Friday, January 25, 2008

Winning or Not Winning?

In today's HuffingtonPost, Rep, Mark Udall, who has just come back from a 3-day visit to Afghanistan and is commenting about present conditions there, claims that things are getting worse:

"I just returned from Afghanistan. It's a land like none other, and the stakes of our efforts there could not be higher. It's a country graced with remarkable snow-capped mountains reminiscent of the Colorado Rockies, but ravaged by levels of turmoil and poverty almost unthinkable to the average American.

I spent no more than 36 hours in the country, but having only slept a few hours in a retrofit shipping container on the grounds of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, I managed to visit several areas of the country...If there is a message I want to convey, it is that we cannot allow the Taliban or Al Qaeda to defeat us in this part of the world.

The American people understand who attacked us on 9-11. They also understand that after nearly 7 years we still haven't fully defeated the Taliban, or Al Qaeda and we haven't eliminated Osama bin Laden. Finishing those jobs are critical, and we have to get them done.

Afghanistan and Pakistan are the true central front of the fight against Islamic terrorism and I believe the U.S. needs to do more to counter growing instability in those countries. However, I am deeply concerned that the Bush Administration's focus on nation-building in Iraq has led us to neglect nation-building in Afghanistan.

I opposed the war in Iraq in part, because I was worried that this would happen -- and my fears have borne out. We are not losing in Afghanistan, but unless we can secure more resources -- including additional NATO forces -- we could lose ground in this critical part of the world, and the consequences would be disastrous."

One of many readers responding to his blog comments:

"If we hadn't spent 17 years using Afghanistan for target practice, maybe it wouldn't be such a mess. Maybe the U.S. needs to get out of Afghanistan and stop "helping" them. Since our help leads to so much misery, death and destruction....

As for nation building, I'd like to nominate the United States to be next for consideration. If the federal government is looking around for a project, I suggest they start here, right in their own backyard. We've lost millions of jobs. Millions more are losing their homes. We can't pay the bills. We're broke. Our leadership is corrupt and our people are hopeless. Any ideas?"

According to official assessments, we have been "winning" in Afghanistan, so it is a real inconvenience to find out that the Taliban are ominously returning. And, according to "surge" supporters like John McCain and President Bush and General Petraeus, experts all, we are also now "winning" in Iraq. But are we really? Or, have the insurgents who have fled Baghdad merely regrouped again in Mosul, an unstanchable flow? Maybe they aren't the same insurgents, or maybe they are--who knows? The important thing is that we maintain the pretense that we are winning. We have, after all, a message to give away. With so much surface discontinuity, utterances of winning become objects, laid end to end, to persuade a dubious public. Utterances of winning are reassuring. But are they true? How elusive, how mercurial, is this matter of "winning" anyway? As Joseph Palermo states (also in a HuffPost commentary from last week):

"Those who claim the United States is "winning" in Iraq must define exactly what they mean by "winning." Does "win" mean we have a pro-U.S. government successfully running Baghdad without American military assistance? Or does "winning" mean the U.S. stays in Iraq until 2018 or 2025 or 2085 or longer? Or does "winning" mean the Iraqis accomplish some form of lasting "reconciliation" among the various political, tribal, religious, ethnic, and class factions? Or does "winning" simply mean that more Iraqis die in the fighting than Americans? What exactly has the United State accomplished in Iraq? In other words, I wonder what... the U.S. has gotten for all of those taxpayer billions and American lives thrown at that country....

All of the Republican presidential candidates who advocate continuing the occupation of Iraq must define for the American people what their idea of "winning" means. The current status quo in Iraq could lumber along in the form of what we used to call "low intensity conflict" for decades or even centuries."

My own humble opinion happens to be that the United States is not "winning" anything, anywhere. It is slowly bleeding itself to death. We continue to fight a military war with an enemy that has the upper hand strategically, and manages to outwit us every time. (President Bush recently toured the Middle East on a so-called "peace-making" mission, which he used basically as an opportunity to badmouth Iran, the country he most would like to start his next war with.) In all of these confusing, opposing, and mostly illegible Middle Eastern situations, it seems like the "big picture" is always missing, and the underlying issues are neither explored, explained, nor understood. To be able to assess, or begin to understand , who is really winning this war, how many people, if asked, would be able answer any of the following questions?

Are the societies that resent the West conditioned to do so, or is it a freely developed attitude? Is Islamic resentment deeply cultural, politically triggered by events, or is it constructed by an ideology? Are jihadis building an enmity towards the West that is irreversible? What would we need to do to reverse this enmity? Are the majority of Muslims trusting or fearful of the jihadist forces in their midst? Do they feel a need to reject democratic processes because they are being engineered and imposed by the U.S. government? How is it that every time voters hurry to democratic elections in these countries, given the chance, they mainly vote for Islamist party leaders who are not supportive of democracy?

Anybody who can answer these questions gets a free lunch with me and Virgil.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dear Suzi and Virgil, There's a piece by Robin Fox in the November 2007 Harper's magazine that offers thoughtful answers to the questionss you pose. It's a brave piece of writing titled "The Kindness of Strangers." Keep up the good work you two.