We watched one of the films in our own film library last night, "The Man Who Would be King", a Rudyard Kipling tale of Brits trying and failing to become rich in the wilds of Afghanistan (well, it was Kafiristan in the film, but anyway). It also wasn’t so long ago that I finished reading “The Places in Between”, a travel tale of a Scottish journalist-author who walked through Afghanistan, following roughly the trail of Babur, the 13th century emperor who traversed the country.
I came away thinking, “Gee, I hope President Obama has seen/read of these wild tales.”
When I finished reading the Places in Between, I came away with one conclusion: the Afghans are deeply rooted still in the 13th century. For reasons I can only dimly fathom (religion comes to mind) the entire land remains beyond the reach of the enlightenment. All attempts to conquer the land have failed, from the Brits to the Russians and now the Americans. Our warriors and others of their ilk, understand how to capture and subdue territory and peoples who at least approximate the western world in terms of civilization. But in Afghanistan, unless we are to literally station troops in every village, we cannot subdue or civilize a land in which the people continue to live in the past—the deep, dark past, way beyond the reach of our systems of laws, government, education, et al.
When Secretary Gates now warns against sending too many troops to Afghanistan, I think he may well be correct that we simply cannot afford the cost of such a huge mission. But then, I continue to listen and hear . . . nothing from our defense secretary on what we do instead. Sending a few thousand troops seems senseless. He and others assert that we cannot subdue Afghanistan simply by occupying the few cities; that, unless we bring order to the vast countryside of tiny villages, the Taliban will continue to creep back into power. But how to do that, in a country where everyone resides somewhere in the mid-1300s.?
I await answers from our Defense Secretary.
Meanwhile, on another front, Republicans back in Congress, reeling from their losses, also seem rooted in the past. Their greatest fear: Obama and his Democrats will succeed in subduing the depression willed to the country by Republicans. Mr. Hoover would be proud of these fearless fighters from the past.