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Afghanistan at the Conventions

The Democrats still are trying to make something of Gov. Mitt Romney’s not mentioning Afghanistan in his RNC acceptance speech last month in Tampa. Never mind that Romney’s already doing as much as he can to alienate at least 47 percent of us voters, his opposition just won’t let him forget that he didn’t address our longest war by name during the most important speech of his life.

The petulance of the Democrats on this matter reminds me of a feud between schoolgirls. The finger-pointing self-indulgence is nauseating, the self-satisfied gloating comical, the phallic-wrestling pathetic. I half expect cheerleaders like Paul Begala to unzip their pants and pull out their Johnsons and measuring tapes.

In his acceptance speech a week later in Charlotte, President Obama does mention Afghanistan by name, but only twice, and each time in the fallacious context of victory:

“We’ve blunted the Taliban’s momentum in Afghanistan, and in 2014, our longest war will be over.”

“My opponent said that it was ‘tragic’ to end the war in Iraq. And he won’t tell us how he’ll end the war in Afghanistan. Well, I have — and I will.”

These references really are no better than no reference at all.

First, the president’s second mentioning of Afghanistan is factually untrue: On at least several occasions before the conventions Romney said what he’ll do with Afghanistan – cut and run, like the president.

Second, the president’s first reference to Afghanistan buries the real truth. Yes, we may withdraw our troops in 2014, but the war won’t be over, no more than it was when the Soviets withdrew in 1989, rushing over the Amu Darya in tanks and military vehicles, and in defeat. Twenty-five years later, we’ll be rushing out in C-130s, also in defeat, not victory.

And for anyone who loves Afghanistan and its people, the probable result is horrifying. A proxy war, of course, will continue and likely will be much worse than it was in the 1990s. Pakistan and Iran are going to bleed the country even more than they have already. Our proxies will be as inept and corrupt as Hamid Karzai, President Bush’s puppet, who no doubt will flee his country with our troops, unless he wants to be dragged through the streets of Kabul and hanged, like the false leaders before him. The Taliban, or something worse, will take over again and commence a reign of terror that will make Idi Amin Dada seem humane. The streets are going to run with blood. Children on their way to school, if they still have one, eventually will get used to stepping over headless bodies and seeing others hanging from arches and posts and trees.

As Bob Baer said to Anderson Cooper last night, it’s going to be ugly and terrifying. Who will weep for Afghanistan then? Will we think we’ve won then?

Baer also said, on Cooper’s 360, that he wasn’t pointing fingers at any administration, Bush’s or Obama’s. He’s more magnanimous than I am.

The anger and revenge that lead us into Afghanistan 11 years ago has, as anger and revenge often do, backfired on us. Emotion, not reason, guided our folly – and has ever since. If President Obama’s surge worked at all years later, for instance, it only worked initially, the way an extra sandbag does on a levee that’s going to burst no matter what man and the deities do.

The real problem with Afghanistan, sadly, is that we don’t have a good option. Contrary to our hubris, we can’t fix it. We’ve created our Frankenstein. Now it’s out there.

We could stay there forever, spending close to $100 billion or more a year, because we’d have to. Bush and Obama have consistently disguised that reality.

Or we can leave and usher in the chaos that will ensue. But why wait until 2014? So we can train more Afghan police and soldiers to fill the impending security vacuum? That justification has collapsed in the face of so-called insider attacks, which have crippled security training across the country. So if we’re going to leave, we should leave today. What Marine, soldier, airman or sailor wants to be the last American troop to be killed in Afghanistan, waiting for the exit?

Both of these options make me shudder, but they’re essentially the only ones we have. Negotiations are possible, but not probable, not with the likes of Mullah Omar. That would be like a liberal trying to negotiate the truth with Sean “Hysterical” Hannity.

Part of me wants to protect Afghanistan forever: to prevent groups like the Taliban from throwing acid at women just because their burqas don’t conceal their ankles, from stoning women who decline arranged marriages, from toppling stone walls on homosexuals because they’re homosexual, from torturing and killing journalists. These and similar horrors are happening today, but they will get worse after we leave. Anyone who says otherwise is deluded.

Still, America can’t, and probably shouldn’t, fight an endless war against fundamental human rights abuses – no, atrocities – in Afghanistan. That war truly would never end. Besides, we went there to uproot al Qaeda, which we accomplished before the end of 2001.

