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War? Huh.

June 12, 2010

In 2002, I had a rather loud argument in a restaurant with my friend’s British husband, and it was all about the American invasion of Afghanistan. He told me we had no business in Afghanistan. I told him he wouldn’t be so quick to judge if terrorists had rearranged some British landscape. I completely supported the war effort and believed – beyond the huge issue of rooting out Bin Laden – that we needed to be there. After all, thought I, a significant side effect of toppling the Taliban was an improvement in the lives of the women in Afghanistan. I’d been reading for years in feminist and women’s interest zines about the Taliban and their treatment of women, and I thought they deserved to have their backsides handed to them. Ethnocentric of me? Definitely, but I tend not to care so much about someone’s culture or religious beliefs when a segment of society is treated like women were under Taliban rule.

Cut to the following year. I was working on the base in Bahrain, involved in some of the systems used for command and control. As CNN and FOX News beat the war drums, we knew what was coming, and there were a good many of us who thought it was absolutely the wrong move to make. However, when the Commander in Chief says to invade, you go.

What were some of the reasons I heard? Some thought it ridiculous to go in without support of the international community (um, excepting France,  you understand). Some thought we were already stretched too thin in Afghanistan. Others thought there were only two positives to an invasion: toppling an evil man and saving money over the long haul by ending the need for the Northern and Southern Watch patrols.

I thought these were all very excellent reasons not to go there. Not yet, anyway. My personal, additional reason was in how the locals had changed the way they dealt with us. We’d already invaded a Muslim country and overturned their legal system.  If we entered Iraq, it looked suspiciously like we were targeting Islam. The tone out in town changed, the locals began treating us with suspicion or in some cases outright hostility. When we invaded Iraq, the base went to Delta (no trips out of your house unless you’re going to the base or had an emergency need for food that the ship’s store couldn’t handle), someone lit off a bomb at the front gate, and at one point, all families who were not considered essential personnel had to return to the States. We weren’t even that close to the war. Well, geographically speaking. Missiles might not be able to reach us, or maybe they could, but the danger from the war in Iraq wasn’t Iraq itself. It was in Bahrain, on that tiny island, with us.

While another country’s opinion (or even several countries’ opinions) shouldn’t be enough to influence a decision pertaining to national security, there is a hell of a lot to be said for diplomacy.

Afghanistan was different. We had definite proof that our enemy was in that country, and that government was protecting him. Taking down an evil empire? Bonus points. However, in Iraq, our proof of impending doom was sketchy (and we know now that we shouldn’t have trusted the intel on which the Bush Administration acted). Taking down an evil empire? Well, always a good thing, but it wasn’t enough. Not for me, anyway, and like I said, I was surrounded by service members who felt similarly.

Cut to today. We’re drawing down troops in Iraq, and we’re ratcheting up the effort in Afghanistan as we prepare to pull out of there, too. I feel very conflicted about this. As liberal groups and friends start their clamor for us to leave Afghanistan, I find myself wavering. I still think we need to be there, but when we divided our energy and money to take on Iraq, we let go of our opportunity to take down some terrorists, and now our economy and even our patience as a country is stretched to the limit. Had we done it right in the first place, we might now be able to tackle other threats: The puffy chests of North Korea and Iran, the Napoleonic (as in the complex, not the actual guy) pirates in the Indian Ocean, and perhaps we’d just now be getting to Iraq. Then again, maybe an actual threat from Saddam Hussein would have prompted action before now.

Do we stay and fight the war we were supposed to be fighting? Or do we pull out and save ourselves the pain of waging a war in Afghanistan when our economy is already stuffed into the outhouse? And what do we leave in Afghanistan once we’re gone? Did we take away the awful Taliban only to hand them something different but just as bad? We can’t assume that our style of government will work in that country – they’re basically a geographic collection of tribes and little more. They have no cultural identity binding them together. In fact, there’s plenty of in-fighting based on cultural differences.

I’d like to think we can pack up our gear and bring everyone home. I’d like to think the extra Navy deployments and the constant deployments for the Army and Marines will end. I’d like to say we can go back to a pre-war America with our post-9/11 paranoia-as-the-norm. But what might we sacrifice to do so? What are our responsibilities in Afghanistan? And where do we go from here?

5 Comments leave one →
  1. KittyEnglish permalink
    June 12, 2010 2:46 pm

    **I told him he wouldn’t be so quick to judge if terrorists had rearranged some British landscape.**

    I know this is very retrospective but I just wanted to let you know that we British have had terrorists rearranging our landscape for years. Terrorism is the reason why you don’t find trash cans on train stations anymore or at least trash cans that don’t melt anymore in shopping centres because we went through a few years of being bombed by the IRA and various splinter groups Not military targets. Initially yes but then they moved onto the wives and children of soldiers – such as in the M62 bombing. Then it was civilian targets. People out shopping with their kids on a Saturday afternoons caught in blasts from bombs hidden in trash cans (extra shrapnel damage) or on commuters on trains. I grew up being caught in bomb scare after bomb scare and thankfully was never in an explosion because we were always evacuated in time or the bomb squad managed to dismantle the device. My nearest city was gutted by a bomb in 1996 and we heard the blast from 26 miles away in my hometown.

