Readings: 'Leaving' Afghanistan

The New York Times reports that Afghan President Hamid Karzai recently outlined to the Afghan elders his proposal for a long American presence. This comes as a surprise to anyone who believed Obama’s promise that “all” American troops would be out of Afghanistan by 2014. And this comes from the man who assured Pakistan a few weeks ago that, in a war between the United States and Pakistan, Afghanistan would fight for Pakistan.  

This is also troubling in light of two articles I have read in the last few days: One is Mark Thomson’s cover story in Time (Nov. 21), “The Other One Percent,” about the isolation of the military culture from the rest of American life. The other is Mattieu Aikins’s, “Our Man in Kandahar,” in The Atlantic (Nov.), about a high-ranking, young warlord, General Abdul Raziq. He and his men collect millions of dollars worth of U.S. training and equipment, but he is basically a bandit, a drug lord and, according to evidence Atkins has marshaled, a mass murderer.

Time reports that the military has never been so cut off from the American people.  The all-volunteer force is, says one major, “a mercenary military made up of poor kids and patriots from the third and fourth socioeconomic quintiles of the country.” This means that a “tiny slice of America” bears all the burdens of war. Post-military life is described as a “golden cocoon” that insulates troops from the rest of us. Meanwhile fewer of the nation’s leaders have military experience. Only 22 percent of the lawmakers on Capitol Hill have worn a uniform, which means that the people ordering the military around will not know how to use it wisely. It also may mean that the casualty figures and the suicide statistics are just that—statistics without human faces.

It also makes all Americans less able to grasp the horror the young men and women have experienced. And this distance fosters a lack of moral sensitivity to the details of foreign policy. Thus the news that many thousands of these young men and women will now be stationed in Afghanistan into the “distant future” rolls off that 99 percent of the population who do not have a son or daughter in uniform like rain off a roof.

If we are sending our young to defend the Karzai regime, we should spell out the values at stake. Two 23-year-old Afghan men told Aikins how they were stopped by the border police in Kandahar City on the charge of taking food to the Taliban.  Each was strung up until their arms were pulled from their sockets, beaten hip and thighs, while sobbing and pleading innocence. The next morning at the governor’s palace, where American and Afghans shared offices, they were stretched out, with wires tied to their feet and to a generator. One told the author, “ My whole body was filled with moving knives.”

The article goes on to describe how Raziq, then a border police colonel, lured 16 people whose leader he perceived as a political enemy, to a remote spot and killed them all with machine-gun fire. The dead included a 16-year-old boy whose corpse moved an investigating officer to tears: “He was a lovely boy. I wept for him as I lifted his body.  For one person Raziq killed 15 innocents.”

Today Raziq had been promoted to acting police chief of Kandahar. Aikins says that General McChrystal, then commander, decided Raziq was “too influential to cut loose.”

If America swallows Karzai’s invitation to stay on indefinitely, will there ever come a time when the corruption makes us “cut lose,” or will we just go along and continue to corrupt ourselves?

Raymond A. Schroth, S.J.

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C Walter Mattingly
6 years 11 months ago
Tragic as it is that some of the very Afghan leaders we support directly or indirectly are thugs and killers, sadly, there is nothing new in that situation in US foreign policy. President Roosevelt supported Stalin with arms and financial aid, greatly assisting Stalin's ultimate blood bath of 20-50 million slaughtered and starved and the imprisonment of many tens of millions behind the iron curtain for generations. Was FDR corrupt in his actions of supporting Saddam's role model, Stalin? There was massive corruption and thuggery in South Korea following the Korean War. Were Truman and Ike corrupt in continuing to support South Korea and ulitimately shielding it from the fate of North Korea? The choice in these cases, which our editor does not seem inclined to consider, is not usually between the good and the bad in the short term. It can be between the bad, even the very bad, and the prospect of far worse. 

The author also quotes, with apparent sympathy, an officer who describes our soldiers as a "mercenary force." This connotes that our troops are guns for hire and are willing to consider switching to, say, the Taliban if they receive a higher offer (mercenaries commonly fight for foreign services). I ccould imagine some of the Occupiers and the far left, perhaps, greeting our uniformed troops returning from Afghanistan or Iraq not with the respectful greetings and applause we commonly see at airports, but rather with signs and derisive chants of "mercenaries, paid killers!"  I would hope our editors and readers here would abhor such expressions.

Fr Schroth and those he quotes clearly outline a disconnect between those few who choose to serve and, in some cases at least, risk their lives in military sevice, while those 99%, for whatever reason, do not. This has largely occurred since the diminishment of the draft and the current all-volunteer military. I think that a return to the regular function of the draft (it is still operative, but only in a time of relative emergency) would be desireable, for at least 3 reasons:

1/ As the article implies, the general population is not accustomed to the sacrifices that our armed forces must endure, not only in wartime but also in everyday duties. If they were more cognizant, they might think more carefully about things military.
2/ The military has been a great melting pot for America. When the draft was active, all levels of the populace were involved and interacting with each other. There would be less opportunity for the demagogic, us 99% vs them 1% etc, mentality we see currently.
3/ Since most of those drafted would choose not to remain in the service long-term and therefore would not qualify for the benefits of early retirement and most of the health and other benefits that so burden our military budget, we could perhaps afford to maintain an adequate defense and, with some of the dollars saved, provide those serving us with the up-to-date military equipment and support we owe them when they risk their lives in combat service for our country. 


Gabriel Marcella
6 years 11 months ago
The unfortunate use of "mercenary" should not detract from this important commentary. Though our nation has the finest relations between civilians and the military, the one percent issue does not bode well. The reality that only a few and their families are bearing the burden of sacrifice on behalf of the rest of us should be cause for serious concern because the military should be broadly reflective of the values of the larger society. A cloistered military is not good for democracy.

A commnent on "mercenary." There are no mercenaries that swear to uphold the constitution of the United States, that come under the jurisdiction of the uniform code of military justice, and whose senior officers must pass confirmation by Congress. Indeed, more temperate language would allow us fruitful dialogue.
John Barbieri
6 years 11 months ago
If there were draftees in the armed forces, it would certainly make our ''leaders'' think twice before putting our forces in harm's way.
But, the government is supposed to serve its' people, not to ''own'' them. Consequently, the government has no right to draft its' citizens except in time of war.
Of course, since our country technically has not been at war since the conclusion of WW II (only Congress can declare war), our government is able to abuse its' citizens   because of the cowardice of Congress to perform its' duty regarding war.
And, yes, an all volunteer military does separate the armed forces from the larger society. 
The solution is for Congress to exert its' constitutional authority (i.e declare war or not commit our forces) and for the Executive not to act illegally.
But, alas, we should not hold our collective breath waiting for this to happen.
Stanley Kopacz
6 years 11 months ago
The present level of military spending is definitely a necessity.  It's a necessity to support our empire, not our democracy.  I'm more interested in a level of military that maintains our democracy and will make it last.  That's a lot less.  The dream of empire is a nightmare that will eventually destroy our democracy.


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