You may have heard that American forces bombed a hospital in Kunduz, a town about the size of Oakland in northern Afghanistan. It is not at all clear why we were bombing them, or if we even knew it was a hospital. Malevolence or incompetence? It's a question that applies to so many situations in modern life.
At first, Pentagon spokesmen said we had bombed the hospital to save American lives. Then they said we'd done it to save Afghan lives. Finally, they said it was a "mistake." And yet: The GPS coordinates were known to the military — Doctors Without Borders is particularly careful in providing that data to all the relevant military forces.
On the other hand, it could be a screwup. That's often the right answer. Somebody misunderstands somebody. So, we just bombed a hospital. Twenty-two killed, 12 of whom were Doctors Without Borders volunteers. But really, what are we doing there? We're protecting the brave people of Afghanistan from the Taliban because the Taliban is likely to, what? Bomb hospitals?
There's not a lot of worse things you can do. It's a pretty steep drop-off after bombing hospitals.
We don't like to see ourselves as a nation that bombs hospitals. As Rob Corddry once said: "It's our principles that matter; our inspiring, abstract notions. Just because torturing prisoners is something we did, doesn't mean it's something we would do."
Or, as someone else said, "They hate us because we don't know why they hate us."
We've forgotten all about our past. We listen to the rhetoric about how we're the greatest, noblest, most fabulous country in the history of countries, and we develop amnesia about our carpet-bombing, torture, rendition, illicit spying, corruption and, let's see, tacit approval of child-raping by our warlord allies. We did all those things, but we're in denial.
OK, but what about reality? The Taliban and al Qaeda and ISIS are brutal theocratic would-be dictatorships, with ISIS representing a quantum leap in awfulness over the first two. Often an analogy to Nazi Germany is made — we must stop these murdering racists now, or we'll have to endure five times the carnage when we have to stop them later. And war is hell.
The only way we could do that would be to go all out. What we're doing is clearly not working, costing money and lives while getting exactly nowhere. So the only two choices are lean in or back out. If we're going to lean in, it'd have to be the whole way — 3 million boots on the ground, reinstitution of the draft, rationing, the whole deal.
Probably we would win — and then what? This ain't Belgium in 1945. It's not like we're going to be greeted by a grateful nation, ready to establish a parliamentary democracy and start making waffles again. It'll be the same scramble, different players, and if we're going to influence that, we're going to have to stay there. And stay there. And stay there.
I know it feels like we should be able to do something about all this, but probably we can't. Look at our track record. The military is an incredibly sclerotic organization, grown fat with contract overruns and slothful in the face of moral gray areas. Our soldiers don't have much to believe in except their own esprit de corps. What else is there? Television, hamburgers, fast cars and tolerant sexual mores? Oddly, these are not seen as prime motivators.
The other folks have a religion and 1,300 years of tradition.
Calling the United States in to solve your terrorist problems is like calling in a plumber to solve your moth problem. We just plain don't know how to do it.
So why don't we just stop? Instead of bombing hospitals, let's build them. Instead of barricading roads, let's improve them. Instead of creating refugees, let's house them. Let's turn all our money and talent into improving the world. Build infrastructure, fight disease, create farms.
It could all work. American businesses are currently holding $2.1 trillion (that's with-a-t trillion) in profits overseas to avoid paying U.S. taxes on them. We could rewrite the tax laws and, oh my, look at all that money for global humanitarian efforts. Maybe we could even be the country we think we are. Maybe those grateful children could be more than photo-ops.
And if we want to fight — hey, global economic warfare is big fun. Go up against the best minds of China, India and Germany! Blockade North Korea until it whimpers! And if somebody gets really irritated, we have eleventy million missiles we can fire at them.
We still have a big stick; time for a little bit of that soft talking.
"Either you or your head must be off, and that in about half no time! Take your choice!" The Duchess took firstname.lastname@example.org