WHY AFGHANISTAN IS JUST ANOTHER HALF-BAKED US ADVENTURE
“Only the dead have seen the end of war…” -Geo. Santayana, American philosopher
by Kalikiano Kalei
I’m used to standing on virtual soap-boxes on virtual street corners; after all, I hail from Berkeley, that haven of liberal leftists known to many half-seriously as ‘The Peoples Republic of Berzerkley’. Berkeley has always been a very interesting enclave within which to live, but for a person in his early 20s it can constitute a formative, permanent vesting in all things slightly (and sometimes far) left of center. Back in the late 60s, which is when I, freshly released from my military service, was readjusting myself to civilian life once more, it was not at all unusual to find floridly colorful local fixtures like fiery red-haired and freckled ‘Brother Hubert’ (a wiry appearing, older fundamentalist evangelical we sometimes suspected of being ‘substance enhanced’) holding forth on the hell-fire wages of sin for the benefit of anyone passing by the Durant/Telegraph entrance to the UC Berkeley campus.
Brother Hubert was so much a part of the daily schedule of campus street performance art that a day without his familiar ranting on the subject of God-cursed fornicators and doomed-to-hell sinners was somehow less fulfilling, but his was just one of the diverse troupes of circus acts that entertained us as we arrived at and departed the campus each day. There was something enormously vital about Brother Hubert’s Pentecostal enthusiasms, despite the absolute gibberish he liquidly spouted with the perspicacity of Yellowstone’s ‘Old Faithful’ geyser. You could almost feel the ions in the air around him change polarity as he became increasingly caught up within the Brownian cadence of his own rythmatic haranguing. And yes, he stood on a wooden-slatted crate (as much like a soapbox that it may well have been one) that was so precariously balanced that even if one weren’t innately drawn to the intrinsic rhetorical content of his antic displays, the great likelihood of his taking an imminent fall off his tenuous perch was reason enough to remain there, lingering a few more minutes to watch him bemusedly as he warmed up to his subject.
I reference the above recollections due to the fact that I frequently feel as if I were holding forth in a similar style when I tackle a subject such as the one I am addressing here: Afghanistan. Or more precisely, the present American military engagement going on there. The mere fact that we are over there to the tune of billions of dollars already and are still up to our asses in Taliban is disappointing evidence that whatever we Americans may be, we are most definitely neither students of history nor well informed about other cultures. For if we were more astutely versed in world history, we wouldn’t keep making the same mistakes that philosopher Jorge Agustín Nicolás Ruiz de Santayana y Borrás (otherwise known as George Santayana) affirms we are doomed to endlessly repeat.
Not long ago a fellow by the name of Jere Van Dyk (a good Dutch name if ever there was one) wrote a book titled ‘Captive: My Time as a Prisoner of the Taliban’. Van Dyk spent a considerable amount of time living among and working with the Mujahedeen insurgents in Afghanistan who were trying to overthrow the Soviet-aligned secular Afghani government back in the pre-Taliban 80s period. Quite well-versed in the Afghani culture, in 2008 he returned to Afghanistan on a news assignment. Attempting to disguise himself as a Pashtun tribesman so as to infiltrate the Taliban, he and his interpreter set out for the remote and mountainous border region that lies between Afghanistan and Pakistan, an area that is normally unfrequented by Westerners. Unfortunately, his ruse was quickly discovered and he was taken captive by his ‘fellow’ Afghani guerillas. Van Dyk's book is first of all a story about his experience as a Taliban captive, but in a larger sense it is a narrative that attempts to explain to English language readers why the United States will never succeed in its simplistic efforts to implant American style ‘democracy’ in that brutally primitive region. It is revealing that he frankly admits that this was the worst of his many, many experiences as an investigative reporter, despite his comprehensive familiarity with the people and the region, and that he never stopped fearing for his life throughout his detention.
