The New York Times reports that Afghan President Hamid Karzai recently outlined to the Afghan elders his proposal for a long American presence. This comes as a surprise to anyone who believed Obama’s promise that “all” American troops would be out of Afghanistan by 2014. And this comes from the man who assured Pakistan a few weeks ago that, in a war between the United States and Pakistan, Afghanistan would fight for Pakistan.
This is also troubling in light of two articles I have read in the last few days: One is Mark Thomson’s cover story in Time (Nov. 21), “The Other One Percent,” about the isolation of the military culture from the rest of American life. The other is Mattieu Aikins’s, “Our Man in Kandahar,” in The Atlantic (Nov.), about a high-ranking, young warlord, General Abdul Raziq. He and his men collect millions of dollars worth of U.S. training and equipment, but he is basically a bandit, a drug lord and, according to evidence Atkins has marshaled, a mass murderer.
Time reports that the military has never been so cut off from the American people. The all-volunteer force is, says one major, “a mercenary military made up of poor kids and patriots from the third and fourth socioeconomic quintiles of the country.” This means that a “tiny slice of America” bears all the burdens of war. Post-military life is described as a “golden cocoon” that insulates troops from the rest of us. Meanwhile fewer of the nation’s leaders have military experience. Only 22 percent of the lawmakers on Capitol Hill have worn a uniform, which means that the people ordering the military around will not know how to use it wisely. It also may mean that the casualty figures and the suicide statistics are just that—statistics without human faces.
It also makes all Americans less able to grasp the horror the young men and women have experienced. And this distance fosters a lack of moral sensitivity to the details of foreign policy. Thus the news that many thousands of these young men and women will now be stationed in Afghanistan into the “distant future” rolls off that 99 percent of the population who do not have a son or daughter in uniform like rain off a roof.
If we are sending our young to defend the Karzai regime, we should spell out the values at stake. Two 23-year-old Afghan men told Aikins how they were stopped by the border police in Kandahar City on the charge of taking food to the Taliban. Each was strung up until their arms were pulled from their sockets, beaten hip and thighs, while sobbing and pleading innocence. The next morning at the governor’s palace, where American and Afghans shared offices, they were stretched out, with wires tied to their feet and to a generator. One told the author, “ My whole body was filled with moving knives.”
The article goes on to describe how Raziq, then a border police colonel, lured 16 people whose leader he perceived as a political enemy, to a remote spot and killed them all with machine-gun fire. The dead included a 16-year-old boy whose corpse moved an investigating officer to tears: “He was a lovely boy. I wept for him as I lifted his body. For one person Raziq killed 15 innocents.”
Today Raziq had been promoted to acting police chief of Kandahar. Aikins says that General McChrystal, then commander, decided Raziq was “too influential to cut loose.”
If America swallows Karzai’s invitation to stay on indefinitely, will there ever come a time when the corruption makes us “cut lose,” or will we just go along and continue to corrupt ourselves?
Raymond A. Schroth, S.J.