According to defense officials, military charges will be filed today against Staff Sergeant Robert Bales. Bales will be charged with leaving his base near Kandahar in the dead of the night, and massacring sixteen Afghani inhabitants of two nearby villages before putting several bodies to the torch. Among the casualties of Bales’ alleged shooting spree were three women and nine children.
The motive is unclear, although the most popular theory suggests that Bales is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder — plagued by a head injury he sustained while serving in Iraq. He was currently deployed on his fourth tour of duty, and reportedly struggling from financial strains at home and the emotional tax of 37-odd months away from his wife and children. At any rate, it doesn’t take a psychiatrist to guess why he may have snapped.
That doesn’t excuse the crime, nor change the fact that this somber tale might have been avoided, but for the eleventh hour of America’s reconstruction of the world’s oldest societal insurgency. Quite the contrary. It should give pause to question the costs and benefits of this decade long engagement.
Since Alexander marched his hoplites past the ancient satraps of the Achaemenid Empire — noting, at the time, that Afghanistan was “easy to march into but hard to march out of” — distant empires have become stuck in the muck of this troublesome, tribal country. History has shown that the Afghans will spend the years absent foreign occupiers battling homegrown dynstastic hopefuls. It’s an endless cycle and continuous reminder that the popular cliché christening this “graveyard of empires” holds true –this is no place to wage “nation-building” against an ever-inhospitable host.
In his piece for the main site, posted Monday, Jed Babbin recognizes the facts: we haven’t delivered the goods we were selling, and our co-pilot on this flight of democratic fancy remains Hamid Karzai — the illiberal and utterly corruptible Mayor of Kabul.
I’d be interested to hear from readership if anyone can explain to me why we’re still in Afghanistan? If victory implies a stable, liberal democracy that’s consistently pro-American, then we’re out of luck. Jed points to the failure of our counter-insurgency strategy. He’s absolutely correct. You can’t win that fight with drone attacks and dubious partnerships with local warlords, who are equally impatient for us to head for the exit. Such are the inconvenient details of a war gone on too long.
Short an obscene ratio of counterinsurgents to civilians (one we weren’t ready to commit on 9/12/01, let alone a decade hence) American servicemen and women are easily vilified as heavily armed occupiers, from an unpopular culture, who spend the majority of their time behind fortified walls. Their time “in public” is spent patrolling the streets, forced to depend upon translators to corral the locals — always with best intentions — but operating in a country where the enemy hides in plain sight. If we chose to stay on, how can we expect these brave young soldiers and Marines to win a war when their presence is the glue that binds the insurgency together?
Enough already. For years, neoconservative agitators and liberal imperialists have shouted down anyone who won’t ignore ridiculous constitutional imperatives placed on distant cultures they themselves don’t understand — all the while, foisting myths of foreign allegiance to puppet regimes bought and paid for with American tax dollars.
Last week, the foreign policy chatter on this blog was firmly fixed on Iran’s rationality. Jim suggested, most helpfully, that we should expect our leaders to be the rational actors. I would ask that we demand the same of them when it comes to Afghanistan.
Each new incident involving American soldiers and the civilian population triggers very real, very public outrage. Our troops are in an impossible position — and I’m not talking about supply line headaches or the tempo of combat. Public unrest should be anticipated as the logical byproduct of a ten year mission to root out an un-uniformed foe from a civilian population. The war, in essence, is a Pashtun insurgency drawing hardened fighters from a pool of 15 million Pashtuns in Afghanistan and 25 million more in Pakistan. Good luck winning those hearts and minds after beating them bloody for the past decade.
Considering the conditions facing our servicemen and women, I’m astounded more tragic incidents have not occurred. Yet thanks to their efforts, al Qaeda is largely dismantled and what remains of its human infrastructure has quit the field. At this point, I’d prefer we concentrate on tracking them down, wherever they may hide, to “terminate with extreme prejudice” whatever remains of their hobbled organization. Concentrated raids against al Qaeda operatives have proved far more effective and far less costly when tallying up the blood and treasure spent nation-building.
As such, I encourage President Obama to do what’s right: recognize the reality of Robert Bales. We have pushed our fighting men and women to the brink — and absent an attainable victory scenario, they’ve more than earned the right to come home to their families. They’ve done all we’ve asked of them and more. The president should recognize this most recent tragedy for what it is, salvage self-awareness, and take the opportunity to announce an accelerated drawdown of American forces.