Some time ago, I listened to an Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) officer. Major Dan described the young mothers from Sderot, near the Gaza border. These young women had only 30 seconds when they heard the sirens warning of a Hamas missile strike. Some of them had two or three children in a van, in car seats, and they had to unbuckle their kids and take shelter by the side of the highway.
“We defend them with our Iron Dome battery. We shoot down the incoming missiles. But sometimes we cannot hit them all.” Still, Major Dan’s eyes shone with the zeal of a young man who knew what he was doing and why it mattered.
The other young officer I spoke to was the son of an Annapolis grad. This grizzled warrior wore his hair shaven. His brawny arms were deeply tanned, tattooed. Major John was a West Pointer who had been to Afghanistan three times.
Major John was disciplined, stoic. He was eager to go back—if only to lead his soldiers and protect their lives. He spoke sparingly of his experience there. Each time he returned for another tour, he would be briefed for his new assignment.
“All that has changed. We’re not doing that anymore,” Major John was told. Finally, Major John had a question for his Army briefers:
“Have the Afghans changed?”
What we’ve seen in the several last days is that the Afghans have changed not at all.
President George W. Bush campaigned in 2000 against “nation-building.” But after 9/11, he argued that the al-Qaeda attack on our homeland had changed all that.
His “Freedom Agenda” would require America to sponsor fundamental change in Muslim-majority lands, to foster the development of democratic norms in societies that had never known such, or had indicated any preference for what we take as basic.
Interpreters were key to any successful military or civil assistance teams in foreign lands as they translate our ideas into Dari or Pushtun. These are the people whom we see packing into US Air Force transports this week, or worse, clinging to their wings and falling to their death at Karzai International Airport.
Tommy the Terp was one such interpreter (although one serving with our troops in Iraq, not Afghanistan, and that is not his real pseudonym). But this is his story:
Tommy came to see my Army chaplain friend at his tent in the middle of the night. Like Nicodemus, Tommy avoided being seen on his secret visit. He explained to “Chaps” that he had learned to speak English by watching Hollywood movies. This interpreter now wanted to become a Christian. But he had to be careful. His friends or even his male family members would kill him if they discovered what he was doing. Tommy the Terp knew of what he spoke. He confessed that he had murdered apostates. As had Saul who became Paul. We hear today that the Taliban has issued a blanket amnesty for Tommy the Terps in Afghanistan. And we may be assured that this amnesty will last—until CNN cameras leave, too.
What went wrong?
This Freedom Agenda was President Bush’s house built on sand, desert sand. He believed sincerely that all people desire to be free. That may be true. But unless one seeks freedom for one’s neighbor, too, one will never enjoy freedom. Nor even deserve it.
Our Founders understood this better than we do. President George Washington was the first man in history to address the Jews as equal fellow citizens. In his response to their congratulatory letter, Washington on his visit of August 18, 1790, read his reply to the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, Rhode Island:
The Citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy: a policy worthy of imitation.
All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights.
For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support…
May the Children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other Inhabitants; while everyone shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.
No sentiment comparable to this was ever shared with Iraqis or Afghans. Far from it, alas.
Under our tutelage, both lands came under new constitutions. Both documents contained “Repugnancy Clauses.” Each one of these sections stated that, in essence, notwithstanding anything else in the new charters, “nothing repugnant to Islam shall be done by this government.”
At first blush, we see these clauses would have been repugnant to the new government that George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison created.
Second, we must ask, Who shall decide what is repugnant to Islam? A moment’s reflection tells us—mullahs, of course. Which mullahs will guard against repugnancy? Those mullahs with more guns.
Napoleon Bonaparte was widely rumored to have “turned Turk” in his Egyptian campaign of 1798. He hadn’t. But he did not require conversion to become a believer in the dictum that God favors the battalions with the greater artillery. That is the Napoleonic principle that our Mideast experts shoehorned into the new constitutions for which we fought. In injecting such language into government structures, we assured sectarian strife would be constitutionalized—forever.
Peter Berger, a sociologist and writer, once described our country as a nation of Indians ruled by Swedes. Bad enough, but when such a nation goes to war, it would be safer to be ruled by Americans who know their own history.
After 20 years, the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (GIROA) never let one Christian, one Jew, one minority Muslim sit under his own vine and fig tree with no one to make him afraid.
We might prefer to see our tough young warriors have the light of zeal in their eyes—like the IDF Major Dan. And not look into the eyes of a war-weary, jaded man who will never fail to do his duty, but who has no faith in the mission.