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Signs of the Times  •  23 August 2017 •  No. 133

Above: Spring in Zibak District, Badakhshan, Afghanistan

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Afghanistan is "easy to march into, hard to march out of."
—Alexander The Great (4th century BCE)

Invocation. Muslim call to prayer in Afghanistan.

President George W. Bush announced the “war on terror” in a 21 September 2001 speech to a joint session of Congress, saying “this crusade, this war on terrorism, is going to take a while.” On 7 October he launched “Operation Enduring Freedom” by attacking Afghanistan. —see the full text of Bush’s speech at The Guardian

¶“In 2010 the International Council on Security and Development conducted a survey that found that 92% of Afghan men have never heard of 9/11.” PBS

Babur, founder of the Mughal dynasty that ruled much of central Asia in the 1500s: “Afghanistan has not been and never will be conquered, and will never surrender to anyone.”

The story behind the world’s most famous photo. “Three decades ago, Steve McCurry took arguably the most iconic picture of all time. . . . ‘I knew she had an incredible look, a penetrating gaze,’ he recalls. . . . The striking portrait of 12-year-old Sharbat Gula (at right), a Pashtun orphan in the Nasir Bagh refugee camp on the Afghan-Pakistan border, was taken in December 1984.” It became National Geographic magazine’s most successful cover ever and led the magazine to set up the Afghan Children’s Fund.Jake Wallis Simons, CNN

¶ “We can’t kill our way to victory.—Admiral Mike Mullen, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in September 2008 testimony to the House Armed Serviced Committee. He also told the committee that the US is “running out of time” to win the war in Afghanistan, and sending in more troops will not guarantee victory. President George W. Bush has just announced deployment of 4,500 addition troops to Afghanistan, about the same number President Trump is about to send. —CNN

The busiest single airport runway in the world is on the US military base in Kandahar, southern Afghanistan. It is also the only airport outside the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) member countries controlled by NATO. —“Ten facts you may not know about Afghanistan,” BBC

Ooops. Since 11 September 2001 the Department of Defense has sent 1.4 milion guns to Iraq and Afghanistan but now does not know where half of them went. Nika Knight, CommonDreams

¶ “The world's first oil paintings were drawn not in Renaissance Europe but in the caves of Bamiyan, in the central highlands of Afghanistan around 650 BCE. Bamiyan boasted a flourishing Buddhist civilisation from the 2nd Century up to the Islamic invasion of the 9th Century. This is where the world's two largest standing Buddhas once stood, until the Taliban destroyed them in 2001 [see below].” —“Ten facts you may not know about Afghanistan,” BBC

The Buddhas of Bamiyan were carved from the sandstone cliffs in the Bamiyan Valley of Central Afghanistan during the 6th-7th centuries, the site of several Buddhist monasteries at the time. Pictured at left is the larger of the two statues, before and after the Taliban destroyed them in 2001.

Theological hubris. "My administration has a job to do and we're going to do it. We will rid the world of the evil-doers." President George W. Bush, 16 September 2001, CNN

Something shady about this intelligence. Five years ago American military intelligence estimated the Taliban had no more than 20,000 fighters. Yet, recently, one senior American military official estimated 10,000 Taliban fighters are killed every year. —Rod Nordland, “What an Afghan Victory Looks Like Under the Trump Plan,” New York Times

The US has spent at least $1.07 trillion in 16 years of war in Afghanistan. The nation’s population is 34.6 million, and the average annual salary is $410. Which means that instead of going to war with Afghanistan, the US could have paid the average annual salary of every person (including children) for 72 years.  Average life expectancy is Afghans is less than 61 years.

¶ “We kill and bomb / Murder and maim / Target and terrorize mostly / (for high-tech armies) / from great distance / the better not to see actual faces / or severed limbs, or / intestines oozing through / holes where belly buttons used to testify / to being a mother-born child. / But then we apologize / Sorry / So sorry / Deeply regret / Such a tragedy!” —continue reading “Sorry, sorry, sorry: The political meaning of ‘collateral damage’ repentance

¶ “America has been no different from other imperial powers in finding itself ensnared repeatedly in costly, bloody, and eventually futile overseas wars. From the Roman empire till today, the issue is not whether an imperial army can defeat a local one. It usually can, just as the United States did quickly in Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003.
        “The issue is whether it gains anything by doing so. Following such a 'victory,' the imperial power faces unending heavy costs in terms of policing, political instability, guerilla war, and terrorist blowback. Terrorism is a frequent consequence of imperial wars and imperial rule. Local populations are unable to defeat the imperial powers, so they impose high costs through terror instead.” Jeffrey D. Sachs, CommonDreams

In April the US Air dropped its 21,600 pound GBU-43 Massive Ordnance Air Blast bomb (MOAB) on a suspected ISIS base in northeast Afghanistan, killing 94 combatants. The bomb itself cost a reported $170,000.00. That means each of those ISIS fighters’ death cost over $1,800 (plus shipping and handling).

