A young man's strange, erotic journey from Milan to Minsk...and apparently, back again.

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Location: Denver, Colorado, United States

The details of my life are quite inconsequential, really. Summers in Rangoon...luge lessons...

Monday, December 19, 2011

When does it "end"?

The last U.S. troops left Iraq on Sunday, or so the narrative long as you ignore the inconvenient presence of robust special operations forces and almost 10,000 militarized contractors.  The occasion brings about a serious moment of reflection, at least for those who turn their eyes from pop culture and holiday hype long enough to notice.  The numbers tell the story, from casualties to troop numbers to monetary cost, and the regional and global impact for better or worse will take decades to fully tell.  But what I can't get over today is the simple storyline that this war is at an end just because large numbers of U.S. conventional units have crossed back into Kuwait, leaving massive amounts of hardware and infrastructure behind and a precarious political system in place.

I am absolutely not taking away from the achievements of our military, especially those who worked so hard, bled so often, and in too many cases, paid the ultimate price for the relative stability and democracy which now exist...but I am disputing the notion that the Iraq war is now somehow over, just as the Vietnam war wasn't over in 1973 and Afghanistan's (latest) war will not be over in 2014, no matter what transpires between now and then.  I take this stance because in our rush to declare history in an instant, we hype bookends when the moment strikes.  But the story of this conflict is no more easily surmised now than it was in the dire days of 2004-07, and there is much greater continuity once you extend it back to Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait in 1990 and Desert Shield/Storm.  It's worth recognizing, or better yet, celebrating, hundreds of thousands of our military men and women being home rather than in Iraq...but let's not pretend it is the end of a conflict.

Analysts: Questions remain as U.S. troops leave Iraq

The continuity of Afghanistan's war arc stretches much further, if you view it this way: the US/NATO invasion in 2001 was in response to the Taliban government's refusal to turn over al Qaeda leadership; the Taliban came to power as a result of the brutal civil war among Mujahideen factions largely armed by the U.S. and others; the Mujahideen first combined efforts to fight the Soviet Union, who was invited in by Afghanistan's communists...and on and on it goes.  What lends relevance to my dry attempt at a history lesson are the factions and the major players, most of whom are aligned now as they were in the Soviet-Afghan war, and whose animosity toward each other far precedes even that chapter.  For every instance in which President Karzai cozies up to Pakistan, his rivals from the former Northern Alliance get further skittish about the country's future direction, and the demarcation between the Pashtun regions and the northern/western areas comes further into focus.  Unlike in Iraq, stability as we recognize it doesn't have a prayer yet in Afghanistan, no matter what "end" date we have chosen.

Finally, I feel it's important to acknowledge the passing of one of our era's most courageous and unlikely leaders.  From rebellious playwright, to uniter of subjugated people, to gracious leader of a new (then-struggling) state, to advocate for freedom the world over, Vaclav Havel was more than up to the task.  The people of Afghanistan, with their own tradition of beautiful poetry, who yearn for a new beginning would do much worse than to look to the likes of him for inspiration...

Vaclav Havel, Czech leader and playwright, dies at 75


Anonymous Slappy said...

Eloquently put, as always. This phrase in particular could not be more true: "in our rush to declare history in an instant, we hype bookends when the moment strikes".

December 19, 2011 at 7:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Major Dan,
I totally agree that the war in either of the countries is over, nor will it be over for a long time to come.
Perhaps the "last" of troops coming home and "end" of war in Iraq, so close to Christmas Holiday is politically motivated for feel good and upcoming election.
Also true is, as you stated, the war in Afghanistan will not end in 2014 even if we end our presence there. This is espcially true if the security issues between Pakistan and Afghanistan border does not improve.
Question for you. Why aren't we pressuring Karzai to better handle the Pakistan's role in the instibility it causes in Afghanistan? Could we not do this if we dry up the financial aid?
Same goes for Pakistan.
Thank you.

December 19, 2011 at 10:54 AM  
Blogger Major Dan said...

Slappy, your generous praise is kindly appreciated. Anonymous, that is an excellent question, and one that could only be definitively answered at pay grades MUCH higher than mine. My assumption (or wild guess) is that in both cases, Afghanistan and Pakistan, the US gov't feels that we are applying as much pressure as we can without 'breaking' it, or causing an even greater mess...
In Afghanistan, I've heard senior officials say it: We are stuck with Karzai (the more bitter ones say that we backed someone too erratic from the beginning, others say that he's the only one who could have united Afghans). Regardless, too much is now invested in him & his supporters, so that abandoning them risks a desperate reaction.
With Pakistan, there is a diplomatic dance on a tight wire. We need them, mainly for geopolitical reasons, and they need us, both for their own strategy and for our aid & investment. Many argue that MORE engagement is needed, not less, in order to prevent future generations of ideological militants, but that engagement costs taxpayers more, so a dance goes on internally here as well.
Is that enough wild speculation for now? ;)

December 20, 2011 at 2:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Major Dan,
Your wild speculation is not so wild but pretty much on target.
Perhaps the Pakistan and Afghanistan border could be controlled thus secured better if the Pakistan President had more power than its military. just saying...

December 22, 2011 at 10:26 AM  

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