Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Even George Will Can See It

(Update below)

From his latest column:

The U.S. strategy is "clear, hold and build." Clear? Taliban forces can evaporate and then return, confident that U.S. forces will forever be too few to hold gains. Hence nation-building would be impossible even if we knew how, and even if Afghanistan were not the second-worst place to try: The Brookings Institution ranks Somalia as the only nation with a weaker state.

Military historian Max Hastings says Kabul controls only about a third of the country -- "control" is an elastic concept -- and " 'our' Afghans may prove no more viable than were 'our' Vietnamese, the Saigon regime." Just 4,000 Marines are contesting control of Helmand province, which is the size of West Virginia. The New York Times reports a Helmand official saying he has only "police officers who steal and a small group of Afghan soldiers who say they are here for 'vacation.' " Afghanistan's $23 billion gross domestic product is the size of Boise's. Counterinsurgency doctrine teaches, not very helpfully, that development depends on security, and that security depends on development. Three-quarters of Afghanistan's poppy production for opium comes from Helmand. In what should be called Operation Sisyphus, U.S. officials are urging farmers to grow other crops. Endive, perhaps?

Even though violence exploded across Iraq after, and partly because of, three elections, Afghanistan's recent elections were called "crucial." To what? They came, they went, they altered no fundamentals, all of which militate against American "success," whatever that might mean. Creation of an effective central government? Afghanistan has never had one. U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry hopes for a "renewal of trust" of the Afghan people in the government, but the Economist describes President Hamid Karzai's government -- his vice presidential running mate is a drug trafficker -- as so "inept, corrupt and predatory" that people sometimes yearn for restoration of the warlords, "who were less venal and less brutal than Mr. Karzai's lot."

Mullen speaks of combating Afghanistan's "culture of poverty." But that took decades in just a few square miles of the South Bronx. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, thinks jobs programs and local government services might entice many "accidental guerrillas" to leave the Taliban. But before launching New Deal 2.0 in Afghanistan, the Obama administration should ask itself: If U.S. forces are there to prevent reestablishment of al-Qaeda bases -- evidently there are none now -- must there be nation-building invasions of Somalia, Yemen and other sovereignty vacuums?

Why are we here again?

I'd also like to comment on his opening paragraphs:

"Yesterday," reads the e-mail from Allen, a Marine in Afghanistan, "I gave blood because a Marine, while out on patrol, stepped on a [mine's] pressure plate and lost both legs." Then "another Marine with a bullet wound to the head was brought in. Both Marines died this morning."

"I'm sorry about the drama," writes Allen, an enthusiastic infantryman willing to die "so that each of you may grow old." He says: "I put everything in God's hands." And: "Semper Fi!

But this is first and foremost in our hands.

We are telling these soldiers that they are dying so that each of us may grow old. But is that true? Are their deaths doing anything to makes us safer?

We have a responsibility to these men and women. And it is not to uncritically agree with whoever says the answer is more troops and more war.

I was in the army once. I joined on my 17th birthday, right before the first Gulf War was starting. I can tell you that I thought I was more politically informed than most, and I was probably was. I can tell you that I had more extensive knowledge of the history of war than pretty much anyone in my brigade. And with all that knowledge, I'm pretty damn sure that I didn't know squat about why we were about to go into war.

17 year olds rarely know more than what we tell them. And so when we tell them to go get their legs blown off, fighting some irrelevant and hopeless counter-insurgency, because it's vital to the security and prestige of the United States, they believe us. And nothing could be more irresponsible and depraved than asking someone to give their life for a war which we know to be lost or unnecessary or both.

Why are we even allowing 17 year olds to go to war? It's not because there aren't enough 30 year olds to do it. It's not because 30 year olds aren't physically capable.

It's because we need young, impressionable minds to mold into killing machines. Minds that do not have the experience and maturity needed to decide whether or not the cause is just.

We tell 17 year olds that they aren't mature enough to make decisions; these decisions include voting, entering into contracts, drinking, and buying cigarettes. Yet the US Army actively recruits our children when they turn 17. And it has no problem sending them into battle to be maimed or killed, and to kill and maim, at 17 and without so much as a high school diploma.

This is shameful. And the crime is compounded by the volunteer military, which preys on the least-educated and most vulnerable among us, instead of requiring all able bodied people to participate in the defense of our country.

Who can doubt but that the world would be a very different place if the Bush daughters had been eligible for the draft?

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