By Fr. George Welzbacher
November 7, 2010
This Thursday, November the eleventh, is Veterans Day. In Canada it's known as Remembrance Day. When I was a boy, back in the years (the 1930's) that were building with a swift and manifest momentum towards the catastrophe of World War II, November the eleventh was called Armistice Day, to commemorate the belligerents' signing, at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918, an agreement that brought to an end what was known at the time as "the Great War" (great in terms of scope, not glory) or, more fatuously still, as "the war to end all wars." Today that war is known, with a certain quiet irony, as World War I. (1914-1918).
In subsequent years Americans observed, every November the eleventh, precisely at eleven in the morning, in succession across our time zones, a moment of prayerful silence, honoring those who had fallen in that " Great War", including (from the war's last year and a half) many an American soldier. I always liked to add an extra prayer for those who died in the war's very last minutes, men who presumably would still have been alive had the signing been scheduled for even a few hours sooner, without concern for the symbolic force of an unbroken sequence of "11's".
In the closing days of that First World War soldiers were asked to put their lives in danger-and many did die-even though their leaders had concluded for quite some time that there was really no point to continuing the fighting. Given our Commander-in-chief's announcement to the world nearly a year ago, without the faintest hint of a commitment to victory, that America's armed forces would begin withdrawing from Afghanistan in July of 2011, some observers are beginning to wonder if the President has reached a similar conclusion. If that is so, an urgent moral problem presents itself: is it justifiable to ask men (and today women, too) to go on risking their lives in a war that the Commander-in-chief seems perhaps to have concluded either is not worth winning or cannot be won?
This is a question to which one of America's most prestigious scholars in the field of Middle Eastern history and culture, Fouad Ajaini, Professor of Middle Eastern Studies at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, has obliquely alluded in an Op-Ed essay that appeared in The Wall Street Journal for October 27th. His commentary is worthy of serious reflection.
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Karzai and the Scent of U. S. Irresolution* * * * *
By: Fouad Ajami, The Wall Street Journal 10/27/10
'They do give us bags of money-yes, yes, it is done, we are grateful to the Iranians for this." This is the East, and baksheesh is the way of the world, Hamid Karzai brazenly let it be known this week. The big aid that maintains his regime, and keeps his country together, comes from the democracies. It is much cheaper for the Iranians. They are of the neighborhood, they know the ways of the bazaar. The remarkable thing about Mr. Karzai has been his perverse honesty. This is not a Third World client who has given us sweet talk about democracy coming to the Hindu Kush. He has been brazen to the point of vulgarity. We are there, but on HIS and his family's terms. Bags of cash, the reports tell us, are hauled out of Kabul to Dubai; there are eight flights a day. We distrust the man. He reciprocates that distrust, and then some. Our deliberations leak, we threaten and bully him, only to give in to him. And this only increases his lack of regard for American tutelage. We are now there to cut a deal-the terms of our own departure from Afghanistan.
The idealism has drained out of this project. Say what you will about the Iraq war-and there was disappointment and heartbreak aplenty-there always ran through that war the promise of a decent outcome: deliverance for the Kurds, an Iraqi democratic example in the heart of a despotic Arab world, the promise of a decent Shiite alternative in the holy city of Najaf that would compete with the influence of [Iranian] Qom. No such nobility, no such illusions now attend our war in Afghanistan. By the latest cruel count, more than 1,300 American service members have fallen in Afghanistan. For these sacrifices, Mr. Karzai shows little, if any, regard....
The brutal facts about Afghanistan are these: It is a broken country, a land of banditry, of a war of all against all, and of the need to get what can be gotten from the strangers. There is no love for the infidels who have come into the land, and no patience for their sermons.
In its wanderings through the Third World, from Korea and Vietnam to Iran and Egypt, it was America's fate to ride with all sorts of clients. We betrayed some of them, and they betrayed us in return. They passed off their phobias and privileges as lofty causes worthy of our blood and treasure. They snookered us at times, but there was always the pretense of a common purpose. The thing about Mr. Karzai is his sharp break with this history. It is the ways of the Afghan mountaineers that he wishes to teach us.
When they came to power, the Obama people insisted they would teach Mr. Karzai new rules. There was a new man at the helm in Washington, and there would be no favored treatment, no intimacy with the new steward of American power. Governance would have to improve, and skeptical policy makers would now hold him accountable (Vice President Joe Biden, Special Representative Richard Holbrooke, et al.). Mr. Karzai took their measure, and everywhere around him there were signs of American RETREAT, such as the irresolution of the Obama administration. He saw the scorn of Iran's cruel leaders for America's diplomatic approaches. He could see Iranian power extend all the way to the Mediterranean, right up to Israel's borders with Lebanon and Gaza. The Iranians were next door and the Americans were giving away their fatigue. Why not accept the entreaties from Tehran?
A year ago, the U.S. ambassador to Kabul, Karl Eikenberry, laid out the truth about Mr. Karzai and his regime in a secret cable that of course made its way into the public domain. "President Karzai is not an adequate strategic partner," Mr. Eikenberry wrote. The Karzai regime could not bear the weight of a counterinsurgency doctrine that would win the loyalty of the populace. There were monumental problems of governance but "Karzai continues to shun responsibility for any sovereign burden, whether defense, governance, or development. He and much of his circle do not want the U.S. to leave and are only too happy to see us invest further. They assume we covet their territory for a never-ending war on terror and for military bases to use against surrounding powers." In Mr. Eikenberry's cable, Mr. Karzai is a man beyond redemption, who was unlikely to "change fundamentally this late in his life and in our relationship ........."
A big American project, our longest war, is now waged with DOUBT AND HESITATION, and our ally on the scene has gone rogue, taking the coin of our enemies and scoffing at our purposes. Unlike the Third World clients of old, this one does not even BOTHER to pay us the tribute of double-speak and hypocrisy. He is a different kind of client, but then, too, our authority today is but a shadow of what it once was.