You might observe that after the expenditure of multiple billions of dollars on a continuing, largely unresolved war in Iraq, the loss of thousands of US servicemen in that fight and present evidence that suggests absolutely nothing of significant substance has been gained from it all (other than a grossly inflated National Debt that now threatens to bankrupt the nation), an articulate explanation of exactly why our efforts in Afghanistan are equally (or perhaps even MORE) futile is a complete waste of time and effort. And you might well be right. However, I have always been one of those cockeyed believers in the human potential to apply the gift of reasoning to our lives and to think rationally, so the dawning of even some limited awareness by the American public about what’s happening over there is, by my reckoning, far preferable to giving up on people as simply being collectively dumber than a stable full of ripe horse exhaust (on this last point, even the rather astute Christopher Hitchins concurs that the ‘stable full of effluent’ is the more apt analogue for humanity’s collective potential for applied reflectivity). [Note: In one of the personal videos captured on the recent US SEALS raid on bin Laden that was made originally in the early 2000s, Osama is shown making the statement that his most important underlying plan is to gradually bleed America financially over a period of time, hopefully bringing the nation down through continued expenditures of millions and millions of dollars in its 'war on terrorism'. In that unsettling aspiration, whether dead or alive, bin Laden has been more shockingly successful than even he could have imagined, as our national debt soars into the trillions of dollars...most of which has been spent on our endless military campaigning in Iraq and Afghanistan!]
Van Dyk’s argument is as basic as my own has been with regard to our 10 year (and counting) ‘adventure’ in Iraq: that the United States of America has never had the faintest glimmer of interest in truly understanding the peoples and culture of the Southwest Asian region (i.e. the ‘Middle East’). Although it really isn't that simple, our American tendency to be largely ignorant of other cultures lies at the heart of almost all of our foreign policy snafus. Not surprisingly, the same profound lack of interest in fathoming other (e.g. ‘non-US’) cultures has been a noteworthy feature of just about every war America has been involved in since the end of the last ‘Western’ war of 1939-1945. Bar none.
Even in the Second World War, the only other cultures we (the USA) even came close to comprehending were those that were predominantly of white Anglo-Saxon derivation (Western European) and therefore somewhat like our own, by virtue of a shared cultural heritage. That is not to say that other, distinctively ‘foreign’ cultures have not been studied extensively in America, but merely that policy-makers in the American Government never seem to have much concerned themselves with the findings of acknowledged cultural academics and recognised authorities in the field of cultural history and civilisation, before wading into battle with a distinctly non-Western nation, guns drawn, drums beating, flags flying and game books open to the page marked ‘Offensive Plan A’.
Our most recent wars (from Korea through Afghanistan) have been, on their most visual and external level, the result of economic and political concerns masquerading rather transparently under the banner of human rights and feigned defense of ‘humane’ interests; much more deeply buried, but nonetheless discernible, lie those solid economic motivations centered on strategic resources (prime energy assets such as oil). In no case has any substantial effort been made to openly assay the most complex factors underlying the cultures of nations we have capriciously committed both men and money to, in armed conflict within recent decades. Even when studies of the cultures involved were requested by state department planners and perfunctorily carried out, the insights they offered were either largely ignored or the information was deposited on the dusty shelf of some academic’s personal reference library and conveniently forgotten. Meanwhile, back in Washington, the self-serving bureaucratic machine that is American government arrived at its own conclusions (based predominantly upon the broader economic and/or political motivations) and then went about ‘selling’ the American public on its grand schemes and unique perspectives using the same mind-massage techniques that the auto industry employs to first create a flagrantly inefficient vehicle (think SUV) and then convince the public they can’t live without it.
In parallel formation with a few of my recent polemics on how corporate marketing and commercial advertising have succeeded in exploiting our endlessly gullible public, the collective ‘shit-for-brains’ reactivity of the masses is invariably easily aroused in any event. Conservative Christians are typically told that ‘God’ is on our side against the infidel Islamic terrorists and that a particular cause is ‘right and just’ because we are totally right and the ‘enemy’ are totally wrong. The powerful elite who essentially control our economy are also led to believe that it is in the best interests of their corporate investment strategies to support a particular war, since war, as we all know, is good business and generates lots of money for commerce. Then there are also the myriad thousands of sycophantic small time economic and/or social ‘players’ who are merely out for personal enhancement, career aggrandizement, or just pure adventure. Finally (and without them no war would even be possible), there are always the hundreds of thousands of young, grossly naïve post-adolescents who have been thirsting for a chance to go out and participate in a real world distillation of all the blood & guts John Wayne war movies they’ve ever seen (sadly, by the time they learn that the ‘blood & guts’ are their own, it’s a bit too late for them). ‘Cannon fodder’ is a term that uncomfortably comes to mind here.