So Romney gets a pass from me over not mentioning Afghanistan in his acceptance speech.

Bush and Obama have filled us with enough nonsense.

Extempore Effusion on a Selfish Nation

I walked into an Introduction to Journalism class one morning and told my students an outright lie:

“Did you read a newspaper this morning?” I asked, as they had been instructed to do each day in preparation for unannounced news quizzes. “What’s the major news today? It affects you all.”

Silence. Darting looks. Involuntary swallowing. A few good guesses, had I not been lying.

“The draft has been reinstituted,” I said. “Didn’t you read that?”

You should have seen the response, especially among the young men. Before then, I was starting to wonder whether a few of them were alive.

“They can’t do that,” one of them said.

“I think they can,” I replied.

It went on like this for about a minute before I told them I was lying. A few of them laughed, some settled back into their chairs, a few looked back at their cell phones, and a few others, I could tell, wanted to strangle me.

But I told them the lie was part of learning to recognize and understand the emotional response to news, a lie itself, although I think it worked, if only briefly. I told them the lie was part of my ongoing edict: Just because some yahoo out there says something doesn’t make it true and doesn’t mean you have to report it. If it’s a purported fact and you can’t verify it, it’s junk.

“You guys took my word for it,” I said. “I was standing up here lying, and you believed me. Your heart rates jumped.”

More than nine years after 9/11, I still had an occasional student who believed President Bush was “behind it all.” By occasional I mean one or two a semester out of more than 50 students. They told me essentially the same thing: Mother had seen a documentary, she believed it, and so they did, too.

“I’ve seen that documentary,” I’d tell them, “and it’s laughable. Do you realize the scope of the conspiracy you’re talking about? Jesus would have to be involved.”

But I didn’t lie to my students that day specifically to teach them anything. I wanted to see, for myself, how young men and women would react to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan if they thought there was a possibility that they, or someone they loved, might wind up in them. My suspicion was right: It would mean something then.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan haven’t meant much to most of us. Only a miniscule percentage of Americans have had any blood in them. Most of us have sacrificed nothing, and we haven’t been asked to. The most fortunate among us have gotten hefty tax cuts, in fact, and the stock market just keeps making more of us richer. Our stores are still fully stocked; we’re still buying gas-guzzlers – gas-guzzlers that always seem to come with an outer magnet telling us to “Support Our Troops.” We still want – and feel entitled to – cheap gas. Casualty reports from the Department of Defense should be required daily reading, but we’re fed “Housewives” and “American Idol” instead.

Our political conventions, now over, do most certainly reflect us and our self-indulgence, our overwhelming fascination with ourselves, our this and that – everything that produces our delusions and keeps us sane.

Auden was so right about us:

About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters; how well they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along …

                                                                              Musee de Beaux Arts

What we were doing, for instance, when Pfc. Shane W. Cantu died of shrapnel wounds Aug. 28 in Charkh, Afghanistan? Were we sleeping, working, shopping, eating, driving, walking, talking, lying, loving, hating? Were we at a baseball game? Were we petting the dog?

Aug. 28 was a Tuesday. Afghanistan’s between 8 ½ and 11 ½ hours ahead of us, depending on where we live in the United States. So we may still have been in Monday when the first-class private took his last breath. But what were we doing at that moment?

Cantu, of Corunna, Michigan, was 20. He graduated from high school just a little more than two years ago, but he’s being buried on Monday, the day before the 11th anniversary of 9/11. He was just a little boy then.

We’re grateful for him, of course. But not enough to look at ourselves and see that we’ve enabled this horrific insanity for almost 11 years, in the face of overwhelming evidence that neither war had to be fought, that both Iraq and Afghanistan have been wars of choice, despite all the blustering and penis-challenging from the Republicans and Democrats.

We’ve enabled it because it’s been easy, as if we’ve all been lulled into some fugue state that’s turned off reason and the heart.  Some of us, like Halliburton, have also made a whole lot of money.

Meanwhile, Cantu became the 2,103th U.S. troop to die in the Afghanistan campaign. He joins 4,475 of his brothers and sisters from the Iraq war. More than 49,000 others have been wounded. Thousands of coalition troops have been killed and injured. Tens of thousands of civilians – the exact number is almost impossible to know – have been killed and maimed.

But for us the horror has been hidden behind a curtain. The powers that be couldn’t have orchestrated our navel-gazing any better.