Cynical Optimism

Quite often, there are times when I really hope that my reality-based cynicism is overpowered by my vicious optimism. Over the last few months, this turned out to be the exact case with the pro-2nd Amendment rally in Richmond, Virginia back in January; happily, I was proven wrong and gladly posted about it.

The news of the last few days – that the U.S. and Taliban have reached a peace agreement – has me cautiously optimistic and bitterly skeptical at the same time. On one hand, this conflict has dragged on long enough that there are now soldiers deployed there who weren’t even born when 9/11 took place. The fact that there is now a generation who continues to voluntarily serve and fight for an event which took place before their own lifetime boggles my mind. To put it into historical perspective:

  • Europeans born in 1914 would be fighting the First World War into 1933; Americans would be fighting into 1936…
  • Europeans born in 1939 would be fighting the Second World War into 1956; Americans would be fighting until 1960…
  • Americans born in 1950 would be fighting the Korean War into 1968; and those born in 1965 (the year the first combat troops in the conflict) would be fighting until 1984.

On the other hand, Afghanistan has been a noteworthy quagmire for foreign interests for many, many years… with no realistic end to the incessant tribal and foreign-backed fighting. Perhaps owing to its location at the far reaches of Asian and European influence, the region has seen invaders starting from as early as the 6th century.

Outside of Ghazni, Afghanistan, 13Mar2005. (Source: author)

Rather than risk an unnecessarily convoluted tangent, my point is that several major conflicts have been concluded as a “victory” – usually for more political reasons than anything else – only to have unfortunate and unintended consequences which bring into question not only “why” but “what for” and “what will this mean?”

The Iraq War ended in 2011, marking a 7-year conflict which began under questionable intent/intelligence, continued through rapidly evolving policy, and finally concluded under the presumption that the Iraqi military and police forces were sufficiently trained and equipped to handle the security of their country. Interestingly – and painfully – enough, they proved to be far from being able to manage and contain the growing strength and influence of ISIL as the group waged terror from the fertile and chaotic strife in Syria. Many of the major cities and towns in northwestern Iraq quickly fell as the Iraqi defenders fell, fled, or faded in the face of this aggressive and brutal force.

South of Samarra, Iraq, 5Oct2006 (Source: author)

It wasn’t until April 2015 that Tikrit – the southernmost base once occupied by U.S. forces and taken by ISIL – was liberated; by mid-July 2017, the largest city in norther Iraq, Mosul, was wrestled from ISIL control. Even today, American troops maintain a presence in Iraq – despite the political protests of Baghdad… and with no definitive timeline of withdrawal offered by Washington. While ISIL has been largely defeated in Iraq through a combination of local and foreign efforts, the region continues to teeter on the precipice between stewing animosity and civil war – a state which seem to be familiar, perpetual, and tragic for a region rich in history and resources.

Spoils of many wars – somewhere in central Afghanistan, 24Sep2004. (Source: author)

In 1989, the Soviet-Afghan War came to a close after the first Soviet troops – wearing Afghan military uniforms – began the first of many military operations aimed to “assist” the fledgling Democratic Republic of Afghanistan in 1979. Harkening to the regional trend for the relatively obscure nation to become a pawn for opposing foreign influence throughout its history, the decade-long war became a contest of violent supply and demand as the Soviets and Western nations provided arms, funding, and training to attrite each other in a convoluted proxy war.

Following the withdrawal of Soviet troops, Afghanistan was quickly embroiled in a long internal struggle for power. Just as quickly, however, the rest of the world promptly refocused their collective attention elsewhere: for the Soviets, it was the rapid implosion of Communism and the crisis management which followed the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991; for the U.S. it was the restructuring of foreign policy due to the sudden absence of that traditional adversary. Neglect and distraction failed to fully appreciate the rise of Al Qaeda and the growing capability and potential of that threat… until 11 September 2001…

…Which is where this all began.

It is difficult to understand the start – even nearly two decades later. While it is undeniable that the attacks on American soil that day provided a chilling moment where everything changed, looking for reputable sources to gain a better idea of the political and diplomatic efforts leading up to the invasion of Afghanistan conflicts with my own personal biases and comprehension on the matter. After all, my perspective is tainted with the loss of several friends in both Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as my own involvement in Medevac operations in the former and casualty evacuation in the latter.