This predictable cycle repeats itself endlessly, as if it were a closed loop video that replays over and over until our brains (the part of them that hasn’t been blown out of our heads, that is) are numb and no longer capable of registering the shock, indignation, protest and/or resistance that should forestall acts expressive of egregious international ignorance. Santayana Syndrome, I like to call this sequence of no-brainer events. At any rate, the foregoing is mere backdrop window-dressing to make Van Dyk’s thesis a bit more relevant.
Journalist, author and cultural expert on the nation and peoples of Afghanistan, Jere Van Dyk is a man who needs to be listened to as the American ‘adventure’ that is our campaign in that nation continues to run up its toll of American lives and money. The fact that he is a relative unknown to almost all whose daily media contact is limited to popular reality TV entertainment programs (‘The Great Race’, ‘The Biggest Loser’, ‘Survivor’, ‘Oprah’, ‘Jerry Springer’, 'Judge Judy', 'Dr. Phil', et al), hand-held personal communications devices and a few minutes of advertising-saturated national and local news programming (if lucky) is a frightening indictment of how little reflective awareness exists in Anytown USA about some of the most critically important issues we all presently face.
The core of Van Dyk’s thesis is that tribalism, now somewhat belatedly recognised as a chief dynamic in the Iraq war well after we plunged into that wretched cultural abyss, is even more of a key element of the growing mess that constitutes our involvement in Afghanistan than it was in Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Having spent many years myself living and working on the Arabian peninsula, I well recognise tribalism as almost as important a consideration in Iraq and Saudi Arabia as the ascendant Islamic religion that flourishes in that part of the Southwest Asian area. For years I tried to convey a sense to others here (anyone who would listen) in the USA of the nature of Islamic factionalism in complicating our interventions in Iraq, but I consistantly tried to fit this into a thematic context of how radically different Arab tribalism is from Western systems of national government.
Whenever I read another essay lavishly explaining how we (the United States) would plant seeds of American-style democracy in the Middle East that would (hopefully) sprout, take root and flourish (such as those totally-divorced-from-reality policy proposals originating in the NeoCon ‘Project for a New American Century’, or PNAC think-tank) it never failed to impress me with how painfully naïve these ‘big thinkers’ were even to remotely entertain such an idea! Aside from originating in the wish-fulfillment fantasies of Ashkenazi Israeli-American intellectualism (if one may use that perhaps too-generous term in this reference), the entire prospect of democritising the Arabs smelt to the high heavens of a total lack of comprehension of and regard for the intensely tribal nature and origins of the Arab peoples inhabiting that locale. Yet these fanciful projections gained tremendous popularity among conservative Americans from their inception, likely for the same reason ‘tea party populism’ has gained such passionate following (QED: grossly naïve or perhaps even deficit reasoning processes, tinged by a voluably reactive emotional component).
The latest result of our rush to rebuild Iraq into an American 'Mini-Me' state may be seen every day on nationally syndicated television news programs, as yet another suicide bomber destroys himself and a few hundred innocent by-standers in major Iraqi cities. Meanwhile, the vestigial American military presence is possibly best characterised by a large cloud of desert dust on the horizon that marks our nation’s hasty (and grateful) retreat from all that sordid mess we helped create by deposing Saddam. Decades from now, when historians finally allow themselves a modestly objective look back at all that has happened in the past decade and a half over there, one can only hope that the monumental futility of our actions in Iraq does not substantially cheapen the loss of so many young American lives pursuing that socio-political fantasy under arms. The economic legacy of America’s ‘Iraq Inc’ (specifically the past 15 years of disproportionate spending to support that particular military adventure), on the other hand, won’t disappear as easily as the large cloud of airborne sand that is all that’s left of America’s commitment to Iraq, as the trillions of dollars spent continue to loom over us ominously like a financial tsunami that threatens to bring us to the brink of national insolvency.
With that backdrop legacy merrily still playing away on the American economic panorama, let’s refocus on Afghanistan, a potentially even broader and more enduring catastrophe-to-be even than Iraq, where we’re daily dropping hundreds of millions of dollars we don’t have and materiel we can't spare into a virtual hole in the ground that appears bottomless (it is purely a coincidence that the virtual hole resembles a virtual goat's ass, of course).
