Other people’s kids

December 1, 2009 at 9:54 pm | Posted in Barack Obama, International | Leave a comment

As President Obama prepares to explain why an extra 30,000 American service personnel are needed in Afghanistan, it’s probably wise to reacquaint ourselves with some of the young men he’s ordering to save the country from ruin. David Wood has met a few of them in his time:

They are tough, boisterous and mostly likable. They are offered enormous responsibility, which most of them seize with an eagerness that would catch the attention of anyone who has raised teenagers. I forget sometimes just how young they are. A few years ago, I was lazing in the dust with a bunch of Marines during a break in training. Already combat veterans, they were about to deploy back to Iraq. They’d been practicing getting ambushed and killing the ambushers, and now they were chatting about computer games.

“Hey, did’ja ever get ‘Gears of War?’ ” asked Louis Duran, 19

“Nah, I was gonna,” said his buddy, Steven Aspling, 20, “but my Mom wouldn’t let me.”

I’m sure the President’s speech this evening will be a sombre occasion, filled with poetic flourishes about freedom, American bravery and foreboding about the costs of failure. I’m sure we’ll hear the requisite warnings about what might happen if terrorism flourishes in Afghanistan, but little mention about the terrorism which already flourishes in countries we don’t occupy, like Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen & Indonesia. I’m sure we’ll be reminded that the battle will be hard, that success isn’t inevitable, and that the cost will include yet more ‘tough, boisterous and likable’ young American lives.

What we probably won’t hear is why we should continue to lend legitimacy to an illegitimate government, or how stability can be achieved throughout the country when the cancer of corruption has spread throughout its capital. The calamity which was Afghanistan’s recent election still hasn’t been properly addressed by the Obama administration, its impact on security still hasn’t been properly considered, and its effect on NATO’s mission has never been fully absorbed.

None of this means the President’s policy is doomed to failure, but it does demonstrate that the obstacles to success in Afghanistan are quite luminously clear, and any attempt to articulate a strategy without recognising this does a grave injustice to the young men & women this President commands.

They don’t need hope, Mr President. They need truth.

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