Sunday, February 10, 2008

The poison fruit of insincere aid

According to a New York Times news story about the February 10 Munich Conference on Security Policy, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates was asked by a member of the Russian Parliament if the U.S. was responsible for creating Al Qaeda by funding the mujahedeen in Afghanistan to resist the Soviet occupation during the 1980s.

“After that, when the Soviet troops left, for all intents and purposes, people who were created by you were idle,” said Alexey Ostrovskiy.

Gates replied “If we bear a particular responsibility for the role of the mujahedeen and Al Qaeda growing up in Afghanistan, it has more to do with our abandonment of the country in 1989 than our assistance of it in 1979.”

Of course, we couldn’t have abandoned Afghanistan in 1989 had we not assisted them for the entire decade before that. And without that assistance wouldn’t Afghanistan have become part of the Soviet Union until it collapsed? Or would Soviet success in Afghanistan have delayed or even precluded the demise of the communist state?

If we conclude that the breakup of the Soviet Union was inevitable, the question of what Afghanistan would have become should be of interest to more than historians. Which independent Central Asia nation would they be more like: Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan?

None of the above nations lost 1.0 – 1.5 million civilian lives in a war against Soviet occupation. None of those countries are accused of supporting Islamic terrorism now. They may not be democracies, but they aren’t nations of people festering with a justified resentment against America’s selfish basis for past meddling.

The fact is the U.S. support of the Afghan resistance had nothing at all to do with concern for the people of that nation. We weren’t involved in supporting Afghanistan in any way prior to the 80s. We didn’t care what happened to the civilian population during the war against the Soviet occupation. We didn’t care to help them establish a democracy afterwards.

Gates is splitting something finer than hairs. The mujahedeen was our proxy guerilla force for the sole purpose of inflicting damage on the Soviet Union. They remembered that our interests were entirely selfish, just as the Shiite and Sunni militias that we’re supporting now will remember us if the occupancy of Iraq continues on indefinitely.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

The irony of military recruitment in a 'me first' culture

The first look into the military’s recruitment problems rightfully exposes the Iraq war as the primary culprit. After all, why would young men and women choose to serve their country in a time of war when the mission has nothing to do with defending America?

According to an article in the Boston Globe, the latest new enlistments incentives include “up to $40,000 to buy a home or start a small business upon completion of service”. Money talks, it always has, and a lot more is needed to offset the effects of a dishonest war on recruiting.

Rand Corporation analyst David Johnson explains, “They have to get people to join in a very tough market. Everybody knows part of the contract [for enlisting] in the ground forces is you are going to go to Iraq and Afghanistan at least once" -

It’s not only a tough market because of the war, there is a lot of competition to satisfy the ambitions of our young people. Does this point to a contradiction in the idea of service? What happened to JFK’s call to “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”

Recruitment efforts before the war always had financial incentives, such as guarantees of up to $50,000 for college education. So the only change is in the type and amount of incentives. The market is certainly tightened because of the war, but if people are going to spend their youth admiring success stories that include the accumulation of personal wealth, then the obsession with Wall Street points away from the idea of service until after individual financial security is attained.

It seems that the ultimate service to one’s country is diametrically at odds with a lot of core values taught in a society that focuses on individual freedoms and financial success. It’s a fitting irony that a capitalistic war over oil rich Iraq has created a military recruitment problem.

by Rich in Juneau