February 12, 2010
F. Grey Parker
At 5:00pm Eastern Standard Time today the largest offensive by Allied Forces in Afghanistan since the start of hostilities over 8 years ago commenced against the city of of Marjah in Helmand Province. An untold number of our sons and perhaps some of our daughters are certain to give their last full measure in the days and even weeks ahead. We can't begin to predict the short or long term civilain toll. This is going to be bloody. This is going to be horrible. And it is about time.
The US and our allies have very effectively choked the financial resources of Al-Qaeda in the past few years. International currency schemes that once gave substantial material support to the enemy have been cut off. Through the cooperative efforts of many foreign governments, it has grown very difficult for Al-Qaeda and like minded organizations to continue to purchase and ship deadly weapons to their fighters.
This has not been the case in central and southwestern Afghanistan. In the craggy landscape of that broken country, Helmand represents what might be called the "heroin-belt" of a collapsed agricultural system. Estimates place the area's contribution to the narcotics trade at nearly 60% of all heroin poppies. This region was long-ignored by the previous administration. We now are left with a terrible price to pay for that oversight.
If there was any great wisdom in the Neo-Con's mantra of "fight the enemy there so we don't have to fight them here," it certainly went disregarded and for far too long in this inhospitable frontier. The mis-adventure in Iraqi nation-building is largely to blame for the dearth of resources committed during the last decade. The grudge-settling of so many Bush 1 holdovers also explains some of our distraction. Beyond these qualities there is a dirtier rationale for why we are where we are now. There was a fundamental Neo-Con disconnect when it came to military actions that held no clear treasure to be commodified. There was too little material profit to be had from taking the war to so barren and backward a "moonscape".
There have been those who have argued for years that we would be wise to fight "the country that actually attacked us on 9/11." I have consistently counted myself amongst them. And now the time has come. These are the very people who comforted, aided and conspired to assist in the acts of Bin Laden. They deserve every bit of war we can bring to them.
Nothing, sadly, is ever that easy. We have given the people of the region a great deal of time to evacuate. We have signaled the "non-committed" that may be fighting on Al-Qaeda's behalf to lay down their arms and move away from the region. By many accounts, our own Rules of Engagement have prevented us from taking early action even against those who our drones have recorded planting IEDs and land mines. All of this is correct. If we are ever to return to the standing we once held amongst our allies, we have to take every precaution that we wage a "civilized war."
The true price of calling ourselves a nation of honor is that we occasionally are required to act like one.
It will likely be weeks or more before we have any true picture of the success of this mission. In the interim, there will be hand-wringing but also thoughtful analyses. There will be debate and also the shrillness of short-sighted men and women trying to score the day's big "gotcha." But that won't change whatever is actually happening on the ground. It won't help so much as one of our kids in uniform. Neither will it kill them. The enemy that has sworn to destroy us will be doing the vast majority of that thank you very much.
On the other hand, this battle and war will not be going forward in a vacuum. In the event that we achieve victory over the region (which, thanks to years of myopic dithering, is still a big "if"), will we have the will to help rebuild a Afghanistan into a somewhat peaceful society? More importantly, will we have the moral high ground to do so? If we continue to grant intellectual territory at home to this mad notion that some people "don't deserve our rights" or even that they "don't deserve legal representation," how can we then be so foolish as to lecture a battle-weary tribal-culture about the importance of establishing and preserving "freedom." To my nervous nelly conservative friends I would stipulate that those positions run quite contrary to the long established philosophy of "American Exceptionalism."
Whether or not one is of a religious timber, there is much to consider in a biblical passage that speaks great poetry as well as a warning of our challenges:
Psalm 31:11 Because of all my adversaries, I have become a reproach, Especially to my neighbors, And an object of dread to my acquaintances; Those who see me in the street flee from me.
We, as a nation, did not pick this fight abroad. We also didn't pick the fight at home. But winning on both fronts without sacrificing our fundamental values is what is at stake.