Tuesday, February 28, 2012


It's time for us to leave Afghanistan. In the past I have defended our continued American presence there for two reasons: first and most importantly, as a buffer between the brutal, oppressive regime of the Taliban and the people of that historically violated country; and secondly to act as a deterrent to the spread of the kind of terrorism whose proponents would gladly do our own country harm.

In the light of recent events, I no longer believe these reasons to be compelling enough to justify our further presence there. The burning of the Korans was, in the context of Afghanistan, an action that perfectly exemplified our failure to understand a culture so foreign to our own. To say that it was "inadvertent" is to minimize the monumental offense it caused and to misunderstand the fury of the response. No matter how good our intentions as a protective force, we have no adequate answer to the hatred and mistrust. We are naive in assuming our presence to be benign and pacifying.

From everything I have read--and in the light of my own humanitarian beliefs--the Taliban have behaved despicably toward the women and the innocent girls in their society. From my perch in the Western world, I consider their concept of justice and their theocratic authoritarianism to be essentially barbaric. I deplore their hatred of the joys of life--of music, for example, and dancing--which stems from their need to control anything that might threaten their cold-blooded rule. I was appalled by their wanton destruction of those great Buddhas of Banyan, historical monuments of profound human worth. Their brutish history and values have provided me with sufficient reason, in the past, to justify intervention from the outside world. The images of thousands of raging men wielding sticks and casting stones have changed my view. These were not just "Taliban." They were the citizens of a country that has its own social and religious imperatives. I find it hard to understand their motives and their actions, but I'm convinced that we are powerless to change them. My instinct to protect the innocent is offended by this conclusion, but they must sort these things out for themselves.

As for the necessary defense against terrorist intentions, I no longer believe that it can be managed effectively by traditional military means--or even by the modified approach we seem to have embraced in Afghanistan. Our attempts to pacify and improve the lot of a people whose values we are so far from understanding are inadequate to the task. We do need a defensive strategy to forestall attacks like those on the World Trade Center, but it should be based in sound intelligence practices and the restrained, judicious use of force rather than massive military presence in a country where we do not belong. As for the illusion that we'll succeed in training Afghan military and police to take over where we left off, I believe it to be just that: an illusion.

I confess I feel some relief with this change of heart and mind. My new thinking is more in line with the teachings of the dharma. I'll try sending metta instead, to those I do not understand, those with whom I disagree, and those whose inhumanity continues to poison themselves as well as the fellow-humans they oppress. May they find goodness in their hearts. May they find happiness in the practice of goodwill.

1 comment:

vwilcox said...

I totally agree. Although I've also heard that (like here with the extreme-conservatives/tea party) the squeaky wheel gets the attention-- that a good part of the country doesn't feel that way towards us. I have to wonder if this is true?

I would prefer to see us stop trying to control with massive military the "evil doers" and focus on our own security and intelligence.

We need to stop our dependence on their oil for starters. We wouldn't be over there if we needed nothing from them.