I'm taking a risk by writing this post but I think it's worth it to consider all aspects of our involvement in Afghanistan. The video above is from Assignment Earth, a PBS series. It details some of the alternative energy solutions being deployed by our military in Afghanistan. Solar panels, not guns. Wouldn't it be great if more of this were happening here? But it's not, largely thanks to the Koch/TeaBircher cabal.
Here's something else about Afghanistan. They are in the midst of a growing food crisis, brought on by drought and poppy profiteers. USAID has been instrumental in working with Afghans to secure their crops and with the assistance of US foreign aid, has begun to establish what could possibly be a stable agricultural economy one day.
These are not acts of war. It can be argued that the money would be better spent here in the US, but I would counter-argue that investments in humanitarian efforts in Afghanistan wouldn't happen without the assistance of the US military, and if that money were not spent, it would not find its way into the hands of those in this country who need it most. At least, not with our current House of Representatives.
Afghanistan is, and will remain, a country that fascinates me, frustrates me and rips my heart out, all at once. I have followed events in Afghanistan since 1975, when a relative of mine was posted there. I have pictures of family there over the years, and have met some wonderful Afghan people. It is complex, difficult, and worth more consideration than to simply write it off as hopeless.
In 2009, I wrote this:
Here is my dilemma.
Leaving Afghanistan means leaving a country with a weak government which will likely topple just as it has in the past. Only this time, a government overthrow could easily place the Taliban back in power like a bacteria that has mutated from abortive antibiotic treatment. It comes back stronger and harder to eradicate the second time around, with the possibility of a more lethal result.
Leaving Afghanistan means sanctioning a thriving illegal opium market as the primary economic driver in their country.
Leaving Afghanistan means leaving men, women and children in extreme poverty with no real defense against those who exploit them.
Leaving Afghanistan means abandoning all hope of the possibility of helping to build a nation that can actually survive the regional and internal conflicts that have torn it apart in the past.
Leaving Afghanistan means breaking promises we made when we sent our troops there.
I’m sure my fellow progressives and Democrats will demand my card at the door for the conflict I’m feeling over this. From everything I read, their answer is to get out and stay out, that it’s a losing proposition and we’re better off cutting our losses and moving on.
The problem I have? Accepting the idea that while it’s fine to pay verbal service to the poverty and genocide in the world, we’re unwilling to make a sacrifice to actually help end it. Our fight in Afghanistan doesn’t seem to be a fight for domination of their country, but for stabilization and a pathway to a self-sufficient, self-governing Afghan state.
Whether we withdraw 33,000 by the end of 2012 or 73,000, the dilemma remains the same. So I don't really know whether to shake my fist over the whole damn thing or not. Pakistan still has nukes, leaving that region vulnerable to extremists. Afghans still suffer from corruption, food shortages and need. George W. Bush still made the initial decision to deploy thousands of troops in Afghanistan and then leave them and the country to languish while pursuing their Iraq conquest.
Perhaps the most important part of President Obama's speech last night was this:
We must chart a more centered course. Like generations before, we must embrace America's singular role in the course of human events. But we must be as pragmatic as we are passionate; as strategic as we are resolute. When threatened, we must respond with force — but when that force can be targeted, we need not deploy large armies overseas. When innocents are being slaughtered and global security endangered, we don't have to choose between standing idly by or acting on our own. Instead, we must rally international action, which we are doing in Libya, where we do not have a single soldier on the ground but are supporting allies in protecting the Libyan people and giving them the chance to determine their destiny.
In all that we do, we must remember that what sets America apart is not solely our power — it is the principles upon which our union was founded. We are a nation that brings our enemies to justice while adhering to the rule of law, and respecting the rights of all our citizens. We protect our own freedom and prosperity by extending it to others. We stand not for empire but for self-determination. That is why we have a stake in the democratic aspirations that are now washing across the Arab World. We will support those revolutions with fidelity to our ideals, with the power of our example, and with an unwavering belief that all human beings deserve to live with freedom and dignity.
Above all, we are a nation whose strength abroad has been anchored in opportunity for our citizens at home. Over the last decade, we have spent a trillion dollars on war, at a time of rising debt and hard economic times. Now, we must invest in America's greatest resource — our people. We must unleash innovation that creates new jobs and industry, while living within our means. We must rebuild our infrastructure and find new and clean sources of energy. And most of all, after a decade of passionate debate, we must recapture the common purpose that we shared at the beginning of this time of war. For our nation draws strength from our differences, and when our union is strong no hill is too steep and no horizon is beyond our reach.
America, it is time to focus on nation building here at home.
That last point is one upon which I think we can all agree. History will decide whether the president made the right decision or not. I reiterate what I said in 2009: I'm glad I'm not the one who had to decide when and how many troops to bring home, and I'm sure the weight of it is soul-crushing.