One of the most critical things Americans fail to grasp about Afghanistan is that in that nation tribalism is an even more important factor than the dynamics of religious contention, although only the truly stupid would deny that the deadly mix of extremist religion and tribal fundamentalism Afghanistan comprises poses a horrific mess for anyone intervening in that region who entertains hopes of ever restructuring it. To begin to catch a glimmer of what Afghanistan is all about, one needs to first comprehend cultural, historical and demographic fundamentals that characterise that region and that have influenced what passes for civilisation in that part of the world for centuries. Not without substantial irony, it should be noted that these are areas of concerns and academic study that have never really interested most Americans in their mad scramble to harness science and technology in the largely unconstrained pursuit of corporate wealth and commercial profit. Demography, history, culture all belong to that long-ignored essential core of classical college level education: the liberal arts. As American higher learning institutions have progressively dumbed-down their curricula and become little more than erudite job-training centers (MBAs, JDs, MDs, PhDs for the wealthy and/or future debt indentured), the liberal arts studies that formerly enabled us to better understand the world about us have today languished to the point of total endangerment. The result, seen everywhere about us in the corporate world today, is that more than ever the average American (who may appear ‘well educated’ on paper diplomas) knows almost nothing at all about anything not directly associated with his daily professional scrabble for bread. And that’s to only address those who have completed a ‘higher’ education; one can only imagine the depths of acquired ignorance that the illiterate and semi-literate dwell in concerning such subjects in our society (would you forgive me if I suggest that a healthy percentage of our military enlisted fall into that last category, thanks to grossly lowered entrance requirements?). Having shared all that, permit me to assume, for the sake of my arguments here, that you do not yourself know the difference between brown shoe-polish and excrement (if you do, my sincere apologies, as the following distinctions are probably for the most part unnecessary).
The demographic mix found in the geopolitical area comprising Afghanistan and Pakistan consists mainly of four tribal groups, but a word of caution should be extended in view of the fact that the complex demographic dynamics of this entire region are enough to make most ordinary individuals’ heads swim! Be that as it may, let’s start by observing the fact that the tribal people known as the Pashtuns (also traditionally known as ‘Pathans’) constitute the largest single proportion of the total population (of both nations). The second largest tribal group is comprised of the Punjabi people. A third group includes outlying Baluchistanis (that is, not located within the nation of Baluchistan proper) and the last significant ethnic subgroup is known as the Sindhi Peoples.
It helps to first understand that what we see today delineated on maps as the national boundaries of both nations are highly artificial and are by no means attributable to neat, clean tribal divisions. They were in fact partly imposed in the course of the Islamic state of Pakistan violently separating itself from India, back in the late 1940s. Blame may be substantially levied on Great Britain’s imperialist ambitions of the late 17th & 18th centuries, since in that nation’s haste to subdue and include as much of the world as possible in their colonial empire, the Brits simply did not care about ethnic and demographic distinctions beyond whether or not a particular group was warlike, rebellious, or just a bugger-all bother. To the English, all the tribal peoples of this area were viewed largely as being identical: dark, swarthy, sun-burnt, foul-smelling and harry primitives who affected turbans and funny robes and fought like cornered tigers (remember the Khyber Pass and the Bengal Lancers?). This despite the fact that these people are ethnically Caucasians in the strictest sense of that definition!
At any rate, and without digressing substantially here, England merrily went about subduing them all and lumped all these tribal peoples in together for well over a hundred plus years. Uncoincidentally constituting a major share of what is today’s Pakistan, the Pashtun tribes of traditional Afghanistan were moderately successful in keeping Britain’s colonial ambitions at bay by playing off the Russians up north against British India’s colonial empire to the southeast and were thereby able to maintain some degree of regional autonomy until the violent and in-ignorable religious differences between Hindus and Muslims forced a catastrophic reordering of that particular part of the British Empire right after WWII. When the state of West Pakistan was created on India’s left flank at that time, West Pakistan tribal regions that were ethnically Pashtun suddenly found themselves no longer technically within traditional Afghanistan borders. Therein lies a major part of the problem we are focused on here, for to the peoples of this broader area tribal ties and customs are far stronger than any other shared influence (such as religion or separation of regions into states). One’s tribal identification as a Pashtun (a speaker of ‘Pashto’, the Pashtun dialect) links one to all other Pashtun tribes in ancestral primacy, regardless of whether there is a figurative national border separating two directly adjacent areas politically or not.
