Hedging, Delusion and Dishonesty in Afghanistan
“The Americans have not been honest about this, even among themselves.”
That’s how Mullah Attullah Lodin, deputy chairman of the High Peace Council of Afghanistan, sees our nation and its government as it relates to the question of permanent bases in Afghanistan and to his specific portfolio, the establishment of peace in Afghanistan.
Lodin is a former Hizb-e Islami militia commander (they fought the Russians), and he's now in the Karzai government. Some might suggest he has an agenda, which generally means not being in synch with US policy. Americans don't have "agendas." The presumption is Afghans are backward and corrupt and somehow not as worthy of trust as a westerner or an American. And Lodin's all for talking peace with the Taliban, which makes him radioactive.
Under the reigning myth of American Exceptionalism, whatever Americans do is right and good because they are Americans and -- more important -- because they have the most lethal weapons on the planet, up to and including the R&D marvel of the Afghanistan War, lethal drone technology.
As the rock anthem says: We are the champions!
Only in America can a man in a flight suit in an air-conditioned room monitor TV screens following unaware people going about their business 10,000 miles away and, on orders from some other air-conditioned room, while sipping a Diet Pepsi turn those distant human beings into exploded pieces of steaming offal and flesh. This man, then, gets in his car and drives home to dinner with his wife and kids.
So far, we have not heard what it’s like in the realm of Post Traumatic Stress to do this kind of lethal, remote “combat” day-in-day-out. At what point does a drone pilot burn out or crack up? Is there a rest and relaxation spa and special counselors for drone pilots who begin to ask moral questions?
Drones are clearly the future of American warfare. As one NPR commentator put it recently, drone warfare in places like Afghanistan and Pakistan is the largest unreported story in America.
Recently I had a discussion about journalistic coverage of drone pilots with an Iraq veteran turned reporter who had been in Special Ops. For him, the reason reporters are refused access to drone pilots was a matter of security, while for me it was an issue of the military avoiding moral embarrassment. The secret technology isn't what's most interesting; it’s the mental human condition of these men (and presumably women) as they ponder the moral implications of their sanitized and remote brand of warfare.
Though removed from the fray, drone pilots are still part of the tactical aspects of war. Like their physically vulnerable brothers and sisters on the ground in Afghanistan, they are just doing their jobs. US soldiers deployed in Afghanistan are seen by insurgents only as “foreign” troops they want out of their country. They are, thus, trying to kill them. And nothing focuses the mind like someone trying to kill you.