Tuesday, March 13, 2012


Oh how I wish the harbingers of early spring so evident here in Emporia would descend on the international scene. But I fear it’s an empty wish. The skies are filled with wave after wave of man-made storms. The Arab Spring that held such promise a few months ago has morphed into shared military/sectarian rule in Egypt that’s become every bit as repressive as what the people were liberated from. The news from Libya is pretty much the same. This morning’s New York Times had the following dispatch – “There are 250 separate militias in the coastal city of Misurata. From being heroes, those militias have become the most loathed in the country.” The daily reports we’re getting from Syria are heart rending. The streets are littered with corpses. We really don’t know what’s going on with Iran’s nuclear ambitions. The Israelis are convinced they’re close. Our intelligence officials are telling us we’ve got time.

All of that would be bad enough, but things are getting worse. I got up this morning and read about the weekend incident in Afghanistan. An American soldier is being held in the murder of 16 Afghan civilians. They were murdered while they slept.  Nine of the victims were children; three were women. Some of the bodies had been burned. The solider in custody is a non-commissioned officer. He’s married and has children. He’s a veteran of two tours of duty in Iraq. His current tour of duty was his first in Afghanistan. 

In the aftermath of the carnage American officials are saying “all the right things.” “The perpetrator will be brought to justice.” “The actions of one person do not, in any way, reflect the professionalism and courage of the vast majority of Americans serving in Afghanistan.” The statements are true, but the tragic facts remain. Pronouncements from our leaders can’t wash away sixteen corpses.

The Taliban in Afghanistan have vowed revenge. Americans in Afghanistan are once again on a high state of alert.

Is it just me? I feel like the wheels are coming off the wagon.

Not long ago we were being fed rosy scenarios about progress. We were being told to stand fast and remember the mission.

The warning signs have been there for some time. Tragedies like this don’t happen in isolation. They’re part of a larger whole.

A few months ago, Lt. Colonel Daniel Davis reported his findings from a year in Afghanistan to the Armed Forces Journal. In his travels, from Kandahar to Kost to Kunduz and other provinces, he saw, first hand, that events on the ground “bore no resemblance to rosy official statements by U.S. military leaders.” .His conclusion was brutally honest – “When having to decide whether to continue a war, alter its aims or to close off a campaign that cannot be won at an acceptable price, our senior leaders have an obligation to tell Congress and  the American people the unvarnished truth and let the people decide what course of action to choose.”

Overnight polls taken by the Washington Post in the wake of the murders reveal that about 60% of us want to leave Afghanistan…..NOW!

Will we? I doubt it. There’s a mission to complete.

What’s the mission? I have no idea. And I don’t think our leaders do, either. The mission seems to be whatever they say it is on a given day. One day it’s getting Bin Laden. The next it’s stabilizing the Near East. On really optimistic days it’s about making democracy work in Afghanistan.

One thing is certain. The man who did this will be punished. But what of those who crafted the policies that made something like this inevitable? If one man, whose judgment might have been blurred by three tours of duty in harm’s way, can be punished, what should happen to those who crafted the policies? Did they really believe something like this would never happen when they discussed strategy and tactics in their climate-controlled conference rooms?

There’s plenty of guilt to go around. The punishments, however, are selective. Robert McNamara was the architect of rural pacification and body counts in Vietnam. His post-war punishment? Chairmanship of the World Bank. Henry Kissinger gave us Vietnamization and Realpolitik. Gerald Ford made him Secretary of State.

When it comes to punishment, the guy in the trench always bears the brunt. During the Boer War, Harold “Breaker” Morant was executed for having killed a Boer prisoner. Morant claimed he was following oral orders that had been issued by high command. On the night before he died he penned the following:

If you encounter any Boers
You really must not loot 'em!
And if you wish to leave these shores,
For pity's sake, don’t shoot ‘em!

“Breaker” Morant had to pay for his crime. The mission and high command had to survive.

 And so it is today.

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