10 June 2011


This morning, I had the honor to welcome home a neighbor who just returned from his sixth or seventh deployment to the Iraq-Afghan theater of operations. After reintroducing him to the concept of “green” as an actual color, we spoke for just a few minutes.

He noted that Afghanistan had changed remarkably since his last deployment. Much of the urban scene is electrified now. (“Urban” is a relative term; he was referring to the cities and major villages, all of which had been at a 19th century level under the Taliban.) The attacks we read about are sporadic and random, rather than a rolling wave of resistance.

When I asked him about troop morale, he replied, “It’s really pretty good. The thing that gets to them is that the American press is ignoring all the good that we are doing and harp only on the bad stuff.”

Now, ask the average Vietnam vet, at least the grunt, about his feelings for the press, and you would get a very similar answer. It is, indeed, "déjà vu all over again". [Lawrence Peter Berra (American philosopher, commentator and Hall of Fame catcher and manager).]

My friend went on to say that the talk of deadlines for withdrawal is unsettling. Our troops are working hard to train a viable Afghan army and national police force, but the recruits they are getting need more work than do their American counterparts arriving at American boot camps. Most cannot read and have little or no concept of what is a law. To think that a four month boot camp can prepare a man to start performing as a police officer is absurd. Given the time, we could field a viable national peace keeping and law enforcement body, but we would need time.

But Congress, which cannot perform its assigned task of, e.g., adopting an annual budget, seems to be sure that it is qualified to direct an army in the field. It didn’t work for the Continental Congress, it was ineptly handled by the Civil war congresses, and the meddling in the details of war-fighting by the congresses of 1968-1975 bordered on criminal negligence.

The problem is that we have barely 300 years of history as a distinct people and just over 200 as a nation. We are incapable, it seems, of taking the long view. For us, ten years is a long time; for our adversaries, something that happened in the 14th Century is yesterday’s news. For so long as that mental historic discipline fails us, it will continue to be déjà vu all over again.