The Death of a General and the Racket of a War

After thirteen years of war, after all the violence, all the theft, all the lies, are we so naïve and so closeted to be surprised at this death?
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Five years ago this month, the New York Times, under the bylines of James Risen and Mark Lander, published a front-page profile of Marshal Mohammad Fahim, a notorious and bloody Afghan warlord and druglord, who had long been involved in the theft of American aid money. Fahim was about to become the Vice President of Afghanistan, for a second time. Risen and Lander explained in great detail not just Fahim's crimes, but also the acknowledgement and acceptance of Fahim's crimes, past and ongoing, by senior American officials in both the Bush and Obama Administrations.

Despite the obvious and clear illegality of President Hamid Karzai's re-election in 2009, the first of three fraudulent national elections in Afghanistan over the last five years, including this year's presidential election, an election with still no outcome, whose fraudulence pushes Afghanistan towards an ever greater political abyss, the United States backed Fahim's position once again as Vice President.

In December of 2009, President Obama sent an additional 30,000 American troops to Afghanistan to assure Karzai and Fahim's positions in power, escalating the war and eliminating any sincere chances of political reconciliation in Afghanistan. Tens of billions of dollars more for Karzai and Fahim's amazingly kleptocratic government to continue to steal were sent from America's Treasury. During this time, the United States government continued to turn a blind eye towards the Afghan government's heavy and integral involvement within the Afghan drug trade, allowing Afghanistan to produce record numbers of drug exports on a near annual basis since 2001. Reports of American Marines and soldiers in southern Afghanistan guarding poppy fields are not exaggerations nor are the stories of helicopters and planes given to the Afghan Air Force being used to ferry drugs.

Fahim passed away in March of this year from a heart attack. He was never held accountable for his immeasurable human rights atrocities nor did American officials ever challenge his drug business. The millions of dollars he stole from American taxpayer funded reconstruction assistance has never been recouped. Thousands of American soldiers died to ensure his power and profit, while tens of thousands more were wounded and hundreds of thousands will be haunted by psychiatric wounds for the rest of their lives. Rather, after Fahim's death, the American Ambassador to Afghanistan eulogized his "crucial role" and relationship with the US, the United Nations called him a "good and trusted partner," and the Afghan Military Academy, constructed with US taxpayers' money, was renamed in his honor.

Last week we learned of the latest American to be killed in America's longest and most unpopular war. Major General Harold Greene undoubtedly will not be our last death in a war that so long ago lost its purpose and became, as the former British Ambassador to Afghanistan from 2007-2010, Sherard Cowper-Coles described to the Los Angeles Times in 2011, as "one big bright shining lie."

General Greene is the most senior American killed in our wars since 2001. He was gunned down as many Americans before him in Afghanistan, in what are known as "insider attacks." These killings happen not on the battlefield, but in an office, a hospital or a school, and are not committed by a recognizable enemy, but by someone supposedly on our side, often a member of the Afghan army or police. For several years these attacks were epidemic, but over the last year or so they have been managed, primarily by reducing our troops' time with their Afghan counterparts or making sure our officers aren't in the same room as Afghans with loaded weapons. These limitations on American forces interactions with the very Afghan men they were supposed to be training in order to deliver victory in Afghanistan is one of the many absurdities that characterize the madness of the war into which our troops have been committed.

So, in a very cruel, yet perversely fitting injustice we see the most senior American officer to be killed since the Vietnam War to have been murdered at the Marshal Fahim National Defense University in Kabul. After thirteen years of war, after all the violence, all the theft, all the lies, are we so naïve and so closeted to be surprised at this death? Can we not see the symbolism intertwined in the murder, the money and the location's namesake?

General Greene's death at the Marshal Fahim National Military Academy, while of no greater or lesser importance than the previous 2,340 American deaths in Afghanistan, or the 4,486 killed in the equally senseless and failed war in Iraq, may be the most illustrative death. Perhaps the only thing more glaring than the limits on American power overseas may be our own unwillingness to acknowledge our short-comings, recognize our own failures and admit our inability to live up to our own values.

And somehow, someway, as if we are living in some cosmic, divinely inspired farce, our airwaves are inundated now, not with just calls to keep our troops and money in Afghanistan, but to return to Iraq. So it goes.

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