Where is the outrage over the Afghan government trying to hold us up for $70 million over some bogus customs infraction? How does anyone at the Department of Defense muster up the gall at this point to explain to the families of those still dying in Afghanistan that it was to protect our freedom? What was General Joseph Dunford, Jr., the latest commander of all troops in Afghanistan, smoking before a recent interview in which he regurgitated the same Pentagon drivel about how Afghanistan would be just fine, thank you, if we kept spending money there and risking the lives of our people?
These are just some of the questions that swirl in my mind every time I open a newspaper. One might surmise that Senators Carl Levin and Robert Menendez should hold round-the-clock meetings of the committees they chair, Armed Services and Foreign Relations respectively, until we wash our hands of the Afghan mess. Instead, they're too concerned with how much additional dog poo we can step into in Syria, because we must enmeshed in more than one disaster simultaneously, or this just isn't the United States.
Let's look at the issues posed by the questions at the beginning of this piece.
The Afghan government has had the nerve to suggest that, since we got waived through while bringing military equipment into Afghanistan without filling out a lot of meaningless customs paperwork, we should now pay a penalty for removing the stuff. Apparently, the absence of paperwork breaks rules that don't seem to apply to drug smugglers, Taliban, or grafters who bribe customs officials, but does apply to people trying to help the Afghan people to build a country that never really existed in the first place. Our refusal to pay has resulted in the Afghan government closing the borders to our people who need to drive the equipment into Pakistan and down to Karachi where it can be loaded on ships.
One might think that there would be an immediate outcry at the Department of State that would shake the rafters at C Street. Instead, our response is to start flying the stuff out at a cost that is at least five times as great as driving and shipping. How was this decision made? I'm not sure I understand what would have happened had we said, "Here we come, ready or not." Were the Afghans ready to shoot it out with us to keep us from leaving without paying? From what account are the hundreds of millions of dollars in overage being extracted to pay for the airfreight charges, especially in the midst of Sequester? Where does anyone think the $70,000,000 in customs charges would have gone had we paid? The Afghan Girls Scholarship Fund? The Afghan USO? Afghan Food Stamps? Or some bank in Dubai?
The standard refrain describing every problem in the Middle East has become, "If we don't do something, _________ (most countries in the Middle East, South Asia, or northern Africa) will become a haven for al Qaeda." If that's true, why is any one of them important? You know that boss who makes every task a priority, so that none of them become priorities? Well, surprise! If every country in that part of the world is a potential safe haven for terrorists, why should we continue to worry about an unfixable morass like Afghanistan? There probably isn't any valid justification for worrying about any of these countries, since we really don't have the capability to fix their governments and make them first-world countries. We'd be better off devoting our resources on keeping miscreants out of the United States. Of course, there's always the possibility that a reduction in our meddling might lead these countries to leave us alone and concentrate on torturing their own populations.
The corollary of this point of view is that there is no justification for any more of our precious lives to be lost in Afghanistan, let alone further throwing away of good public funds after those already squandered. And let's not kid ourselves. Whether 1,000 or 100,000, if we leave troops behind in Afghanistan, some will die. The statement that we don't have to worry because the Afghans will be doing most of the fighting is a disgraceful attempt to obfuscate the fact that trainers who don't come close to combat areas are shot down by the troops they're trying to train. Which dimwit thinks this is going to stop just because we remove the bulk of our troops? And, by the way, considering that we still haven't satisfactorily accounted for the billions of dollars that have disappeared into the Afghan government-sponsored black hole, or taken anyone to task for the theft, what are additional billions supposed to do other than buy more villas?
Finally, meet General Joseph Dunford, Jr., the latest version of the type of political general that has infested the Pentagon for a number of years. I admit that I haven't been a big fan of General Martin Dempsey, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. But I could have kissed him for telling Senator John McCain that, basically, his job was planning and fighting wars, not making policy. This makes Dempsey sort of an anomaly these days. We have had to get used to three-star and four-star generals testifying before Congressional committees or giving interviews and commenting upon policy decisions that should strictly be within the purview of civilians. The most common lie is where they assure us that all we need is one more year, or in Dunford's case, lots of years.
Has Dunford spoken to anyone under the rank of colonel since he got to Afghanistan? Does he ever look out the window and see the smoke rising in Kabul after the latest suicide bombing, or does he just keep his nose in his PowerPoint slides? And most terrifying, are his comments an attempt to maintain a mission so that the Army doesn't have to go into a peacetime posture and forfeit funding that is being pressured downward by the sequester? In a recent interview, he called himself an optimist. A general typically addled by the company line is probably more accurate.
The great thing about Afghanistan is that as soon as you start to forget why we should leave, something happens to remind you. Just how many reminders do we need? How much longer will we allow a tragedy that can no longer command front page coverage continue to torture American families? Mr. President, here's hoping your final decision on this matter is to just come home, and soon.