Rizwan A. Rahmani Headshot

Afghanistan: A War of Moral Attrition

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My mother had many folkloric adages and expressions for specific situations. One of those sayings translated as such, "It is better to do something yourself if you are so capable, rather than relegate it to somebody else." Wise though most of her sayings were and are, this is one the United States should have ignored in Afghanistan -- and done itself and its citizens a huge favor.

I heard a few weeks ago on the news that United States has handed over minding of the Bagram prison to the Afghanis and there might be an end to the war in sight, according to President Obama. Even though he said so in his convention speech largely to score points after his opponent omitted that war from his speech entirely, it is a notable milestone nonetheless, and I believe it should have come much sooner (although we have heard promises of the war's "end" many times). This war has already lost much of its original intent (though the defense contracting companies managed to fattened their wallets, despite Rumsfeld's blasé assessment of Afghanistan of having 'no good targets'), its focus, and its moral bearing.

When it comes to American wars, it seems to me (as a naturalized citizen not born or raised here) that the ones that are the most analyzed, which have most affected American history, and which weigh heaviest on the American psyche in a negative way are the American civil war and the Vietnam War (both World Wars, being multinational conflicts, retain more positive spin). There are more movies made about Vietnam, and are still being made, than any other war. And from the Civil War, Southerners have ample residual resentment towards the North: it is evident in their cultural attitudes towards Northerners and in the vernacular, referring to them as Yanks, Unionists, carpetbaggers, etc. My friend from Amarillo, Texas always referred to non-Southern companions she disdained as "He's (or she's) a goddamn carpetbagger!"

However, more recently, if you deem a war only a decade old "recent," the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are threatening to overtake those other notorious wars in terms of leaving an indelible socio-cultural and economic mark upon our national conscience. While the war in Iraq is symbolically over, it is by no means finished (the defense industrial complex doesn't want it to be finished), considering all the unrest and instability that still plagues that country, not to mention a very large American army presence, still about 45,000 strong: hardly a peacetime deployment. There is talk of drawing them down but there hasn't been a final head count agreement: big surprise! The balance of power between the regions and the ethnic groups has never been so out of kilter and tenuous.

The war that should have been fought decisively, in a short and swift manner, is the Afghanistan war. Yet this war will be -- and already is going down in the history as such -- one of the longest wars America has ever fought. That is astonishing considering the United States had ample opportunity to get out of the way after the aerial assault, which allowed the Northern Alliance to gain control of the greater Afghanistan and Kabul as they routed a rather disorganized Taliban and pushed them towards southern Afghanistan that borders Pakistan.

I am not a military tactician, and undoubtedly hindsight is always a thing of lucidity, but really -- it is not as if the United States lacked intelligence on the Taliban or the Afghan terrain, or for that matter the Machiavellian relationship Pakistan and its ISI had with the Taliban from its dealings with both. Had the United States played its cards correctly, it would have had the chance to support the Alliance from the sidelines and relegate the remaining struggle to those who knew the people and the terrain far better than US soldiers will ever know. It would have saved itself lives and funds by focusing on sealing the porous border between Pakistan and Afghanistan: a phenomenon well known to U.S intelligence which was exploited heavily during its support of the Mujahedeen during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.

Given the facts on the ground, it would have been a Herculean task but perhaps not entirely unmanageable, with new military technologies the Pentagon didn't have about 30 years ago. I am certain the United States could have made life difficult on both sides of the border for the Taliban.

The Afghanistan War bleeds us monetarily, and physically -- in terms of lives lost on both sides and maimed U.S. soldiers. At the last count, we had lost about 2,035 soldiers, not counting civilians, and were spending over two billion dollars a week in this war with only promises of an end. The original goal of capturing our Enemy Number One was achieved with a group of Special Forces for less than pennies on a dollar -- despite the extravagant show of force and hundred of billions of unfunded monies spent on a war that is now more than decade old.

Whether it was our soldiers' poor judgment in using the Muslim holy book for target practice, or in posing for pictures with mutilated limbs of suicide bombers, or the accidental killing of civilians, or videotaping themselves urinating on dead bodies of the Taliban (for which they face court-martial), or the accidental destruction of the Quran by some absent minded official fueling outrage, all of these events were signs of a war that had long since lost its reputed higher purpose. These were the sort of acts that we expect from our lesser enemies.

This war is now morally deteriorated, like a termite-ridden mighty tree trunk hollowed out, standing still but on a mercurial ground, and beginning to invade our psyche with its pernicious miasma. The famous Corsican military genius Napoleon Bonaparte who never ceased his insatiable hegemonic war campaigns once commented thusly, "In a war there is but one favorable moment -- the great art is to seize it." We have had several moments thus far, and neither the last administration nor this one has yet to seize that moment.