Vice President Joe Biden has gone to Afghanistan. If you ask me that’s a good start. If we just sent the entire Congress it would be even better. But I want them to go as members of the U.S. military, not as dignitaries. Maybe if our leaders were fighting this war, instead of moving men and women around like chess pieces, they’d have another take on our nation’s longest war.
Sending elected officials needn’t be some half-hearted symbolic gesture either. We actually could field a pretty good-size force. Each member of the House of Representatives is allowed to employ 18 staff people. U.S. senators get a budget of more than $1 million apiece to run their offices but aren’t told how many to hire so they may amass a large staff if they don’t compensate them too well. Let’s just guess that the senators don’t go crazy with oversized employee rosters and all of Congress has only 18 staffers. If we sent this entire congressional contingency to Afghanistan to help out the war effort we would have a surge about 19,000 strong.
Or maybe we wouldn’t have any surge at all; maybe they would just end the war before any of their boots hit the ground.
There are many who would argue that the quagmire in Afghanistan is only because of our second-longest war. Some folks feel we didn’t have the resources to fight two wars simultaneously, and if we hadn’t charged off after nonexistent weapons of mass destruction in Iraq we’d have won this Afghan war handily.
Am I the only one who gets tired of our hubris? Remember now the same folks who felt we could clean up the mess made by the Taliban in short order were the ones who predicted and proclaimed “mission accomplished” in Iraq in a matter of weeks.
If you haul out a history book, you can find information on the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Why would this Soviet incursion into one of their neighboring territories — and subsequent nine-year war — register in the national consciousness of a country where far more people watch the Super Bowl than vote for their local school board? Well because of sports, of course. See, we were so outraged by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan that we led a 64-nation boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics.
If we as a country don’t notice the bungling, blundering tribal war waging of other nations long enough to avoid their mistakes, can’t we at least remember that we missed the boxing matches?
I suppose we could look at it this way: 21 years after the Cold War ended we’ve finally bested our Soviet counterparts. We’ve outlasted them in Afghanistan — if we were the Soviets we’d be out by now. Did we ever really think we were better warriors than the Soviet Union? Of course not; that’s why we had the arms race in the first place. We knew we couldn’t have won World War II without them. And their support of certain regimes in Central Asia exacerbated our third-longest war — Vietnam.
And now we’re mired in a mess that requires not only the attention of Vice President Biden but also necessitates the withdrawal of Arnold Fields, the man George W. Bush put in place to watchdog the corruption that has robbed the American taxpayer of millions of reconstruction dollars.
According to Monday’s Washington Post, Mr. Field’s office — SIGAR, Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction — has identified $18 million in waste, but his office has cost $46 million to run. A far cry from the highly successful waste watchdogs put in place in Iraq who have identified — again according to the Post — hundreds of millions of corrupted dollars.
And none of this takes into account the volatile roll mercenaries play in Afghanistan. The Department of Defense in a congressional report available at www.crs.gov states that private contractors — civilians fighting as corporate employees — outnumbered our military in Afghanistan until President Barack Obama increased troop levels.
The tragedy in Tucson this week has caused us to look at our own violent nature. How ironic that a decade of futile wars has not.
Pat LaMarche of Yarmouth is the author of “Left Out In America: The State of Homelessness in the United States.” She may be reached at PatLaMarche@hotmail.com.