The Pashtun are today, generally speaking, members of the Sunni Islamic sect, but their chief alliance remains to their central tribal law of ‘Pashtunwali’, a rigid code of social, moral and personal conduct concerned with tribal honor that they strictly adhere to above all other influences on their lives (including Islam). For example, the orthodox law of Pashtunwali stipulates that only someone who has a Pashtun father may consider himself a true Pashtun. Furthermore, Pashtunwali requires strict compliance with the demands of family and tribal honor. In this last context, something that eludes most Westerners is that fact that an Afghani who is Pashtun will be far more motivated to fight for causes linked with personal, familial and tribal (Pashtun) honor than even for Islamic Sharia (or other considerations). In this basic fact lies a fundamental if somewhat subtle wedge that substantially divides Taliban and Al Qaida sentiments, the nature of which is completely misunderstood by Westerners (who make the erroneous error of lumping the Taliban and Al Qaida together as uniformly congruent Islamic extremist groups; in fact they are radically different in almost every aspect).
Although the Pashtun areas are now presently divided by the artificial boundaries imposed by the Afghanistani/Pakistani national borders, the overriding and unifying tribal custom of Pashtunwali transcends any arbitrary political demarcations, and these concentric tribal circles of influence and behavioral dictates largely govern the actions of all Pashtuns, all 300+ Pashtun tribal sub-sets. This fact is as true now as it ever was in the remote past and is again a telling nuance of the unique circumstances affecting America’s presence in Afghanistan that (amazingly) continues to elude most intelligence analysts (and ALL policy wonks).
When one looks at a map of the region that displays ethnic and tribal demographics, one of the most striking things one notes at the onset is that the Pashtun predominating tribal area extends substantially through both Afghanistan and western Pakistan in a sort of diagonal sweep extending from southwestern Afghanistan through the midwestern half of Pakistan . [The southern-most tip of Afghanistan is mostly Baluchistani, since Afghanistan sits atop the lower regions of Pakistan. The northern-most part of the country is a mix of Tajik, Uzbek, Turkmen and Hazara tribal areas.]
Afghanistan, as Jere Van Dyk points out in his writings, is a brutally primitive region, inhabited by equally primitive tribes that have lived their traditional way of life largely unchanged for centuries. Up until the 1980s there was little or no concept of western science and technology in the nation, but Islamic extremism had also not yet gained a foothold there, either. Van Dyk notes that Afghanistgan of the 1970s was a peaceful, almost bucolic place, albeit still a very isolated and poor nation. When in the midst of the 70s the reigning king of Afghanistan was overthrown by his first cousin, a secular republic was established in place of the monarchy. As a consequence, a small group of righteously devout young Afghanis fled the country for Pakistan, encouraged in their flight by Islamic scholars at the university in Kabul.
There, the Pakistani government took them in, trained them in guerrilla insurgency techniques, provided them with weapons, and sent them back to infiltrate Afghanistan as ‘Mujahadeen’ fighters for Islam in opposition to the new secular Afghani Republic. In the 1980s, with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the Mujahadeen fought against the Russians as a natural extension of their cause against the Afghani government. As many Americans now know, the CIA, in covert efforts to frustrate Soviet designs in that region, provided shipments of weapons for the Mujadaheen that included the ‘Stinger’, a shoulder fired anti-aircraft rocket with fairly deadly accuracy, in connection with the notorious Nicaraguan Contra Arms imbroglio. Islamic fundamentalism had by this time begun to exert a significantly tenacious hold on this formerly relatively peaceful region. Saudi Arabian money from Royal Princes continued to flow into the region in support of the insurgency there.
When the 'modern' Taliban extremists grew out of the earlier Mujadaheen movement in the mid 1990s, Islam and Sharia law gained further substantial footholds and a culture of ultra-conservative austerity became the norm under the oppressive dictates of the Taliban. The term ‘Taliban’, by the way, is an ancient one in Afghanistan and by archaic custom described an itinerant student of Islam ('Talib' means 'student'). Traditionally they were at the very bottom of the Afghani social hierarchy and were among its poorest members. Officiating at bridal dinners, weddings, funerals or child-birth as a sort of ‘holy’ layman, they would receive compensation of simple foodstuffs as their compensation. The later resurrection of the term has now come to be synonymous with ‘holy fighter for Islam’ and it is in that greatly expanded capacity that they today flourish in Afghanistan. The interactive Islamic extremist ties linking the indigenous Afghanistani Taliban and Osama bin Laden’s ‘Al Qaida’ extremist faction (a derivative of ultra-conservative Sunni Wahabism, originating in Saudi Arabia) at first posed a distinctively increased threat to the West, viewed in this comparative frame of reference.
