Published: 9/6/2021 10:00:01 PM
Modified: 9/6/2021 10:00:05 PM
Recent news from Afghanistan has centered on the cessation of a seemingly endless war, the quick victory of the Taliban, chaotic efforts to evacuate U.S. soldiers and Afghanistan civilians, and speculation as to what this means for future U.S. foreign policy.
The Washington Post’s Katrina vanden Heuvel (“War spending shows we can afford to invest here,” Sept. 2) refers to the war in Afghanistan, among others, as “disgraceful calamities,” “foreign misadventures,” “failure and folly abroad.” To learn from our experiences, we need to get beyond the blame game to probe our own motives for extended engagement in foreign lands.
Our foreign policy fiasco in Afghanistan seems like a sequel to our ventures in Vietnam and Iraq. There are commonalities:
■ An overreliance on the military.
■ Unrealistic goals.
■ Bureaucratic cover-ups.
■ A failure to understand the local culture and politics.
■ Fears of communism, and most recently, terrorism.
Identifying lessons learned from Afghanistan will take further inquiry. I think three things stand out as important to question: the militarization of our foreign policy, the tendency to cover up reality on the ground, and the failure to understand and respect the country’s indigenous society and culture.
First, we assume our military superiority will offset depletions in political and diplomatic personnel. But global military dominance has failed to achieve stated goals, and costly conflicts in distant countries have been counterproductive to American interests.
Second, military and congressional leaders of both parties knew for years that we were not making progress in Afghanistan, and they continued to say we were.
Third, the U.S. saw Afghanistan as a country with a coherent national identity rather than what it is — a loose federation of ethnic enclaves run by warlords with no abiding allegiance to a central government. We assumed, naively, that a functioning democracy could be established.
Our military and security experts have failed. Vanden Heuvel underscores the need for “a strategy of restraint that focuses on diplomatic and economic engagement over military intervention.” Efforts to make the world in our image are foolhardy.
I am writing in grateful appreciation of Wayne Gersen’s opinion column (“Consider a Marshall Plan for Afghanistan,” Aug. 29).
In 1939, at age 13, my newly fierce commitment to Christianity compelled me to conclude that war is morally unacceptable. I imagined a world in which the United States refused to send young men (only men then) to kill other young men. I believed we would then be regarded as a beautiful nation. I took it a step further and thought of our spending our resources on schools and hospitals and wholesome food to lift the whole world.
When I spoke of this — as I did with annoying frequency — most adults, convinced that I would grow out of it, brushed me off as naive. I made an appointment with my Presbyterian minister, who instructed me that there are no blacks and whites in the real world, only grays.
Today I am 95 and this early vision still seems like the right way to go forward. I watched World War II, in which young men killed other young men all across Europe. When the loss and devastation finally ended, the Marshall Plan kicked in to help with repairs. Around the same time, cartoons pictured the Japanese as monsters upon whom we could unleash our great discovery of atomic bombs. The war in the Pacific ended, too, and then we helped with rebuilding and soon admired the sensitive arts and business acumen of Japan.
After that, we really went wild, adding wars in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. Are we now tempted to take on Russia and China? Just wondering.