Not sure how this happened but in the last month I've read (OK still reading one) three books with some perspective on Afghanistan. One from a guy who started a not-for-profit building schools, another from a former NPR journalist who ended up in Afghanistan; again running an organization over there and now the book about Pat Tillman (former NFL-er who joins the Army).
I'm struck by a few things or themes that keep repeating; we will never understand their culture completely and if Afghanistan is or could be another Vietnam.
I grew up during most of the Vietnam War and I'm ashamed to say I didn't pay close enough attention but what I can recall is this: slow build up of troops over many years, lots of under-the-radar stuff going on, create a climate of cold-war fear that South Vietnam would fall to communism (oops!) and lots (57,000+) of Americans dead and we eventually leave. And for what?
Maybe Osama bin Laden was reading the same history books. I just realized I'm at risk of repeating a previous post last December so I'll cut this one short and leave with this comment:
In the Tillman book, the author quotes bin Laden as saying back in the 1990s, he wanted more than anything to get America into Afghanistan. He was part (as were we) in beating the Russians out of the country - even though he is not Afghan. I guess he thought and realized he could never beat us here but he could wear us down there over many years and we'd give up. Lose stature in the world and have to lick our wounds at being humiliated by whoever stepped up to the plate over there and kept us involved. And in the meantime he can continue to drum up anti-American furor and fervor worldwide in the Muslim community.
The second thing in the Tillman book and who knows if any or all or just some of it is true but the misinformation put out by our govt. and the military - not just about Tillman and other "friendly fire" incidents but the Jessica Lynch episode too, calls into question what we read and hear about what is happening even now. I guess all we can do is read a variety of sources on the multiple sides of the situation and hope for the best.
OK here's a 3rd thought for free: we seem to place a great premium on capturing (or killing) Taliban leaders, Al Qaeda leaders etc. Obviously this is a good thing but I think it is shortsighted to think that eliminating them (even bin Laden himself) will make much difference. The whole idea behind Al Qaeda or it's name "the base" is the decentralization. There is no real base of operations. No one person runs anything. Kill one leader and another one pops up somewhere else. Maybe some or even many of those who wish us ill follow/worship/revere bin Laden but if he were gone, I doubt it would make much difference other than symbolically; kind of like getting rid of Saddam. That didn't really help much - at least not yet.
OK a 4th thought. Lots of people want to blame George Bush (43) for all this mess he left for Obama to clean up. I don't doubt he left a lot behind. But so did his father (41) and Clinton (42). Just like Vietnam didn't start to be a problem when we sent our first advisors as early as the 1950s, the problems in Iraq and Afghanistan didn't start with 9-11. Plenty of blame to go around.
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