    The IRA campaign wasn’t all at once and as big of a scale as 9/11 but all the same, it affected the way we live and the way we deal with stuff like bomb scares. I find myself talking about things in my childhood to my American husband or friends and they often find some of my stories shocking. Without going into them, I will just say that I have been very very lucky.

    This comment isn’t getting at you and I really like reading your blog, I just wanted to let you know, however retrospectively, that we British know what it is to live with terrorism.

  2. snarkynavywife permalink*
    June 12, 2010 2:52 pm

    Thanks for the comment, Kitty. Just so you know, my retort to him was specifically because of Afghanistan and the 9/11 – if 9/11 had happened on British soil, I thought his opinion of war would have been different. And, really, I wish I had thought to bring up the IRA. It’s not like y’all decided to let them run rampant when they engaged in acts of terror.

    Again, thanks for the comment!

    • KittyEnglish permalink
      June 12, 2010 3:38 pm

      Honestly, I don’t think we would have jumped into war as quickly. Naturally you guys are our allies and we support you and fight with you but a lot of the British public had a lot of reservations about the wisdom of going into somewhere such as Afghanistan. If there’s anything our experiences with the IRA have taught us, it’s that guerilla wars can’t ever be won. The Russians were in the Stan for 12 years and they got nowhere. The States wanted blood for 9/11, that’s understandable. That was the first thought my friends and I expressed as we watched in shock and tears at the live TV reporting for 9/11. We felt for those poor souls that died that day.

      As for not letting them run rampant – it was a difficult situation because on the one hand you had a Catholic minority wanting to impose their will on a Protestant majority who were looking to the government for protection of sorts and yes, lots of injustices were done. I think a lot of the media in America about this subject tends to be pro-IRA and forgets that the Protestant Irish don’t want reunification with the rest of Ireland. I’m just very very glad that headway has been made and that things are more peaceful now there.

      However it’s not the agreement that anyone could of imagined 30 years ago that brought peace to NI. No one would have imagined Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness in charge of stuff but that’s the thing that ended up working. The going in with guns firing didn’t.

      Just a different perspective, that’s all.

      • snarkynavywife permalink*
        June 12, 2010 4:02 pm

        Yes, historically and geographically, A-stan isn’t the best choice of locations to invade. At the time, I recall we were focused on getting the terrorists involved in 9/11 and the Taliban was telling us to eat a dick. Our puppet president and his war-hungry puppeteers hadn’t declared the War on Terror (as full of win as the war on poverty or the war on drugs) just yet – it was an attack on those who were harboring criminals. Criminals who’d already attacked us on foreign soil before 9/11. Criminals, we realized, who weren’t going to stop.

        The way it escalated from there…I remember I was happy enough to support Operation Anaconda. I’m sure there was a mob mentality around the need for justice (revenge) that took us from zero to sixty over there. And maybe that’s part of why I’m so conflicted about this issue. I still think it was a good *idea* if only to make sure the escalation from African embassy to Pentagon/Twin Towers/wherever else they were headed wasn’t just another step toward the annihilation bin Laden is jonesing for. In retrospect, did we do it the right way? I don’t know. But we definitely screwed the pooch when we took it to Iraq.

        There are just so many variables to consider here. My biggest concern is how do we proceed? How do we not fuck things up even worse while ensuring we’re protected?

  3. LAW permalink
    June 13, 2010 7:38 am

    how to “win” in Afghanistan? what will “winning” be? will it be the Taliban gone, and a “democratic” government? our version of democratic government would never work in Afghanistan – after all, if we are going into history, Great Britain fought three wars in that country, the Russian Empire fractured party because of them (yeah, yeah, we stuck our sticky fingers in there as well) and those who think we are going to toddle out of there leaving them with our form of government, are deluded (and I do NOT include anyone here!)

    Yes, I think we should have concentrated on the Afghanistan front, the invasion of Iraq was, as has been proven, a foolish endeavour, predicated on intel that was slanted, twisted and massaged into what the war drum beaters WANTED to hear. The perception was, and is, that we are waging Crusade – that the Christian empires are trying to wipe out the Muslim world. That’s what the mullahs are preaching, from Peshawar to New York City, Bradford to The Hague and Nairobi to Sydney. And if we stay in Afghanistan, do we then go into Pakistan (since that’s where the rest of the Taliban have skedaddled to) or Kyrgystan, or any of the other Stans??? We can’t! We are spread so thin, we are exhausted, and will the country put up with more money being spent on more wars? I doubt it. The other 99% are getting sick of paying for these two “actions”.

    Kitty, I was in Boarding School in England in the 60s, I remember the bombings, and yes, I think we in the US forget that GB has been dealing with urban terrorism and an unpopular “action” for decades. Belfast, Londonderry – those names took over the TV news from our focus on DaNang, Khe Sahn…. but the sheer scale of 9/11, the shattering of our isolation was a huge blow, and I have the feeling we are still trying to show off our muscle.

    I have the awful sinking feeling that we are going to be dealing with the Stans for decades – I hope like hell the country can wake up to the reality that strutting onto an aircraft carrier and proclaiming victory, is just Bullshit.


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