Afghanistan: Stepping away from nation-building


By Leo Morris

On CBS-TV’s Sunday Morning this week, a former Army sergeant who left parts of both arms and legs in Afghanistan came on and tried to say something positive in the face of our ugly retreat from that country.

He talked about being “angry, hurt, depressed and hopeless” after his injuries but finding solace in the fact that “Afghanistan wasn’t all for nothing.”

“We did good,” he said of America’s 20-year involvement, listing all the things we gave the Afghanis: wells to provide fresh drinking water; schools to provide education for all, including women; hospitals to provide access to Western medicine; infrastructure, which improved the local economy by providing jobs.

“Those are all tools that the population will hopefully be able to use even after we leave.”

Sadly, I think he was wrong. The Taliban to whom we surrendered the country are monsters whose goal is to kill or convert everyone in their path, and they will erase every good thing we think we’ve left there as they march Afghanistan back to its barbarous past.

It was painful to listen to him.

But it did force me to do something I’d been avoiding. For two weeks, I had resisted even thinking about Afghanistan, let alone considering writing a column about it. Watching our ignominious withdrawal play out on TV was just too reminiscent of another debacle that left me feeling angry, hurt and depressed if not hopeless for much of my life.

I thought I had seen the worst of America’s behavior when we left Vietnam, deserting the desperate people who had foolishly believed our promises and effectively telling our Gold Star families their loved ones had died for no good reason. I believed I could never again feel so ashamed of America.

I was wrong. It has been far worse this time because we had our own historical mistake to learn from and only the most willfully ignorant could fail to see it coming.

What possible insight could I glean from this farce worth writing about?

But I found a glimmer of good in the sergeant’s words about what we left in Afghanistan — the wells, hospitals, schools, infrastructure. We have all of that in the U.S. and take it for granted.

And so much more. We have the rule of law and the respect for individual rights. We have tolerance for alternative lifestyles and dissenting opinions. We have an appreciation for other cultures. We have entrepreneurial zeal and courage to face the unknown.

Just imagine if we didn’t have all that. Imagine this were a country where we had no rights except what ruthless fanatics decided we should have. Imagine being not a citizen of America, but of what Afghanistan will be very soon.

Too many Americans today seem in thrall to a small but noisy cadre of agitators who want us to see this country as institutionally racist, perpetually oppressive, deliberately divided into victimizers and the victimized. No matter how much progress we have made toward being a more decent, civilized nation, it is never enough.

It would be pointless trying to reason with the revolutionary provocateurs, but surely those being seduced by them can be persuaded to consider what their lives would be like if they truly lived in an oppressive society.

We cannot force our values on other people and expect them to stick, any more than we can hope the infrastructure we export can survive a backward regime. People have to seek those values, as the many millions who immigrated to America have done.

But those values have to be alive and well here, cherished and nurtured. Considering the bunch in charge these days, who seem as clueless as they are callous, we can’t count on our political class. Many of them, in fact, are happily in the Evil America cheering section.

So, it is up to us. But then, it always has been.

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