A Bump on the Road to Kandahar

The U.S. war effort in Afghanistan would be laughable, the stuff of a Peter Sellers romp (“The Pink Panther” series, “The Mouse That Roared”) or black comedy (“Dr. Strangelove”) were the results not so deadly to American service members and the American treasury. The comedy of errors reached a new pinncale (or low point, take your pick) this past week, as the funny guys with the red noses and orange hair wearing green uniforms with stars on their shoulders announced (with straight faces) that it now looks like the proposed “libration” of Kandahar will have to be delayed until September. Why? Because the citizens of Kandahar, represented by our favorite Afghan, Hamid Karzai, and his evil brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai (the strongman leader of Kandahar and kleptocrat par excellence) , are not quite sure they want this stronghold of the Taliban liberated or not.

Where is Norman Lear when you really need him to turn this into a half-hour sitcom? Stan McChrystal, the Jay Leno of allied forces in Afghanistan, explained why the operation was now behind schedule. “When you go to protect people, the people have to want you to protect them,” he deadpanned for the camera (one would expect him to be saying this while doing figure eights on a unicycle with a parasol in one hand). The rough translation of his statement, I think, is that it is harder to liberate people who don’t want liberating than people who do. What a revelation!

And why would the good citizens of Kandahar not want to be liberated? Well, possibly it is because they do not feel the need to be freed fom their current position and transformed into some other condition, such as the further imposition of the Kabul government over their lives. They already have one corrupt Karzai in their midst; why do they need a new swarm of kleptocrats? Moreover, while this notion appears too abstract for Americans to understand, it is not clear why or whether the people of Kandahar, who are currently ruled by Afghans (admittedly, ones WE don’t like) would feel they had been liberated (freed) by their conquest by foreigners (Americans). The United States may feel better if Kandahar is no longer under Taliban rule, but it is not at all obvious that the people of Kandahar agree. If anything, the evidence (the obvious lack of enthusiasm over the prospects) seems to be that they don’t want us to liberate them. So why don’t we get it?

I take no satisfaction lampooning the extraordinarily limited intellects that have gotten us into this mess and are apparently not bright enough to see their errors or how to rectify them. The death toll among American forces is up this month, and it is mostly Kandahar-related. To the extent we continue to press forward toward that city, the death toll is going to continue to rise, and will probably increase substantially, despite the fact that it is not clear that they want to be liberated, to paraphrase McChrystal. Yet, the more I think about this and the more I write about it, the more insane the entire enterprise appears.

Afghanistan is and has been a fool’s errand since the United States allowed Usama bin Laden to escape from the Tora Bora in December 2001. What we have been doing since, and particularly what we are doing now, has essentially nothing to do with the fight against Al Qaeda, the war on terrorism, or anything else that vaguely constitutes an adequate justification for expending American lives in that dreary land. It is time to declare the Aiken solution, and bring the troops home. NOW!

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