I was watching a Congressional Hearing in which General Allen and some top ranking military officers were being grilled on various hot topics, including the resent tragic shootings of 16 Afghan civilians by a US soldier. While listening to the General talk about how he believes it is his duty to do what he can to "win" in Afghanistan (and he says we can win), it occurred to me that we really put our military in damned awkward positions.
After the 9/11 attack, when we discovered that Al Qaeda was responsible, President Bush asked Afghanistan to turn Bin Laden over for prosecution and dismantle the Al Qaeda training facilities. The Taliban, who were in control of the government of Afghanistan at the time, refused. We sent in support for Afghans fighting the Taliban and then expanded that into sending in combat troops to take out Al Qaeda ourselves. That effort was overwhelmingly supported by the American people. Then the train started going off the track. We got distracted and caught up in a war with Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Our mission in Afghanistan became secondary and the mission morphed somehow into supporting the new government (lead by a corrupt Afghan politician named Karzi) and trying to bring stability to Afghanistan by rebuilding their infrastructure and bringing Western-style Democracy to its people. The people on the point of our effort were our military personnel -and that, right from the start, was a stupid mistake.
We have the finest, most professional, most dedicated and most powerful military the world has ever seen. And what do we do with it? Send it into a culture we do not understand to teach a largely illiterate population how to live and prosper in a "Western mold". That was not, is not, and should never be the function of military professionals. Our military people are "war fighters" and they are damned good at it. They are not diplomats or professional civil servants.
Think for a moment about the position we are putting our young soldiers and marines into. We are taking 19 and 20 year old's, training them to be warriors and then sending them 8000 miles away into a desert environment most have never known, in which they fight an elusive enemy that strikes from ambush. An environment where they are constantly in fear of IED's, land mines, rocket attacks, ambushes and snipers. An environment where the nice old man sitting in the bazaar offering tea during the day may be carrying and AK47 and taking shots at you in the night. Add to that our modern technology which allows journalists to go right along recording every move they make and broadcasting it live to millions of viewers around the world. Then, when our warriors act like warriors and do something that, in other circumstances would be considered unacceptable such as getting drunk (a no no in an Islamic country), we discipline them and send them to cultural sensitivity training.
Even our highest military officers are caught up in this awkwardness. Our military does not choose where they are sent and what enemies they are to fight. Our politician do that. But we somehow hold them responsible for the wars we send them into. That was painfully the case in Vietnam and, from the tone of the Congressmen questioning the Generals in the hearings, there is still a tendency to do that today. One congressman asked General Allen if, in light of the latest tragic events in Afghanistan, he were making plans to accelerate the withdrawal of our troops ahead of the 2014 schedule. General Allen said that he had not been told by the White House to do that and there were no such plans being made. The answer was appropriate but the question was just plain stupid. The military does not make those decisions. We tell them were to go and who to fight. They may tell us how they what to do it and with what resources, and they may tell us what our chances of success are -but in the end, they do as they are instructed.
I think it is time we started remembering that we, the people, send our troops into battle through the direction of the politicians we elect. It is time we stopped being so hypocritical and when we ask a young man or woman to sign up and become a warrior, then train the the best we can to be a warrior, we should let them be warriors and have a little more tolerance and understanding when the act like warriors.
And, if you want to hold somebody responsible for the war -start with the person you elected to sit in the White House. If you think the war in Afghanistan is a correct one and we are doing what is right, vote to re-elect him. If, like me, you think we got off track and it has been nothing but a clusterf**k that needs to be stopped and the troops brought home, then vote for somebody else -somebody more likely to straighten out the mess and put an end to it one way or the other. Either way, let's not play politics with our military and use them as scapegoats.
Now a YouTube clip that was forwarded to me by a friend (thank you Margaret) and I liked it so much I decided to rip it off (sorry Margaret) and share it with you.
Live Long and Prosper....