In discussing President Obama’s plans to pull almost all US troops out of Afghanistan in the next two years, as well as the Bowe Bergdahl story and the five Special Ops forces killed yesterday, we must consider whether our presence in that country for more than a dozen years was worth it. Not just in the lives and limbs of American soldiers, but in the money and effort to try to fix a country that’s been broken longer than anyone can remember.
There was a time — in the years before 9/11 — that I wanted the US to use its big foreign policy boot to stamp out evil like the Taliban. I did a radio show in 1999 with Mavis Leno (Jay’s wife) of the Feminist Majority, who explained how horrible conditions were in Afghanistan for women and girls under Taliban rule. It wasn’t just that the girls weren’t allowed to go to school, but that the women had no rights at all. She told of women who needed medical attention but couldn’t see a doctor without a male family member being present, and even then, she was not allowed to speak directly to the male doctor, who couldn’t touch her to examine her (she couldn’t even remove her burqa in his office).
That’s the kind of human rights violation that I hoped the US would act against but never does. Our government gives oppressive regimes (like Saudi Arabia and China) a pass on the treatment of their citizens because we need their oil and iPhone assembly plants.
But I have changed my mind in the last decade after seeing the utter waste that has marked our time in Afghanistan. That opinion was reinforced by a documentary I just watched that was released last year.
In 2012, filmmaker Ben Anderson embedded with US Marines who were training and supporting Afghan security forces in Helmand province. What he captured on video became a documentary called “This Is What Winning Looks Like,” which was featured on HBO’s “Vice” series. It shows how completely useless our efforts have been in a country so full of corruption and ineptness that no one can turn it around. Among police officials and officers, Anderson found stories of drug addiction and sexual molestation of children. He heard from US Marine Major Bill Steuber, commanding officer of the police advisory team, about the frustrations he faced in trying to teach the Afghans even the most basic methods, compounded by an inability to read and write in many members of the Afghan forces (thus making it impossible to keep records and reports of what happens where).
This is the kind of war story that doesn’t get reported on television news in the US. This is just a sample of how much of a waste the war in Afghanistan has been, despite the propaganda presented by our diplomats, higher-ups at the Pentagon, and other government officials.