Sunday, September 13, 2009

What That Photo Tells Me

At Truthout, Michael Winship reflects on the image of the dead American Marine. His point is well taken: The photograph starkly presents the cost of American intervention in Afghanistan. The dead Marine and his buddies desperately trying to save him are the reality of the American mission.

I fault neither the photographer nor AP for the image despite the pain it causes the next of kin. Photographer Julie Jacobson did exactly what she was was supposed to do: record the scene. AP did what it was supposed to do: inform us. Nothing about war can be more informative than a dying soldier. Gone are the patriotic words and martial glory. Nothing left but the might-have-been for family and friends and another day of war for his comrades.

Not said in any picture from one moment in the war, the sacrifice brings no gain to America. Not in a foreign occupation against local forces with strong nationalist and cultural traditions. Read the rest of Winship's piece and you'll see that American prospects in Afghanistan diminish the longer we stay. Remember, too, that current policy envisions a long term US presence in that country.

The US invaded Afghanistan to destroy Al-Qaeda and punish the Taliban for allowing sanctuary for Osama bin Laden. That was somewhat accomplished before CheneyBush went to war in Iraq and turned Afghanistan into the forgotten war. Now we are trying to forget Iraq and remember what it was we were supposed to do in Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, Al-Qaeda has evolved, now more dispersed and decentralized. At the same time intelligence and law enforcement organizations around the world have learned how to identify potential terrorists and disrupt their organizations. It's not foolproof--no system ever will be--but it's far better than before 911.

Bottom line for me is that continued American combat operations are NOT the answer in Afghanistan and that every effort should be made to end it. First off, I would call for a cease-fire and open discussions to resolve differences among the combatants. I know that sounds Pollyannish and that for one party--the US--to unilaterally and suddenly reverse policy is not advisable but that is a worthy direction to head. Our current policy is unsustainable and not particularly desireable--more dead Americans, more dead Afghans and more dollars poured down a military rat hole.

Then Americans would not have to look at pictures of dead Marines. Until that time, though, we should never stop looking.



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