Rendered Fat Content


Coloured lithograph by R. Carrick after Lieutenant James Rattray:
Men in the decorated palace of Shah Shujah Ool Moolk, Afghanistan (c. 1847)

"Maybe I was only trying to tell myself but couldn't listen."

As of this writing, we have entered the ToldYa Phase of the nearly two decades-long conflict in Afghanistan, a discretionary conflict we chose to begin then lost from the outset. We fed this conflict for longer than any other war in the history of this country, which says something about dedication and commitment, though little about reasoned judgement. One could speculate that this outcome—the country overrun by Taliban forces we and our allies were only ever able to keep at tenuous bay and us humiliated, was the originally intended outcome of the conflict, and that creating the conditions which led us and our allies to invade that country were the true purpose of the infamous 9/11 attacks. It wouldn't have taken a genius to predict that our response to that insult might easily encourage us into some of our historically infamous self-destructive behavior. We'd done it before in Vietnam, Panama, and Granada and would do it to ourselves again in Iraq, even while still in the middle of our "adventure" in Afghanistan, even though The Soviet Union and The British Expeditionary Forces might have already successfully demonstrated our likely folly in engaging in what we euphemistically referred to as "nation building" there. We produced an occupation, never a nation.

I'm not suggesting that had the conditions been different, we might have managed to encourage more permanent good, but the world was never different than it had always been, regardless of the insistences of people who probably knew better but could find no more convincing argument to engage.
Ten thousand stories survive this debacle. Our honor, if we had any left, never could have survived. We engaged with false pretenses. As often happens, those who saw through those pretenses were publicly vilified whenever possible. We were not patriots. We wanted our country to suffer humiliation. We hated our own nation. None of these accusations ever held water, though they managed to hold public imagination for a while, for a spell, for it certainly seemed like a spell we fell under when those terrorists hijacked those planes and used them to deeply wound our nation. The Taliban had supported Bin Laden (as had we when attempting to undermine The Soviets), so the Taliban had to go. We invaded to replace them with something we'd consider a more legitimate government to create a democratic nation in a region long ruled by tribal passions. Yea, that could work. … Not!

As usual, we pulled out the checkbook. We shipped palettes of cash and lavished it on anyone claiming to support us. Who wouldn't say that they supported The American Way? We agreed to teach their defense forces how to fight, as if they lacked generational understanding of the most brutal fighting methods. We organized them into an army that always struggled to attract recruits. The Taliban offered better money until we started offering more. It was, after all, only money. We supplied many troops over the years, soldiers fully capable of fighting the battles that needed fighting, but those damned Taliban wouldn't fight the way armies always prefer their enemies to fight. They fielded insurgent forces, guerrillas within their own country (which they knew better than we did) while we and our allies, no matter how we tried, always seemed more like invaders. Sometimes liberators, we never managed to make our case for democratic principles. Tribal leaders played every side against our middle, reliably choosing to serve themselves whenever they could. Let's suggest that such behavior enjoyed a long and bejeweled tradition in that culture and that humanitarianism hadn't. With allies like those, we hardly needed a dedicated Taliban to lose, for we insisted upon playing on our terms on their field. We were, remember, the aggrieved party. We had lost thousands to the Taliban's indifference. We were owed some redress.

Those of us who showed up on that Saturday before, when it had become clear that we would be invading come Hell or high water, we remember. We recall the local farm boys gunning their diesel pickups and calling us Commies. We remember how impotent our speeches and poems seemed when compared with the drumbeat of vengeance and measured response. We could smell the boondoggle coming. There's rarely any advantage to being the more prescient person in any room. There could be no validation of which speculation would prove most accurate, and historical precedent holds no sway when one believes that their actions transcend history. Those who insist that this time will be different seem on the side of angels, not demons. Those who claimed that The Taliban were primitive serial human rights abusers only stated the obvious. Those who felt that truth or justice might somehow influence them sane were destined to be wrong again. Not even a heavy infusion of The American Way would hold sway. This patient would never lose the need for life support. We managed to create a zombie government defended by well-trained troops who would steadfastly refuse to fight against their own traditions and cousins. I ToldYa this would happen.

The professional pearl clutchers feign appalled. This president who, ignoring precedent, acknowledged the way it had been for years, will wear this sin, they insist. History might well ascribe whatever untoward might happen next to his lack of foresight. He said that we never had a military solution to whatever this problem was. He didn't say that this problem was of our own making. We were the ones who sought justice. We brought our armies to their home turf. We insisted upon defining the terms of engagement. We defined them such that we could only lose. It's no solace for me to say that I saw all of this coming so I have license to say that I ToldYa, or tried to. I knew this day was coming. I'd hoped it might come sooner. It came later, instead. Lest we learn anything from history, our current President will be forever said to wear this one on his head. I wear it to, for I became complicit over time. I stopped screaming in the streets. I ceased trying to convince those still entranced. Maybe I was only trying to tell myself but couldn't listen.

©2021 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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