When Osama bin Laden fled from Saudi Arabia, first to Sudan and later to seek refuge in Afghanistan, the native Afghani Islamic extremist movement within the country gained strength enormously through the resulting Taliban/Al Qaida collaboration. Consequently, Islamic Law (the ‘Sharia’) rose to strongly contest traditional tribal Pastunwali as the principal moral and behavioral code of the central Afghanistani peoples, and today that contest between the two influences has resulted in an internal battle for ascendency has continued in parallel alongside the Taliban’s war with Western military forces there.
As noted earlier, the traditional (tribal) law of Pashtunwali remains superior to Islamic Sharia, but only just in many cases. Given the volatile and pronounced theological differences between the Taliban and Al Qaida, it isn't difficult to imagine how trying to determine and meaningfully interpret the extremely variable expressions of mood, attitude and influence that obtain in Afghanistan would sorely try an astute and learned ethnologist, let alone CIA analysts and/or ordinary military field commanders. Islamic theologians themselves are often uncertain or in direct conflict over basic issues.
By virtue of the foregoing explanations it is far easier, I think, to begin to get a glimmer of how terribly complex the conditions (both political and religious) are in Afghanistan that American forces now battling there must contend with. It is not a facile matter of formulating and adopting conventional ‘counter-insurgency’ (COIN) strategy as advanced by the US military high command, since this is not a simple insurgency but rather a horrifically complex and ever-changing admixture of many elements, not the least of which are principally tribal and religious in nature. Winning ‘hearts and minds’, following the equally dismal example offered up by our Vietnam experience, simply doesn’t work in Afghanistan for these reasons. As a number of candid interviews with tribal people have revealed, offering economic and material incentive to these extremely poor people (in order to acquire peasant support and allegiance, following the 'Vietnamisation' model) works to gain tribal allies only as long as the ‘payoffs’ and monetary largess continue uninterrupted. The very instant American pacification ‘payments’ and tribal buy-offs stop, a former Afghani 'friend' will predictably revert immediately to being a very distrustful and unpredictable enemy, exactly as before. To their credit, the Afghani tribes-people have no compunctions about being brutally candid and admitting this; they do, you see, have a sense of honor in making such guileless admissions of fact, without hesitation.
Given the strong influence of Pashtun tribal codes (Pashtunwali) and given the fact that the highest levels of the present Afghanistani government (including Hamid Karzai, its President, and all of its governmental ministers) are Pashtun, it should come as no further surprise that the highest levels of Pakistan’s military high command are also of Pashtun affiliation. What we Americans perceive as corrupt practices and misuse of economic resources (i.e. payments, payoffs, and wealth) are in actual fact perfectly normal aspects of Afghani tribal alliances, interactions, and cooperations. Once one understands that hypothesis, then ‘normal’ civic and economic life in Afghanistan can be seen by their very nature as being literally structured on this system (although viewed as thoroughly corrupt by our own American definitions). Further complicating the status quo is a deep and underlying, all-pervasive suspicion shared equally amongst the Pashtun tribes that America is trying to secretly trying to displace the Pashtuns as the dominant tribal influence in the area. Accordingly, there is therefore no realistic hope of cultivating any lasting long-term trust among them (by the US).
The Pashtun people remain largely in control of today’s Afghanistan, but as previously noted largely by virtue of a higher (tribal) code than the fundamentalist Islamic Sharia that threatens traditional Pashtunwali law. Pashtunwali still predominates among the Pashtuns as the highest moral and behavioral code, but the new Islamic extremists in Pakistan remain fanatically dedicated to totally supplanting that ancient tradition with fundamentalist Islam. They (both the indigenous Taliban fundamentalists and the Wahabbist Al Qaida 'outsiders') shall continue to support Islamic extremism in any manner possible towards that end, but in ways that are often in direct opposition to each other. [Note: so inherently different are the applied theologies of each group that the Taliban would probably be more than a bit pleased to see Al Qaida's influence diminish in their own country. This appears to now be coming about, subsequent to bin Laden's recent death.]
Given all of these facts and the enormous complexities facing the United States in going after Islamic extremists in the region, it is reasonable to opine that America's present Afghanistan commitment is merely another unwinnable, wholly impossible military campaign that we have involved ourselves in, nigh inextricably. Not only is it unwinnable, it has now become impossible to withdraw American forces abruptly (even if we were inclined to do so and we are clearly not), given the continued level of US government support and commitment that currently obtains.
