Saturday, July 31, 2010

Picture Of The Day

Time magazine's latest cover is causing some controversy in the blogosphere:

Our cover image this week is powerful, shocking and disturbing. It is a portrait of Aisha, a shy 18-year-old Afghan woman who was sentenced by a Taliban commander to have her nose and ears cut off for fleeing her abusive in-laws. Aisha posed for the picture and says she wants the world to see the effect a Taliban resurgence would have on the women of Afghanistan, many of whom have flourished in the past few years. Her picture is accompanied by a powerful story by our own Aryn Baker on how Afghan women have embraced the freedoms that have come from the defeat of the Taliban — and how they fear a Taliban revival.
Now of course this photo is meant to be emotionally manipulative: how could you not feel sorry for this woman? What was done to her was truly reprehensible and horrible and I don't mind admitting that I would be quite happy to see something equally as horrible happen to her attacker in return. This sort of thing happens to women far too often in that part of the world and our troops are doing good work by trying to prevent further violence being perpetrated upon innocents. That said: do you consider this to be a form of exploitation? In their defense of running the cover Time claims that they neither endorse nor oppose the war effort but as I said, it's clearly meant to support an agenda of remaining in Afghanistan and I think this claim of objectivity would seem equally transparent if the cover photo featured the dead mutilated corpse of an American soldier instead.

We've occupied Afghanistan for nearly a decade now. Credible military experts and historians agree almost universally that it will be several more decades before any sort of functional civilized government will be able to run the country and maintain some semblance of peace in the face of Taliban aggression. As I've said before I see only two options for us in this war: either get out now largely on our own terms or else wait until a lack of money, troops and equipment slowly drains us dry before forcing us to leave in defeat. I'm sympathetic to the plight of people like Aisha and I wish the United States could stop all suffering on the planet through shear force of will but that's obviously logistically unrealistic and economically unfeasible.

So, how do we define "victory" in Afghanistan? Should we remain there indefinitely until it is achieved? Should we spend an infinite amount of money to achieve it? What about all of the other countries whose people endure equally appalling levels of suffering and cruelty, should we commit ourselves just as fully to achieving "victory" in those places as well? Should we truly become Team America: World Police? I think the short and inevitable answer is that we simply cannot, and I believe that President Obama was mistaken in doubling our military down on the war in Afghanistan. Just as important as striving to win a war is being able to recognize when that cannot be done, even if doing so leads to an increase in human suffering. That's a hard truth for Americans to accept but we must do so if we wish to avoid bankrupting our nation and retain the ability to help people around the world like the poor girl pictured above.


TOM said...

Get out now.

This is the way their society has operated for centuries. American solders are not going to change that whether they are in country, or not.
Ten years in Afghanistan - absurd! And the people we were looking for are not even there anymore.
Nation building is a bad idea. Trying to change cultural and moral norms is a worse idea, if we even have a right to do it.

JoeBama "Truth 101" Kelly said...

I have two views. Either leave now as Tom says, or go balls and all. I hate half assing things. Raise taxes. Institute a draft. Send the two million troops it would take and allow the military to act like a military.

It would be ugly. Many of the freedoms we hold dear here in the USA would be necessarily abandoned in Afghanistan. Slime that use perverse views of religion to justify mysoginy and abuse aren't worthy of and constitutional protection to their disgusting beliefs. There. I'm a LIb but I'm still glad I said it.

This occupation is more about serving the military industrial complex and making idiotic, Bush loving draft dodgers feel manly.

Time to put them on the money. You want taxes to be raised and your kids being sent to Afghanistan and Iraq righties? To fight along side the poor kids who couldn't find jobs in this shitty economy that the deregulation crowd caused?

I don't know how vast your readership is JBW but I hope it's enough that one of our war lovin right wing pussy friends gets this message.

Anonymous said...

My biggest fear is that we deplete our human and financial resources to the point where the entire country teeters on the brink of implosion. In other words, America gets too big for its britches. You could argue that we're already at that point, but I think it can get worse.

The problem regarding withdrawal is that it could possibly be your last term as President. It's a decision that would likely be tremendously unpopular in the short run, despite the right decision in the long run.

As I get older, I realize that I am not above leaving America. I love this place, but if things get too bad then I'm not opposed to moving somewhere with greener pastures. The only hard part about that would be my wife's ability to leave the nearness of friends and family.

JBW said...

TOM: word. I have nothing to add.

T101: I'm the same way when it comes to half-assing but I truly believe that committing to an all out war in Afghanistan would destroy us financially. We can barely afford the half-assed attempt we've waged thus far.

And to answer your question: my readership is woefully small, so much so that I feel quite comfortable writing the more controversial things that I do here. I'm not saying that I'd stop doing so if it vastly increased, I'm just saying.

one L: as we've discussed before, I really do believe that we are living in the descension of an empire. It may not happen within our lifetimes but unless something truly innovative and miraculous happens to American culture and society I see mostly darker days ahead. I honestly don't know what Obama should do regarding that but I know what I would do. I look forward to visiting you and your wife abroad. Please consider an Eastern European country choked with super model-caliber women: I'll buy the wine.

magpie said...

Sometimes... we find ourselves in that most depressing of situations: where we or someone else is screwed no matter what we do.

Conscription is a political impossibility with regard to something like Afghanistan. If you do that (move to a war economy) then you really will have an empire, and it will last about as long as Napoleon's, and what will come after won't be as nice as modern France.

On the other hand, even if you put the humanitarian stuff aside - and it's a kick in the guts to do that - have you considered that if NATO and allies pull out before the Afghan army has even had a chance to be trained, the border with Pakistan (a nuclear armed country) will have no limits as the global hotspot for training terrorists? And that hotspot is in striking range of the bulk of the world's hydrocarbon resources, upon which our civilisation and the stability of the world economy depends.

This isn't Vietnam. It's much much worse.

JBW said...

We seem damned whether we do or don't, magpie. Frustrating, to say the least.

Kevin Robbins said...

I was all set to agree with you, JBW. Then Magpie had to come and throw reality into the mix. Many of our problems, presumably, are ones that we have cultivated in the past and are now bearing fruit. That may make it a little too late to start winning hearts and minds?

OTOH, as it is now, we are the biggest recruiting tool for al-Qaeda. Are there carrots we could use to help erase the damage we've done to our reputation if we eased out of our present situation? Doubling down on empire seems like the wrong way to go, too.

For remember (this our children shall know: we are too near
for that knowledge)
Not our mere astonied camps, but Council and Creed and
All the obese, unchallenged old things that stifle and overlie
Have felt the effects of the lesson we got-an advantage no
money could by us!

Fuckin' tar baby!

JBW said...

If we don't leave soon ex DLB I'm afraid that same reality would just force us to in the near future. Trying to figure this all out could drive a man to drink.