What are we doing?

Slayings should prompt serious rethinking of our presence in Afghanistan

The shocking and dreadful killings of Afghan citizens by a U.S. soldier illustrates both how our two peoples are alike and how we are different.

We are alike in that Americans, too, have people living and working among us who are capable of gross atrocities against others.

We are very much unlike each other, however, in how we react to them.

When U.S. Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan massacred 13 and wounded nearly 30 others at Fort Hood, Texas, in November 2009, there were no riots here, and no significant backlash against Muslims – even though evidence indicated Hasan may have been sufficiently radicalized to have been inspired by his Islamic beliefs.

Rather, Hasan – reportedly paralyzed from the chest down during the return of gunfire – is receiving some of the best medical care available on the planet as he awaits trial.

In addition, our leaders in Washington were careful not to blame an entire people for Hasan’s alleged acts.

In contrast, of course, in Afghanistan – a country where the burning of books has prompted murderous riots and the deaths of half a dozen Americans – one can expect no such restraint.

Nor will many in Afghanistan be mollified by the fact that almost all Americans deplore such acts and are horrified and horribly sorry; that the suspect will be dealt with harshly; and that no one opposes this soldier’s alleged actions more than the U.S. military. Our people there and the mission they are trying to further – to help build an Afghan civil infrastructure that can resist the radicalization and oppression of the Taliban – are only endangered by this tragedy.

We are infinitely more regretful about this calamity than about the book burnings – for all the good it will do. It’s unlikely that profuse apologies will make a difference, based upon what we’ve seen there.

Thus, based upon what we’ve seen there, you have to wonder whether our continued presence in Afghanistan is an overall positive. Indeed, this sorrowful episode may have conservative Republicans even more eager to get our troops out than our anti-war president is.

“I think that we’re risking the lives of young men and women in a mission that may frankly not be doable,” Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich told an interviewer Sunday. “I think it’s very likely that we have lost – tragically lost – the lives, and suffered injuries, to a considerable number of young Americans on a mission that we’re going to discover is not doable.”

Asked by another interviewer if it’s time we got out, Gingrich flatly said, “I think it is.”

Fellow GOP candidate Rick Santorum said, “We have to either make the decision to make a full commitment, which this president has not done, or we have to decide to get out ...”

The stunning shooting over the weekend must be thoroughly investigated and punished. But we must also reconsider what we’re doing in Afghanistan – and whether it really is doable.

Part of that calculation has to be the fact that many Afghans seem incapable or unwilling of separating the acts of a few from the intentions of the many.

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