Reading About Afghanistan

Discovering The Light At The End Of The Tunnel

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I've been reading about the War on Terrorism. It's so I'll understand what's going on. It isn't working.

In the Washington Times, November first:

On page one I see that the military and the intelligence services of Pakistan, which is our steadfast ally, just like England, are giving military supplies to the Taliban. Versatility is no doubt a virtue. Then on page 17, I learn that 10,000 militiamen in Pakistan are ready to cross the border to help fight the US, but that the Taliban wants only experienced fighters who can handle heavy weapons. Many, says the story, can. On page 21, Arnaud de Borchgrave notes that the US is the Great Satan in mosques throughout Pakistan, and to a lesser extent in other Moslem countries.

Until I learned these things, this West Virginia boy would have said that our Islamic coalition was awfully shaky -- that the various governments were sucking up to us for parochial reasons while the Moslem world at large loathed our very entrails. Now I'm reassured. Islamic civilization is On Our Side after all. You and me all the way, Ahmet.

On page three, I find senior guys at the Pentagon, not for attribution, saying among other things that the military erred in thinking that air power alone could dislodge the Taliban. "The Taliban is a lot more formidable than we thought they would be," said one, not too grammatically.

I understand the surprise of the Joint Chiefs. Having watched the Soviets spend long years fighting the Afghans with massive air power, large ground forces, artillery, mines, armor, and gas, and still get whipped, they had no obvious reason to think we couldn't do it in three weeks of carrier operations. In fairness, the Pentagon may have been unaware of Russia's Afghan campaign. In a previous war, now forgotten, they didn't understand what had happened to the French.

The same officials held that maybe bombing the Taliban's training camps should not have been the first order of business. Now, there's a thought. The one place we could be sure of not finding the Taliban was in camps we had said we were going to bomb. Bin Laden may be waxing his skis in Tahoe, or chugging absinthe in Paris, but he ain't in those hutments, methinks.

The more astute of those who served in Vietnam observed that when the enemy has nothing to blow up, you can't; that if he disperses widely through intractable terrain, you play hob finding him; and if he doesn't quit when central planning says he should, you have to figure out what to do next. It is not a recipe for a quick finish. Fortunately this war is very different from Vietnam.

I just can't see how.

On page 16, the US is buying foreign wheat to feed the Afghans. I think I understand the idea. There are Good Afghans and Bad Afghans. We will drop bombs on the Bad Afghans and food on the Good ones. The Bad Afghans will be sorry, and the Good Afghans will come to love us, and understand the goodness of our intentions, and give us their hearts and minds. In I Corps we called it "pacification." It must have worked. There is no war in I Corps.

I'm not sure why I can't enshroud myself in the appropriate roseate fog over this food-dropping. I asked a friend in international drug-enforcement about the fighters of the Northern Alliance. They were, he said, murderous, torturing, drug-dealing reprobates. They were just, this week, our murderous, torturing, drug-dealing reprobates.

On page 20, a column by Paul Craig Roberts informs me of several inspiriting things. For example, Duke University shut down a professor's web page because he called for a strong military response to the killing of several thousand gringos. So much for the free market in ideas. .Roberts gives many such examples of scholarly patriotism, as have others: Straightforward anti-Americans seems to be the default position among academics. Gosh we're united, and all. You know, like after Pearl Harbor.

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Skepticism regarding the surge of instant-patriotism-just-add-milk is not well received just now, being as we are in the midst of an orgasm of national unity. A whole lot of people mean it. Thing is, a whole lot don't. Academia would rather see the US lose. The media aren't too different. Nor are others. I've read of a couple of black firemen, for example, refusing to ride a truck that displayed an American flag. "It isn't my country," they said, a point with which many would agree. I sense a faddishness in this enthusiasm without price. Like hula hoops. Does it really run deep?

I hope the Pentagon knows something I don't (not a particularly daunting requirement, granted.) Should the Taliban collapse as the Pentagon predicts, I'll be delighted. I'll dance in the streets. Otherwise, methinks, the war threatens to settle into a long indecisive winter, with our Moslem allies growing ever more uneasy and the American public coming to think of other things.

Absent quick results, pressure may grow in Congress -- is growing, say the papers -- to put in serious ground troops, among whom there will conspicuously be no Congressmen. If they are SpecOps guys, ok. Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't want to see our kindergentlerized, socially-engineered leg infantry, with pregnant soldierettes in support units and therapists for sensitivity refreshers, doing sweeps in Afghan snows. Bombing is easy, because the Taliban can't fight back. On the ground, it just might.

Am I missing something? As best I can tell, the bad guys don't have to win to win. They just have to avoid too obviously losing. A protracted fizzle would do nicely. A better venue than Afghanistan for either protraction or fizzling is hard to imagine. Meanwhile, says the Washington Times for November third, the economy just lost another 415,000 jobs because of the attack in New York. Will any victory at all in Afghanistan let us get our dignity back?