Many factors go into the new focus on Afghanistan, including the perception that the end of our deep involvement in Iraq is in sight, the increase in American casualties in Afghanistan, and the focus brought upon the mission by statements and policy projections made during the presidential campaign. Afghanistan has been seen as “the good war,” even as it ground on as “the forgotten war.” The new focus has brought, and is bringing, changes.
While both candidates seem to agree that a renewed effort is required in Afghanistan, any increase in troop strength brings more than just capability on the ground. Afghanistan is resurfacing in the minds of average Americans, where it had lain dormant in their perceptions. In my own experience; when I informed my co-workers of my upcoming deployment, one of them actually asked me, “Is there still a war in Afghanistan?” Iraq was the subject of discussion, media and perception, but not Afghanistan.
Many of us who served there felt as if we were engaged in an unnoticed task. We felt that pointing out any opportunities for improvement, any discussion of where the mission was at risk, any indication that more was needed; all were wasted exercises. No one was paying attention.
Now America’s consciousness has become aware of Afghanistan anew, as if awakening from a daydream. Discussion of Afghanistan begins with the new attention being paid by the media, who are latching on to statements made by public officials from various countries, including our own. Headlines quoting our own Chairman of the Joint Chiefs saying that we are not winning (leaving off the part where he said that we can,) seemingly compete with statements by British Generals and French diplomats. The theme is all gloomy.
America awakens to the gloomy news, wiping the sand of Iraq out of its eyes to find something new to become depressed about; and a mysterious new enemy that everyone already thought had been destroyed. The Taliban’s “miraculous” resurgence came as a big surprise to everyone except those who had been intimately involved in Afghanistan before America’s trance like fixation on Iraq was broken.
The truth is that the Taliban were never destroyed; they escaped. A budding new government needed to exert itself over a land that had not had a unified government since the days of its last king. Even the vaunted Taliban had not controlled the entire country, nor did they enjoy the support of the majority of the population.
Without going through the entire history of the mission to assist in the establishment of a functioning government in Afghanistan and to rebuild some semblance of a working state, there is one point to be made; the Afghan mission has been run on a shoelace. Every commander in Afghanistan has stated that more is needed.
In each case, more was not to be had. We were fixated on Iraq and the need to be proven right in the face of vocal opposition. It was the political hot spot, the proverbial squeaky wheel. Iraq was the focus of government and media; and therefore the consciousness of America.
The consciousness of a nation is no different than the consciousness of a single person. We all depend on our senses to determine what is around us, to perceive the world in which we exist. For the public, our senses are limited. The information available boils down to what we are presented with easily and that which is not as easily available but can be found through other means, such as the internet.
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I would submit that the vast majority of people do not seek further information other than what is made easily available; MainStream Media. Other than a few veterans who have returned to Afghanistan at this point in a series of pivotal moments in the Afghan mission, many in the media are new to Afghanistan and the insurgency there. Afghanistan’s insurgency is greatly different from the one in Iraq. Of course the terrain is entirely different, but so are the human and political terrains.
Now the pundits turn their attention to Afghanistan and, being largely unfamiliar, they do their quick study job and come forth with Kiplingesque pronouncements about Afghanistan, Afghans, the tribes, Pashtuns, and the Taliban. Suddenly, everyone’s an expert.
Their nods to Rudyard Kipling, the British Army of the 1800’s, and the Soviets of the 1980’s are gripping tales. They set the Afghan upon a pedestal as some mysterious, unbeaten, somehow invincible foe. Gloomy pronouncements are seized upon by the other voice that had previously used Afghanistan to their purpose in opposing Iraq; the war protester voice. Iraq having lost the limelight for the present, they turn their gaze to Afghanistan as well. Now, it is to bring their ire to bear on this campaign; for there really is no good campaign to them.
