Barcelona- Sitting here in Spain, the fourth of July for me passed entirely unceremoniously. As I type this, it’s now technically the fifth over here. When I think of the fourth now, it mostly conjures up images of young people (millenials?) debaucherizing with abandon or one of the few days when families of migrant workers take the afternoon off and picnic in an inner city park. We look at the struggle for American independence in abstraction. Not as an anti-colonial war or national liberation struggle but as some oddly righteous inevitability. America has its ‘good’ wars- the Revolutionary and Civil wars, the Great War (World War I) and World War II, followed by that war no one talks about-the Korean War- and then by what I’ll call the messy entanglement wars beginning with Viet Nam and currently in Afghanistan most prominently. In these conflicts where the goal posts appear to keep moving with a never entirely clear strategic objective we attach faulty plot lines to rewrite what they are in fact about.
Afghanistan went from post-9/11 country and western inspired vengeance with a dash of women’s and minority rights to nation building-lite to half-hearted democratization mixed with door kicking counterinsurgency to stability operations to plotting a ticker tape-less exit strategy. The soldiers and the local population are then expected to constantly adapt with little or no notice. It is as if Afghanistan is some kind of flesh and blood foreign policy laboratory.
Domestic and European critics often deride the United States as an insular nation citing statistics on the current level of per capita passport holders which is abysmal compared to other industrialized nations. But the United States remains the world’s only true power with global reach. France may have a rump colonial island outpost empire that spans many of the globe’s 24 time zones from St. Pierre et Miquelon to French Polynesia to Réunion but it does not have the vast rapid deployment capability of the “hyperpuissance” US Navy. In this respect, America, if not Americans, is the world’s most well traveled nation. And she has paid a heavy price for this power. Americans in uniform and the corresponding civilians and insurgents of belligerent nations who have run afoul of foreboding sounding entities like the “Office of Special Plans” (whose intellectual engineers may die in their sleep at a ripe old age) have either died or continue to suffer mental and physical anguish. There are those we left behind and those we leave suffering in our wake.