This is where the reality of experience offsets the theory of academic analysis. I had no issue being deployed to either theater – it was my job, but more importantly, it was my obligation to those who I served with and those whom we supported. Therefore, my attention was constrained to the immediacy of deployments and not the matters of policy which dictated it.

As such, it is interesting to consider that there were demands placed upon as well as overtures of acquiescence by the Taliban prior to the invasion. From President Bush on 21 September 2001:

By aiding and abetting murder, the Taliban regime is committing murder. And tonight the United States of America makes the following demands on the Taliban:

— Deliver to United States authorities all of the leaders of Al Qaeda who hide in your land.

— Release all foreign nationals, including American citizens you have unjustly imprisoned.

— Protect foreign journalists, diplomats and aid workers in your country.

— Close immediately and permanently every terrorist training camp in Afghanistan. And hand over every terrorist and every person and their support structure to appropriate authorities.

— Give the United States full access to terrorist training camps, so we can make sure they are no longer operating.

These demands are not open to negotiation or discussion.

From 14 October 2001:

A senior Taliban leader said Sunday that the Islamic militia would be willing to hand over Osama bin Laden to a third country if the United States halts the bombing of Afghanistan and provides evidence against him.

President Bush quickly rejected the offer.

“The president has been very clear, there will be no negotiations…”

I ended up with 42 tabs open and on the verge of losing my momentum, but my commentary on the news of today – the peace brokered between the U.S. and the Taliban might offer some perspective on my initial reaction on the significance and possible repercussions involved:

Usually I am optimistic, but in this case… No.

Not even one bit.

“The peace deal is seen by the United States as a precursor to the more challenging prospect of direct talks between the Taliban and the U.S.-backed Afghan government, which was not involved in the truce negotiations.” [Source: UPI release]

First problem… and that is putting it family-friendly.

So… The peace deal comes without the involvement of the legitimate Afghani government?

Wow.

“The United States ‘will closely watch the Taliban’s compliance with their commitments, and calibrate the pace of our withdrawal to their actions,’ said U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who attended the signing in Doha, Qatar.

“‘This is how we will ensure that Afghanistan never again serves for international terrorists,’ he added.”

(From AP… I tend to pull from many sources)

So.

What is the plan when things go the way they always have?

Yeah.

The air is blue here.

Iraq was conveniently before an election and turned into a… [sigh] shit-show not too long after…

Oh look! Another election and another shit-show in the making. Yay!

What the Taliban has that we don’t: patience.

I said as much in late 2001; all that is needed is time… we would tire and forget.

I was proven somewhat right when I went on leave in 2004 from Afghanistan – while in Doha, the civilian contractors seemed surprised that we were still in Afghanistan…

And I still maintain that our collective myopia when it comes to historical examples of conflict in the region, we are optimistic in all cases… but who hasn’t been when it comes to Afghanistan?

There is a part of me that truly wants to believe that this is a good sign – that there is a light at the end of this 18-year-old conflict that will result in no more loss of life – Afghan, American, or whomever finds themselves in the heart of this war-with-no-end. At the same time, there is another part of me that is entirely too jaded in the appreciation of what hate, resentment, opportunity, and motivation can compel people who only see a target for those basic drives.

Such is life of a veteran of complex conflicts like these. Nothing is ever simple – predictions, justifications, and interpretations.

What do I think will happen?

[Looks back on previous entries]

Damn. I write a LOT.

However, one observation stands out:

Where we go from there depends on rational participation on all levels – from the voting population to those who are elected as representatives of our respective nations; from understanding the causes to structuring a viable solution. After all, what point is asking a question about a conflict after the fact when everything before then was never scrutinized?

That is my question: where do you take us from here? 

It all depends on the fallible human variable – regardless if they are Afghan or American.

3 thoughts on “Cynical Optimism

  1. Pingback: milsurpwriter
  2. “My question is what will be our reaction to it?”

    I honestly think that we are so jaded as a nation that our reaction will follow a predictable pattern:
    “Meh.”
    “Afghanistan… didn’t we have some troops there years ago because of something…?”
    “Something happened in Afghanistan? Meh.”
    “Whoa… how did we not see this coming from Afghanistan?? We need to send troops there to put a stop to this!”

