Winning Hearts and Minds?
Over the weekend we learned that a veteran US soldier, a 38 year-old staff sergeant with a wife and kids, who had served three deployments in Iraq, walked off a US military base in Afghanistan, shot and killed at least sixteen people, mostly women and children, as they slept in their homes. This comes after soldiers accidentally burned copies of the Qur'an, which in Islam is the Word of God in the way Jesus is the Word of God for Christians.
We are now ten and half years into this war and we're no closer to success than we were ten years ago. President Obama tried to refocus attention on the country, trying to do there what had been done in Iraq, but Afghanistan isn't Iraq, and there is growing weariness in the American populace for continuing a war that I though dubious when launched, and continue to believe is dubious. I'm a supporter of the President and believe he found himself in a problematic situation when he took office. But if, as it appears to be happening, there's a softening of war support in the Republican Party, perhaps there's a window for us to pull back. The only problem is that we will leave a broken nation behind. The Taliban is poised to take back the country from a corrupt leadership that we helped put in power. Although Al-Qaeda might not return as it did before, the dreams of a more equitable country where women have greater access to education and civil rights will likely be lost.
Afghanistan wasn't supposed to be another Vietnam, but it is. So, how do we get out in a way that will win hearts and minds?
We Americans have this blind belief that not only are we right about things, but that we can impose our vision of the world upon others. It's never worked, except perhaps in Japan after World War II. It won't work in places like Afghanistan that are culturally resistant to Western ideals. In time, it might change, but we can't impose it, and we're learning the hard way.
My sense is that this sergeant has been sufficiently traumatized by his time in the military that he lost control of reality. I grieve for the people who lost their family members in Afghanistan, but I also grieve for this man's family, who have lost one they love. How many more American women and men must be traumatized in a way that leads to violence over there or back home?
Is it time to come home? Yes, that time came long ago. This should also be a warning to those who want to go into Iran. Do we want to be occupying another Muslim country ten years hence, trying to win hearts and minds, while losing our own hearts and minds?