Sadly, I’m working on other things, but I’m listening to the livestream of an extremely powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing featuring Afghanistan veterans criticizing the continued war in Afghanistan. Marine Cpl. Rick Reyes denounced the “occupation” of Afghanistan, a policy that he said “forced [me] to become a tyrant,” since he was unable to determine who was a civilian and who was an insurgent. “At a minimum, this occupation needs to be rethought,” Reyes said, as does “sending more troops” to Afghanistan. Not all of his fellow veterans go so far — some, like U.S. Army Sgt. Christopher McGurk are critical of U.S. efforts so far, but contend that U.S. interests compel a deepened commitment to Afghanistan.
I don’t want to say too much about something I’m not fully covering and listening to as a background priority. When I have the statements of Reyes and his colleagues — not all went as far as he did — I’ll write more. But three points really stand out.
First, this is the most prominent forum yet given to forthright critiques of the Afghanistan war, let alone critiques that inch up to the boundary of saying the war is lost. Second, critiques like Reyes are directly reminiscent of the critique delivered to the committee in 1971 by Vietnam veteran and now-Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), who held today’s hearing as the committee’s chairman. Andrew Bacevich, the Boston University international affairs professor, called the lacunae between resources and strategy in Afghanistan “comparable” to the Vietnam strategy denounced by “a young John Kerry.” (Al Qaeda is a “religiously motivated mafia” that needs to be dealt with by a “sustained, multilateral police effort,” he said, not by a “Long War.”)
Third, while this remains to be seen, the country is facing a test — not just with taking these veterans’ critiques seriously, to inform what U.S. strategy in Afghanistan/Pakistan needs to be, but not to repeat what was done to Kerry in the 1970s. That is, smearing him as a traitor to his fellow veterans by speaking out against an ill-considered war. These veterans are pushing the country’s discourse on Afghanistan into a difficult and uncomfortable area. It would be unconscionable for anyone to attack them for doing such a brave thing.
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