‘Cry ‘havoc!’ and let slip the dogs of war.”—Shakespeare
ROLLING FORK—Today, as yet another American administration failed to avoid yet another not to be forgotten scene of helicopters evacuating soldiers and diplomats from an embassy rooftop as climax to failed adventurism in a far away land, it strikes me as not only reasonable, but almost compelling to ask a very basic question: What, if anything, have we learned?
But to assess where one is, it is often wise to look back at where he has been, so let us figuratively turn back time to America’s second day of infamy, the September 2001 attacks that would scant days later lead the then American president to announce that this country was headed to war in Afghanistan.
On September 20, 2001, in this space in my newspaper I wrote, “For now almost 20 years, Americans’ experience with this country’s military actions has been one of quick, decisive, almost surgical operations, which have, in many regards, been absent the horrors often associated with war. This one is not going to be like that.
“This is not going to be quick. This is not going to be sanitary. This is not going to be bloodless. This will once again show the inherent wisdom in Gen. William T. Sherman’s concise evaluation that ‘war is hell.’”
But even now, 20 years later, as the United States both tried and failed desperately to extricate itself from what has proved its longest war with some semblance of saved face, none of what I wrote then elevates me to prophet status. If anything, it just proved I knew how to look at a map and read a history book or two.
From a purely tactical military standpoint, the United States faced a major obstacle in geography. Afghanistan, the historically ungovernable state then most obviously supportive of the mass murderer Usama bin Laden (the killing of whom represents the sole measurable success readily identifiable in any of this), was and is a land-locked, hellish place of mostly mountains and desert, about the size of Texas.
There are no permanent crops, only a few fruits and nuts grown on the approximately 12 percent of Afghan land that’s fit to grow anything at all. Then Its almost 25 million Sunni and Shi’a Muslims were ruled by a group of terrorist thugs called the Taliban–the same group which is once again seizing everything worth seizing in Afghanistan at a rate swifter than we can cut and run. After evacuating most of our troops, we had to order 5,000 of them back in to cover the retreat that a Pentagon spokesman tied himself in verbal knots trying to call it anything but what it so obviously is – a rout.
As Jim Morrison said quite a while back, “the time for hesitation’s through,” and spouting euphemisms, and weak ones at that, just makes us look more impotent than we already seem.
So let’s just knock off the nonsense, shall we, and quit trying to smear lipstick on this pig.
And we can’t claim ignorance.
Throughout their history, the Afghans have earned the deserved reputation as fearsome, territorially protective fighters. Almost everybody back to Genghis Khan have tried to conquer and occupy Afghanistan with no success. Before our folly, the Soviet Union’s powerful military machine had been embarrassed and frustrated there, with Afghanistan effectively becoming the Soviet Vietnam and serving as the beginning of the end of that empire.
So, from the beginning, we knew–or at least should have–that Afghanistan was not going to be Grenada, or Libya, or Panama, or the then more recent Gulf War, which to millions of Americans watching that “combat” unfold on television, appeared to be little more than a high-tech video game, brought to their homes in living color by CNN and that was over in 100 hours with only 144 American casualties.
Afghanistan, just as it has been for the totality of its existence, was going to be hell and a few cruise missiles and bombing runs was just not going to get it done.
Just as I wrote 20 years ago, “What I believe we are talking about here will eventuate as full-scale conflict fought on several fronts, by several means, for an extended period of time. And the people of this country must be made to understand that on the front end.
“That which lies ahead, what’s mandated by the heinous outrage of Sept. 11, is real war, Sherman’s kind of war. And what the people of this country must realize, accept and meet the challenge of is this: In war, there is always hell to pay.”
It’s 20 years, thousands of dead and wounded, and trillions of treasure later, and the lesson of Afghanistan seems as undeniable as are Janis Ian’s lyrics painfully poignant– “payment due exceeds accounts received.”
Ray Mosby is editor and publisher of the Deer Creek Pilot in Rolling Fork.