“So Afghanistan now is the good war. He (Obama) needs to prove, as a Democrat, that he too can kill brown people.” – Nir Rosen
Being the obscure campaign was good for Afghanistan in that regard. Being the “good war” to juxtaposition against the “bad war” in Iraq was good for Afghanistan. No one was publicly questioning, no one was spreading defeatist propaganda to sway public opinion against the NATO mission in Afghanistan; not in the United States.
That has all changed.
Between those whose interest lies in discrediting anything that has US stenciled on it and those who write “informed” opinions educated by a quick jaunt through the garden of the internet and perhaps a couple of books on Afghanistan, this conflict is being painted as another venture into a mysteriously powerful man-eating machine, like the jungles of Viet Nam and the indefatigable “Charlie.”
Bullshit. I’ve thrown the flag.
Afghanistan is no land of deep and abiding imponderable mystery. Most assuredly, they are a proud people with a long history. The landscape of Afghanistan is dramatic, and the society of Afghanistan is an ancient lifestyle emerging into the 21st Century on crutches. Crippled by ancient practices that are not complicated, the only thing that is difficult to make sense of quickly is the tangled web of relationships in a seemingly undefined mass. Most are boggled by the intermingling of interests and allegiances and just walk away shaking their heads and spouting mysticism.
That’s the easy answer; the intellectually lazy answer. Look, Afghans do not have some secret superiority. They are simply survivors. No one has conquered Afghanistan for Afghanistan. Many have conquered Afghanistan; but they were on their way to somewhere else, or they were there to interfere with or foil someone other than the Afghans. The most notable exception to this was the Russians, and they were doomed to failure by two things; the atheistic nature of communism and the brutality of their methods.
The Afghans are tough; no doubt about it. They have to be tough to survive, and they are above all survivors. They are smart, even though most of them can’t read. Here’s the best part; many of them are on the side of the IRoA. Remember, 60% of all Afghans are not Pashtuns, and not all Pashtuns are Taliban. Many of the Mujaheddin from the Soviet days are sitting this one out or working with the government because they believe that the coalition is not there as an occupation force, but as an assistance force to help the infant IRoA survive the birthing pains of coming to being under the pressure of the Taliban, who will not go quietly into that good night of history.
Here’s what I can tell you about Afghans; they are people. They have a culture that is different from ours in many respects, but it is not rocket science to learn their culture and be respectful of it even if we disagree or don’t understand it. Afghans hate arrogance. You can show an Afghan a good way to do something and they will adopt it, if it works better, because they are supremely utilitarian. If you try to force them to do it your way, you are in for a struggle.
Afghans are not some strange otherworldly creatures, although many would be happy for you to believe that they are. They are neither Predator nor Alien. They are people who can and do learn. Most are good, some are bad, and most just want to be safe, have some hope of justice, and be left alone. The ones who can provide them with that will gain their support and who wins that struggle wins the war. Everything should be done with that in mind.
Our leaders need to avoid the intellectual laziness of the legion of MSM pundits, who have never spent a night in an Afghan village, who have never sat in a shura and who have never been served chai and opinions from a real Afghan on a rug laid over dirt. Spouting geopolitical pablum while ignorant of the concerns of the Afghan villager is to completely miss the point.
Keep this in mind; we are not trying to conquer Afghanistan. We are attempting to help Afghanistan conquer itself. I’ve been there, I know what my efforts were directed towards and what I was directed to do, and it was all in that vein. No matter what conspiracy theories you hear or what Taliban or HiG propaganda says; I was never there to conquer, I was never there to occupy anything other than my own personal space. I was there to help Afghans conquer their own country, and there were plenty of them who were grateful for that help.
The MSM has a responsibility to this nation, to be part of our senses, and to portray what is going on without waxing Kipling on us. Come on, guys, knock it off and actually learn about what you are talking about without spinning it to please your own sensibilities. Do your job. I’ll know you get it when you start sounding like some of the independent journalist types who are there now. When you start sounding like Kesterson or Yon, then I will know that you get it.
I won’t hold my breath. The only thing that would accomplish is to make me pass out.
What does “victory” look like in Afghanistan? That’s another story, perhaps next.