    …Repeat.

    A conversation with a fellow vet yesterday reflected my own thoughts on how this might be prevented. He maintained that what is truly needed, in terms of foreign policy preventing this pattern from continuing, are methods which we are uncomfortable with – brutality both short and vicious. Familiar quotes from posts we have talked about resonate:

    “The only way to make war humane is to make it short.” Helmuth von Moltke

    “I hold it as a principle that the duration of peace is in direct proportion to the slaughter you inflict upon the enemy. The harder you hit them, the longer they remain quiet.” General Mikhail Skobelev

    ISIL was successful – tragically – in reminding the world that viciousness, while reprehensible, is key to rapid assertion of both intent and action. Even while I was deployed, I entertained the idea of a possible solution of air assaulting Mongol mounted archers in Chinooks, Roman centurions in Black Hawks, and sling-loading trebuchets – kind of a “Oh, you wanna play? Remember THESE guys? Yeah, game on.” While none of those would fare well against modern weapons, the spirit of their tactics and drive are what modern sensibilities have shifted away from.

    It will be interesting when the next conflict inevitably resurrects that level of violence; that it isn’t a matter of “if,” but “when” due to the fact that we never seem to fully get away from what is fundamental and effective. I hope that this never happens in my – or my kid’s – lifetime… but “hope for the best, prepare for the worst” is sage advice.

    Like

  3. I am pretty sure (although not absolutely) that you are too young to recall the events of 1972-73, and later 1975.
    There was a great deal of rejoicing over Nixon’s announcement in January 1973 of “Peace with Honor.” we just happened to be at a family church retreat that weekend. There had been a major snowstorm, and we were literally snowed at the Camp in Palmer Lake, CO. In my life, those were the biggest (and most fun) snowdrifts.

    My Father at the time was a lay leader, and he happened to be the “Duty Pastor” when the announcement came shortly before the evening service.

    I was ten, and there was a feeling in my mind that “Now I won’t have to go to Vietnam.” The adults were by turn, weeping and celebrating. I know my dad was happy about it. His best friend was a former Soldier with a Vietnamese wife. In the early 1970s, this was not seen as a common or socially acceptable thing. Dad befriended Gene and some of my favorite memories are of going to their house – which was like stepping onto the streets of Saigon. The wonderful smells and spices. dad, who was 4-F, always loved Gene and his family and I know that he was ecstatic over the end of the war.

    The difference then was that popular opinion hated that war. Few people were willing to say that there was anything worth fighting for in Vietnam, and if you did, you were quickly compared to Barry Goldwater and the rest of the warhawks. socially, the Vietnam war was despised and this country – as publicly expressed – was more than ready to be rid of it, regardless of the process.

    The same concerns about the veracity of the negotiations were present. I don’t know anybody who actually believed that we weren’t abandoning south Vietnam, but at the same time, nobody cared – or at least was willing to protest the agreement over those concerns. Had there been a national referendum on it, it would have been the biggest landslide in our history.

    We watched in horror – but not surprise – the events that occurred in 1975. But – and I say this as somebody who lived through it – there was also a sense of relief. Almost as if “It’s not our problem anymore.” There was almost an attitude that the South Vietnamese were unworthy of our legacy of liberty and so corrupt that their fall was inevitable. This, in many minds, seems to prove that our move to pull out was the right one, as clearly what we thought we were fighting for didn’t actually exist.

    I find myself wondering about this agreement with the Taliban. Like you, I do not believe them. Like you, I know the history of Afghanistan and I know what is going to happen when we leave as certainly as iI know my own middle name.

    My question is what will be our reaction to it? The demoralization of Vietnam left us in a “malaise” that took a Cold War Olympic miracle and a new leader to bring back “morning in America.” I already feel as if most Americans don’t care or even pay attention to Afghanistan. It’s already ‘really not our problem,” and the attitude of the Afghans don’t have a legacy worthy of our efforts for liberty.

    you know better because you’ve been there and you know them. My Dad knew them tangentially. But the national attitude is different, yet the same as 1972 all over again.

    It makes me sad, but I have also called for us to get out given that we have no real strategy for “victory. At least the national attitude towards the Military is different this time.

    Liked by 1 person

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