Alexander saw than they do to Kabul or Levittown. They couldn't be subdued in the 4th century BC and I don't think they can be now.

But it's nice to see that people are thinking about it. After all, Nixon and Kissinger didn't talk to anybody but each other and that got us Cambodia and Laos.

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