¶ “Fifteen years after launching a worldwide effort to defeat and destroy terrorist organizations, the United States finds itself locked in a pathologically recursive loop; we fight to prevent attacks and defend our values, only to incite further violence against ourselves and allies while destabilizing already chaotic regions. Our forces are competent, professional, and effective.
        “But, no matter how good our forces are, it is irrelevant for the reasons laid out by historian Williamson Murray: ‘No matter how effective the military institutions might be at the tactical and operational levels, if the strategy and political framework [was] flawed, the result was defeat.’” Major John Q. Bolton, US Army (veteran of both the Iraq and Afghan Wars),  Foreign Affairs

Commenting on news that US Marines were filmed urinating on the bodies of dead Taliban soldiers in Afghanistan: “Reserve Marine Lt. Col. Paul Hackett, who teaches the law of war to Marines before they are sent off to Afghanistan, made it clear Friday that he was not condoning the Marines’ actions. But he warned against judging them too harshly, saying: ‘When you ask young men to kill people for a living, it takes a whole lot of effort to rein that in.’” —Robert Koehler, “The Dignity of Corpses,” HuffPost

¶ “The Department of Defense procured uniforms for the Afghan Army in a camouflage pattern that is both far more expensive than other options and likely inappropriate for the landscape there, a U.S. government watchdog says.
        “The pattern choice cost U.S. taxpayers as much as $28.2 million extra since 2008, according to a report out Wednesday, and if changed could save up to $72.21 million over the next 10 years.

Right: Doves at the Kart-e Sakhi mosque in Kabul, Afghanistan. Adek Berry/AFP/Getty Images

        “Nearly 1.4 million full uniforms and nearly 90,000 pairs of pants had a camouflage print designed to help military personnel blend in with a forest environment. But according to the report, only 2.1 percent of Afghanistan is comprised of forest.” —Merrit Kennedy, NPR

¶ “The Marine Corps taught Sam Siatta how to shoot. The war in Afghanistan taught him how to kill. Nobody taught him how to come home.” —C.J. Chivers’ New York Times Magazine story, “The Fighter,”  gives a vivid account—the sights, sounds, smells, and moral quandry—of combat, along with the sometimes dystopian results of trying to adjust afterwards.

After 15 years of US war in Afghanistan, and more than $68 billion in military aid to the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces, the Taliban now controls more of the country’s territory than at any time since 2001. Nadia Prupis, Common Dreams

See an annotated timeline of Afghanistan, beginning with the 1838 British invasion. —Afghanistan profile, BBC

¶ “Concealed within that oft-cited ‘freedom’—the all-purpose justification for deploying American power — were several shades of meaning. The term, in fact, requires decoding. Yet within the upper reaches of the American national security apparatus, one definition takes precedence over all others. In Washington, freedom has become a euphemism for dominion.” —Andrew Bacevich, “Iraq and Afghanistan Have Officially Become Vietnam 2.0,” The Nation

Brutality in defense of Starbucks. “The madness of war is that while this system is in place to kill people, it may actually be necessary for the greater good. We live in a dangerous world for killing and torture exist and where the persecution of the weak by the powerful is closer to the norm than the civil society where we get our Starbucks. Insuring our own safety and the defense of a peaceful world may require training boys and girls to kill, creating technology that allows us to destroy anyone on the planet instantly, dehumanizing large segments of the global population and then claiming there is a moral sanctity in killing. To fathom the system and accept it use for the greater good is to understand that we still live in a state of nature. Timothy Kudo, former Marine captain and veteran of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, New York Times

Can’t makes this sh*t up. “I can’t guarantee your kids won’t be here in 20 years with another old guy standing in front of them.” —Marine General Robert Neller, responding to a question from his troops about their objective in Halmand Province, Afghanistan, quote in Thomas Gibbons-Neff, “ ‘It’s like everyone forgot’: On a familiar battlefield, Marines prepare for their next chapter in the Forever War,” Washington Post

Right: Children in a refugee camp in Afghanistan. Photo by Chris Fahey.

Confession. There are reasons the Trump Administration provokes more public outrage than any other in memory. But there are a larger trending factors we overlook.
        • President Obama is the only US president to serve two complete terms with the nation at war.
        • In 2016, Obama’s last full year in office, US special forces were active in 70% of the world’s nations, 138 countries, which represented a 130% increase from the George W. Bush years.
        • During the Obama years, the US dropped or launched at least 26,171 bombs and missiles. That averages out to 72 per day, or three per hour. Medea Benjamin, The Guardian

¶ In a 1 August 2017 polling report, the Pew Research Center announced that the US is again perceived to be the greatest threat to world peace by citizens around the world, and this time the results were worse than the previous poll in 2013.
        In their polling of people in 30 nations, 35% said the US was the greatest threat, following by Russia and China (31% each). Making matters worse, of the 30 countries in the survey, only one, Venezuela, is not an ally of the US. And none of those polled live in nations that are allies of Russia or China.
        This polling data reveals what most of us in the US still are unable to comprehend: President Trump is actually a better reflection of US foreign policy than any of our presidents since the late 19th century, beginning with the Spanish-American war, when the US imperial reach set in motion. It’s just that most of our presidents have been better than Trump in disguising US foreign policy as “making the world safe for democracy.” —kls

Benediction. Muslim call to prayer in Afghanistan

Just for fun. When you’re super dope with your cat. (2 second video)

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Featured this week on prayer&politiks

• “Testimony in a time of terror: Standing with the Word of God, for the earth, and against the world,” a litany for worship

• “The taunt of Lamech’s revenge.” Authorization for Use of Military Force: 60 words that bring the US to the edge of a permanent state of war.

• “Sorry, sorry, sorry: The political meaning of ‘collateral damage’ repentance,” a poem

Other features

• “The United States at War.” There have been only 17 years that the US has not been involved in a war since 1776.

• “Boots on the ground and other obfuscations.” On this, my 65th birthday, I’ve made a new vow.

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