My attitude on Afghanistan is changing. It's starting to mirror my attitude on Iraq.
We all remember the justification for the Iraq war, right? Those mythical 'weapons of mass destruction'? To this day, many Americans will tell you that not only did Saddam actually possess these things, he was also behind 9/11. Of course, none of that is true, but truth is such a subjective thing these days. If enough people believe the Kyoto Protocol will save the planet, it follows that those who object, even mildly, are eco-terrorists bent on Earth's destruction...
Sorry, there. Damn hobby horse.
Anyway, I was originally solidly behind both Iraq and Afghanistan. Afghanistan first, of course, since that was the first theatre of operation post 9/11 and where, we were told, the man behind it lurked, planning further atrocities.
Like a good sheep, I shifted gears smoothly, believing what I was told to believe, as the focus (in hindsight, inexplicably) shifted from Kabul to Baghdad. And I still remember what many have forgotten, the images of people dancing in the streets and toppling the giant Saddam statue. Weapons of mass distraction aside, Hussein and Company needed killing.
But the subsequent American actions once they had "won" Gulf War II changed my mind in a hurry. That's odd, I thought, they don't seem to understand the meaning of 'liberation'. After deposing the tyrant and ensuring his evil sons couldn't succeed him....having earned the lifelong respect of every Iraqi (of Shiite belief, at any rate), they....stuck around. And around, and around. This is tactically nonsensical on so very many levels. You know the old saw about houseguests and fish? That goes triple for liberators. It was only a matter of time, and a very short time, before the American occupation began to smell. Sooner or later it dawned on me that yes, 9/11 was merely a starting point for al-Qaeda, and yes, further attacks are probably planned...but bin Laden's real goal was not so much the senseless murder of American civilians, but the governmental response it would provoke. It is, in fact, bin Laden's earnest desire to goad the U.S. government into a lasting war in the Middle East, the better to galvanize public opinion against America and eventually re-establish a caliphate.
If you're Osama bin Laden, things are going pretty much according to plan.
There are, of course, a myriad conspiracy theories out there concerning 9/11. A few of them could well be true: if, as claimed, the U.S. government had no foreknowledge of the attacks, it certainly wasn't due to a lack of (increasingly frantic) attempts to alert them...right up until the night before. There is also the matter of the vaunted 9/11 commission, most of which took place behind closed doors over a year after the attacks. (By comparison, the hearings into the Titanic disaster--95 years ago--began just four days after the ship sank; the Nuremberg trials took place two months after the cessation of the hostilities of the Second World War. Both these events, I might add, happened long before the instant communication of today.
At first, of course, my national pride was spiked in 2003 with the news we'd be heading in to mop up America's mess. Shades of Vimy Ridge: we would succeed where other forces had failed. It didn't hurt that we were expressly dedicated to the rebuilding of the country, and I always understood that we had to subdue before we could rebuild. Our peacekeepers needed a peace to keep.
But as time has gone on, I've begun to accept that they don't want us there any more than Iraqis want the U.S. in their homeland. It's taken time to come to this conclusion. Why? Because my Canadian patriotism is every bit as developed (and, looking at it objectively, silly) as that of the most ardent Yank. We would prevail, I had thought, when they come to the inevitable realization that our way of life, the democracy we're gifting them with, is inherently superior to what they had before.
Slap a cross on me and call me a missionary. Then shoot me, because I vowed long ago never to shove my religion down somebody's throat.
Sure, many of them would like democracy. The women in particular. It's worse than criminal when women can't attend school, or attend anywhere without being on the arm of a male relative, for that matter.
But how is fighting going to fix things? Kill off some Taliban and more rise up to replace them. We're fighting fundamentalists over there who view our presence as a threat even when we're not carrying arms. Perhaps especially then. We're fighting people who do represent a tangible threat to their own land, but not to ours. By that criterion, we ought probably to deploy ourselves to Darfur posthaste. And where does it end? How thin must we spread ourselves? We've already spread our culture pretty damned thin, by virtue of inviting the whole world to come join us ("and bring your hatreds along! We welcome them here!") Must we then go off and fight other people's wars for them?
I don't think so.
To be sure, we are doing real good in Afghanistan. The problem, as I see it, is that soon after we leave, most if not all the good we've done will be undone. I used to criticize the U.S. for its lack of an exit strategy for Iraq. Now I'm beginning to understand why they never bothered with one of those. We might think we're in control, that we're "winning", but the odds are overwhelming that we're "winning" a war that ultimately can never be won.