Point of View Columns

Modern Madness

With the daily disaster that is the BP oil spill, it is easy and understandable that we may miss elements of the huge picture that loom before us. It is easy and understandable that we can defer consideration of one ongoing disaster while another one unravels before our daily video eyes. It is easy and understandable that we do not have the tragedy of American combat involvement in Afghanistan in the forefront of our realm of consciousness and concern.
The Gulf of Mexico oil spill continues, seemingly unabated, seemingly forever. In most instances major environmental degradation takes place over generations if not centuries. It is rare that an ecological disaster of such epic proportions takes place in less than ninety days. To be sure, the oil companies have been less than sterling stewards of the environment in that region for the last half century, but the BP oil spill has collapsed the ecology and the economy of the Southern quadrant of the United States with incomprehensible proportions.
But Afghanistan continues to bleed this country’s youth and treasure daily. In the month of June sixty members of the American military died there. That is an average of one soldier every twelve hours. As this column is being written five American soldiers died yesterday as we reveled in the afterglow of yet another Independence Day celebration that had more to do with fireworks and barbeques than it had to do with some understanding of the enormous potential of a country that has yet to be fully realized.
We see the Obama Administration enveloped in some bizarre policy flytrap that is jointly constructed by the Bush-Cheney neo-cons and by candidate Barack Obama himself. As a candidate, Barack Obama correctly pointed out that the American war in Iraq was conceived in error, executed with near idiocy and had resulted in no discernible benefit for any American who was not a shareholder employee of Haliburton or Blackwater. He also correctly pointed out that Afghanistan and its murky border with Pakistan was the lair and launching point for some of the extreme and violent terror that has been directed against the United States for at least a decade and that this region should be site of any use of American force.
How that correct analysis has now morphed into the insertion of almost 100,000 additional American troops into Afghanistan is a mystery that will have to be parsed by historians in the years and decades to come. What we know in the here and now is that the American military establishment has turned Obama’s initial correct analysis into a military solution that will somehow address the seemingly unrelated goals of counter terrorism, counter insurgency and nation building.
What we know in the here and now is that there is no itemized and cognizable definition of success in Afghanistan that has been articulated by any representative of the Administration, civilian or military. If the idea is that American troops will be in Afghanistan until “it is no longer a safe haven for terrorists to launch attacks against America” what happens when the terrorists who have access to the internet are smart enough to move their operations to Somalia, Djibouti or Minnesota? Will the decade-long military incursion into Afghanistan have made any American city, town or village any safer? Is the next iteration of the Afghanistan madness to play combat Whack-A-Mole with terrorists all over the world? And always one whack behind?
One of the common definitions of madness is engaging in continuous behavior that produces only one negative result while always expecting a different result. The more that we look at the Obama Administration in Afghanistan I am reminded of the Johnson Administration in Vietnam. The Johnson Administration was elected in 1964 with great hope and promise for America. The epic and historically consequential Civil Rights Bill had passed and the Great Society was going to finally address the institutional disparities in American society that had diminished its capacity to keep its great promise for all of its citizens. The hopes and dreams of many Americans were invested in a President who promised change and articulated a new vision of the future. Vietnam was a police action that President Lyndon Johnson had inherited from the Eisenhower and Kennedy presidencies and he was honor bound to support the military commitments made to that point.
Somehow this initial support for a military commitment, based upon the dubious (and now fully disproven) premise that American’s security depended upon countering the communist threat in Vietnam, resulted in “surge” after “surge” of soldiers until 500,000 troops were in Vietnam and at least 50,000 Americans and millions of Vietnamese died.
And then America simply had no more will to fight an unwinnable war against a nationalist insurgency that was prepared to fight forever. And then American troops were withdrawn. And then there was a “communist takeover”. And American security was not compromised in the least. And now, Vietnam is a valued trading partner of the United States.
Indeed, Afghanistan has now become Vietnam with mountain passes of terror and valleys and plains of daily mortal conflict. We can only continue to hope that President Obama perceives the analogy and determines to end the madness of this country continuing to make the same mistakes, always hoping for a different result, no matter its improbability and impossibility.
And it must be noted, almost mournfully by this writer, that as of this date, U.S. policy in Afghanistan is not appreciably different than it would have been if the Cheney-Bush duo had been re-elected or if John McCain had been elected. Barack Obama was elected by many who believed that he would be adept enough to know that a military hammer cannot be used surgically. The consequences of this erroneous judgment become clearer by the daily body count.