BY BOB BEARDEN
The war in Afghanistan is over and we lost. We lost not because our troops weren’t up to the task, because they were, and they did all the things a good, strong army was supposed to do. It wasn’t lost militarily, it was lost because we could not convince the Afghan people to care about democracy or what democracy could mean to them.
Our military proved more than adequate to the task of doing what they do best, but that wasn’t enough. Politics and politicians lose wars, the military doesn’t. They follow orders and hope for the best. We have a strong, tough, well-trained and competent military force, but they serve at the direction of civilian politicians whose expertise in the art of war is often questionable.
We never had the will and determination of the Afghan people. Their ideas and their customs are different from ours and we can show them who we are and what we are about, but in the end, they needed to learn to fend for themselves and they can’t be who we are. Someday, maybe we, as a nation, will understand that what we do and who we are in the world is not necessarily seen by others in the same light that we see ourselves.
We can train troops and give them knowledge on how to operate and defend territory, but we can’t make them over into our military. We cannot be the world’s police and you would think that after Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and now Afghanistan our political leaders would have figured that out.
We, as Americans, care about others. We have a well-trained and compassionate military which is a force to be dealt with. But our military doesn’t come equipped to deal with cultures different than our own.
As an Air Force Veteran, the training I received didn’t include learning how to deal with or understand the difference in cultures between nations. We were told to respect the laws and the citizens of the nation where we were stationed, but we received no real training in understanding the differences between the U.S. and the nation in which we were serving.
As a nation and as a people, we have a long history of rights and freedoms that other countries and other nations have no concept of. And we can’t expect our military to impart our values to others who have no concept of what the word freedom means.
Many nations don’t even have a word that comports with freedom. It’s often not a part of their vocabulary. You can’t expect men and women who are trained to protect and defend our freedoms to be able to impart to others what we know to be right and true. Especially when those people and those nations have no real concept of what we, as Americans, have long taken for granted.
Afghanistan was lost not by our military. It was lost despite what our men and women were capable of doing and what they did. They did their jobs and left to the politicians to do theirs. The failure was not in the doing, it was in the lack of understanding of the culture of others and how they see themselves and how they understand the world from their own perspective.
You can’t teach freedom and understanding at the point of a gun. In the end, it came down to teaching the Afghans what freedom is all about and we failed miserably at that. We couldn’t instill in them the same feelings that we have for our country.
Our men and women who serve in our armed forces performed well and deserve no criticism. They should be commended for a job well done. They served well and with distinction but that wasn’t enough to change the inevitable outcome.
We as Americans can’t remake the world in our image.
– Bob Bearden, a frequent Observer contributor, is chair of the Board of Trustees of the Central Oklahoma Labor Federation, and a member of Mayflower Congregational Church UCC in Oklahoma City