When the Dead Have No Say
Official Washington is buzzing about "metrics." Can the war in Afghanistan be successful?
Don't ask the dead.
Days ago, under the headline "White House Struggles to Gauge Afghan Success," a New York Times story made a splash. "As the American military comes to full strength in the Afghan buildup, the Obama administration is struggling to come up with a long-promised plan to measure whether the war is being won."
Don't ask the dead. They don't count.
The Times article went on: "Those ‘metrics' of success, demanded by Congress and eagerly awaited by the military, are seen as crucial if the president is to convince Capitol Hill and the country that his revamped strategy is working."
Don't ask the dead. They won't have a say.
"Without concrete signs of progress, Mr. Obama may lack the political stock -- especially among Democrats and his liberal base -- to make the case for continuing the military effort or enlarging the American presence."
Don't ask the dead. They can't hear you.
"We all share the president's goal of succeeding in Afghanistan," said Senator John Kerry. "The challenge here is how we are going to define success in the medium term, given the difficult security environment we face."
Don't ask the dead. You can't hear them.
The White House "struggles to gauge Afghan success." People in the middle of the Afghan war struggle to survive.
A new ceiling of 68,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan hasn't been reached yet, but leaks are now telling us that the Pentagon's top commander there will soon request 45,000 more. Apparently, escalating the warfare is much more attractive to Washington's policymakers than actually challenging the main supporters of the Taliban in Afghanistan -- the Pakistani government.
"With the U.S. relationship with Pakistan still locked in a cold war embrace that accedes to Pakistani demands at the expense of Afghanistan, establishing a metric for anything is useless without reassessing the underlying assumptions," Elizabeth Gould and Paul Fitzgerald said last week. They're authors of the new book "Invisible History: Afghanistan's Untold Story," published after nearly 30 years of research.
"With Pakistan's creation of the Taliban, America's concept of ‘winning' entered a complicated phase that continues to haunt American decision-making to its core," Gould and Fitzgerald added. "Pakistani intelligence knows full well the American political system, its history of compliance with their wishes and the lack of appreciation for Afghan independence. America's war in Afghanistan is an ongoing bait and switch where the U.S. fights against its own interests and Pakistan plays the Beltway like a violin."
Gould and Fitzgerald contend: "The only metric that matters is how far Pakistan's military has moved from supporting Islamic extremism. With the insider relationship the United States has with Pakistan's military intelligence, that should not be a difficult metric to establish."
Meanwhile, few Democrats with high profiles can bring themselves to challenge President Obama's military escalation in Afghanistan. But an important statement has just come from John Burton, chairman of the California Democratic Party.
"Enough is enough," Burton wrote in an August 11 email blast that went to party activists statewide. "It's time we learned the lessons of history. The British Empire, the most powerful empire in the world, could not subdue Afghanistan. Neither could the Soviet Union, the second most powerful country at that time and next-door neighbor to Afghanistan. Two of the great militaries in history found Afghanistan easy to conquer but impossible to hold. It's time the people of Afghanistan assumed full control of their own country. It's time for American troops to come home -- not only from Iraq, but from Afghanistan too. And the first step is an exit strategy."
Burton made a key connection between the soaring costs of the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan and the domestic economy: "Already, $223 billion that could have gone to things like health care reform has been sunk into this war. . ."
Routinely, the dominant political and media calculus renders the dead as digits and widgets, moved around on spreadsheets and news pages. The victims of war are hardly seen as people by the numbed sophisticates who can measure just about anything but the value of a human life.
The dead can't speak up. What's our excuse?