When the Los Angeles Times published photographs of American soldiers posing with corpses of Afghan insurgents this week, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta apologized and released a statement. It was pretty much the same statement he trotted out after a video of U.S. Marines urinating on insurgents began circulating in January.
Actually, Panetta’s statement sounded a lot like what he said in mid-February, when he asked the Marines to look into evidence of soldiers posing with a Nazi SS flag. And again later that month, when the American occupiers threw piles of Korans in burning trash, triggering weeks of deadly riots. And again in March, after Staff Sgt. Robert Bales went from home to home, cold-bloodedly murdering 16 Afghans, including nine children.
In each case, military and civilian leaders attempted to distance themselves from what’s reflexively chalked up to the rogue acts of a few bad apples, though between the frequency and nature of military scandals, that argument is becoming harder to stomach.
Sgt. Bales, the Washington State all-American who killed those 16 Afghans, was one of those admirable professional soldiers that hometowns place at the head of July 4 parades upon their return. The soldiers posing with corpses and body parts were members of the elite and revered 82nd Airborne Division.
Soldiers will do gruesome things in war. They always have, they always will. It doesn’t excuse what the soldiers did in any of these circumstances.
But let’s add a little perspective. Look around: the soldiers are acting barbarically, but they’re in barbaric environments where behavior is routinely debased. The Taliban is barely more than a death cult. Its public executions and torture sessions cheapen life and make a mockery of the religion in whose name the Taliban claims to be fighting.
The soldiers who burned Korans at Bagram Air Force Base were stupid, being well aware of the powder keg they were lighting. But stupidity isn’t a crime. Rioting and murder is. The Afghans who caused the death of at least 40 people subsequent to the Koran burnings are the barbarians and murderers. Which raises the question: why are Americans losing their lives fighting for these people?
And a more pertinent question: Who’s really at fault, the young soldiers under immense strain, fighting a war they shouldn’t be fighting, in a place they shouldn’t be, and committing gruesome acts and atrocities along the way? Or the commanders in chief who put them there, having known for years that there is no such thing as victory in Afghanistan?
President Barack Obama had a chance to end this war. He escalated it instead. It was part of his electoral strategy in 2008, an atrocity that ensured that the likes of Robert Bales, who might have spent the rest of his life doing nothing worse than brawling with a spouse and maybe detoxing in a county jail on occasion, “snapped” and obliterated several families along the way.
Obama’s cynical ploy worked. He got elected. But Osama bin Laden is now dead. The mission is accomplished.
The United States has no business being in Afghanistan anymore. Yet Obama carries on, the American objective there as vague as ever, while insurgents, as they showed earlier this month, pull off a mini-Tet Offensive and contradict every claim of American or Afghan success on the battlefield. Mitt Romney and his Republican acolytes in Congress would be no different. On that score, they’re Obama’s most reliable accomplices.
Yes, American soldiers are committing atrocities. But put the ultimate blame where it belongs: on military and political leadership that’s leaving them there for an 11th year, for no useful purpose, with no end in sight, no love from Afghans and no strategic gains on the battlefield. That’s the real atrocity.
Pierre Tristam is editor and publisher of FlaglerLive.com, a non-profit news service based in Palm Coast, Fl.
© Florida Voices