Why I Lose Sleep When I Think About U.S. Withdrawal from Afghanistan
On a good day the majority of the American public devotes around 30 seconds to our country's 11-year war in Afghanistan. Concern over drone attacks on civilian population, veterans' PTSD, and the treatment of enemy combatants have been replaced in headlines with royal babies, government gridlock, and whether or not Hilary will run for president in three years. (She will).
These subjects, if not closer to home, at least do not require that we as a population accept responsibility for the war we started and the quagmire it has become. This war is not flashy, interesting or sexy. In fact, most Americans cannot keep track of which man is currently the commanding general in Afghanistan or what 'our' objective there even is. (Major General James M. Richardson, for the record).
This apathy on the part of the public in general causes me concern for a number of reasons. I worry about the men and women who have bravely fought in Afghanistan for a cause they believe in. Their families who have born the weight of this war personally, silently and now are largely forgotten. I worry that these soldiers will come home to a population who has neither taken the time to think about or understand the conflict there or the suffering and sacrifices therein. I mourn men and women of an entire generation who have lost lives, limbs and their faith in humanity in the deserts, mountains and caves of Afghanistan.
I am also worried about what we are leaving behind, the lack of infrastructure, the devastated land, people and social structure. I worry that in the 11 years we have fought in and tried to reconstruct Afghanistan we have achieved nothing - except to convince a large portion of the population that the Taliban is really not so bad. I wonder about the litany of promises made to the Afghani people in the 80's that melted away when Americans forgot about their needs and essentially created the subsequent vacuum we left behind, setting the stage for the Taliban and Al Qaeda.
From my point of view, we are in the process of doing the very same thing - again.
In particular I worry about the women and children of Afghanistan. I worry that we are handing them over to a society that essentially eliminates their personhood, removes their rights and returns them to a status of property. I worry that we have done nothing to truly improve the quality of their lives.
The Telegraph ran a feature on Saturday, August 10th, in which former MP Noor Zia Atmar, has been reduced to a battered woman in a shelter. As American troops prepare to leave the country, conservatives have begun to tighten restraints on women. Shelters for battered women are being closed on the premise that they are 'whore houses.' The Wolesi Jirga (lower house of the People in the National Assembly) revised the law that required 25% of all seats in the provincial government be held by women and removed the requirement. Laws drafted early in the new Afghanistan government offering protection for victims of rape, child marriage, and using women as property were never ratified and were recently thrown out of consideration as 'un-Islamic.'
Ms. Atmar is currently seeking asylum in England. But considering the tightening of immigration throughout Europe and America, she has been told that domestic abuse is not grounds for asylum. In the hangover from Edward Snowden, his asylum requests, and the 24 hour coverage of his layover in Moscow, it is interesting that he and his plight are considered worthy of asylum in a number of nations, but Ms. Atmar's predicament is not. Despite the fact that she has served as one face in the battle for women's rights in Afghanistan, and now faces persecution and retaliation for her views.
I am not saying I have the answer to the proper way to withdraw from an extended conflict. I am neither a foreign policy advisor nor military personnel. However, I know a good idea when I see one, and recently This American Life featured The List Project, a campaign created by a former State Department employee who has worked tirelessly to bring translators and political allies who now face persecution and death in Iraq to America. (Of course this solution is not without hiccups, and as the piece details it was a nightmare to execute. But I believe we owe these people to fulfill at least part of the promise we dolled out a decade ago).