Perhaps most importantly (and most disturbingly), the very minute the last US forces are withdrawn and the mission of keeping Afghani order is handed over to indigenous military and police forces, the entire house of tribal and religious cards threatens to crumble into total collapse and a truly violent civil war will likely begin that will likely spread to neighboring Pakistan. When one considers the fact that Pakistan is a nuclear nation, armed with significant stocks of atomic weapons (along with India), the thought of severe socio-political instability significantly exceeding that which already exists there is more than merely frightening.
In his fascinating book ‘Captive: My Time as a Prisoner of the Taliban’, Jere Van Dyk shares his first-hand experience with these rabid Islamic extremists that have for some Americans already supplanted the Big Bad Wolf in the scary stories they entertain their children with. Van Dyk’s is a timely book that simply must be read and by as broad an audience as possible, if we are to ever find a way out of the quagmire that is the continuing and costly, half-baked American adventure known as Afghanistan.
[Note: This is presently a very rough draft and consequently quite imperfect. It begs much more comprehensive editing and rewriting, but I wanted to throw it out now (extensive editing and some rewriting will follow shortly).]
BUY THE BOOK: (Click here)
It goes without saying that our present involvement in Afghanistan (as in Iraq) is a perfect example of how inefficiently and inappropriately an archly indignant superpower tends to react to a figurative fleabite (the 2001 World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks) by reacting with a response approximating a figurative monetary nuclear strike. Instead of mounting a furious, massive and grossly expensive conventional warfare campaign (shotgun style) on the dens of the suspected bad guys, the far wiser (if far less emotionally satisfying) response would have been to mount a massive, subtle and covert action to 1) determine who the real instigators were, 2) take them out by any means necessary, and 3) keep the entire action super-secret and attended by absolutely no publicity of any sort (in this, emulating the Israeli Mossad style would have been beneficial, although I am not normally a big fan of their techniques). To argue against this by stating that democratic America must be entirely transparent and openly above-board in everything it does on an international political level is totally ignoring almost a century or more of prior monumental American governmental hypocrisy and covert use of duplicitous means to achieve ends that might otherwise draw 'Puritan' disapprobation. Hypocrisy, while not originally an indigenous American invention, has certainly found a welcome home in almost every moral and ethical expression of American culture today.
The fact that the United States' response to Al Qaida's 2001 attacks was conceptually wildly off-base led to our breaking off prematurely from the initial effort to eliminate Al Qaida in Afghanistan and become passionately side-tracked by the campaign to depose Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Iraq was a separate issue entirely, with no connection to Al Qaida at all from the onset, but the Bush Administration refused to accept this fact and America's entire fury was instead directed towards Saddam (on the pretext of securing and removing his WMD), instead of towards Osama bin Laden (who remained safe in his Afghanistan/Pakistan sanctuary after our tentative and failed original effort to root him out ended prematurely).
Interestingly, an article on the front page of today's Wall Street Journal (27 Apr 11) states: "Pakistan urges Afghanistan to ally with Islamabad" (rather than develop a long-term strategic alliance with the USA against the Taliban). Surprise, surprise (NOT!). Stay tuned, folks, but keep your seat belts fastened and your tray in the upright and locked position until the airliner stops exploding into a bazillion pieces... (:-)) As we all know, it ain't over till the fat lady sings and regrettably, the Taliban have ripped her tongue out because she's too big to fit into a Burkha.
News has just been released that a covert US Navy 'SEAL' Team took out Osama in a safe house located well within Pakistan on Sunday (ironically on 'May Day') and near a Pakistani military academy. While this news shall bring about a sense of closure to those who lost relatives in the 9-11 events, it should be noted that bin Laden has served principally as a mere spiritual figurehead for the Al Qaida Islamic extremist movement for years. The highly diffused infrastructure that exists for perpetuating terrorist attacks continues to exist largely unaltered and shall continue to carry out acts of terrorism as before. In fact, now that Osama has become a matryr to the Islamic extremist cause, they have even more incentive than before to escalate the savagery of their perversely twisted 'religious' jihads. As signal an event as it is, Osama's death is merely a minute and almost unimportant temporal fragment on a lengthy time-line that shows no evidence of ending any time soon.
A salient commentary on Afghanistan by Utah's Republican Representative Jason Chaffetz: http://www.cnn.com/2011/OPINION/05/03/chaffetz.afghanistan.pullout/index.html?eref=mrss_igoogle_cnn