As Rome Burned the People Refused to Watch

Speaking before the Council on Foreign Affairs, retired General Stanley McChrystal reported that the US has always had a “simplistic” view of Afghanistan and after ten-years of fighting neither America’s military or that of NATO are much more than half way finished in achieving the major goal of establishing a stable government in that nation.

With major troop reductions scheduled to begin by the end of this year (2011) it seems the prospect of our total involvement in that nation being a waste is rapidly being confirmed. I am not a military person, my years as a Navy Radioman gives me no more insight into military strategy than a grunt who spent a year in the jungles of Vietnam. But, having lived through the Vietnam ear, I do know a little about identifying quagmires.

Click graphic to enlarge.

As of October, 2011 the US has lost over 1800 troops in Afghanistan with total NATO coalition deaths exceeding 2500. We just marked the tenth anniversary of the US invasion of Afghanistan following Osama bin Laden’s attack on US targets in September of 2001. The financial cost of our Afghan involvement is rapidly approaching half a trillion dollars and the combined cost of Afghanistan and Iraq is well over a trillion and again, rapidly rising.

I will not fault the US for the invasion of Afghanistan and I strongly supported president George W. Bush’s decision to go after bin Laden and those who harbored him. But, as McChrystal confirms, our political and military leadership was ill-prepared for what we would encounter. We went there to get bin Laden and his supporters, not to build a nation.

Well, we finally got bin Laden, we’ve killed most of his supporters, we have disrupted their lines of communications, we have shed far more human blood than what was spilled in America on that fateful day in ’01, and in doing so we have spent almost as many lives as were lost on that day. Toss in the cluster f@#k in Iraq and the total American loss far exceeds 9/11. Plus we have yet to mention the tens of thousands of seriously wounded veterans who will, albeit well deserved, place a burden on our purse for decades to come.

Now, just consider that Gen. Stanley McChrystal, a darling of the pro-war crowd, is telling us that after ten-years we’re just half-way there, we still don’t understand the people and culture of Afghanistan, we have never “learned the language,” and our invasion of Iraq forever altered the Muslim world’s view of our intentions and diverted troops, equipment, and money from our stated goal of getting bin Laden and al Qaeda.

Making all this more disturbing to me is knowing that the American economy is in shambles due in major part to these two significant and historically long wars that seem to have no purpose and no end. Furthermore, recent polls show that only a few Americans seem to be paying attention to what is/has happened beyond our shores. America’s treasury and youth are being wasted and most of us don’t seem to notice. I just wonder if this would have gone on so long if we still had some system of drafting young people for military duty?

So, here we are, entrapped in Afghanistan, still ensnared in Iraq, troops spread out all over the world, the potential for further military involvement at a peak, members of the Senate saying out loud we should consider military action against Iran, retired Chairman of the Joint Chiefs openly saying our supposed ally, Pakistan, has been supporting Taliban activities across the border in Afghanistan, suspicion that Pakistan knowingly gave shelter to bin Laden, and now McChrystal fessing up to Afghan reality. And as Rome burned the people went about their daily lives.

FOOTNOTE: Within an hour of finishing this article I opened the latest Newsweek magazine and read these statistics. I believe they more than support what I’ve said in this piece.

  • Total US military deaths in Operation Enduring Freedom as of Sept. 30, 2011: 1,777
  • Total Taliban death: 10,000 – 20,000
  • Total Afghan National Security Forces killed through July, 2011: 5,681
  • Total Afghan civilian deaths: 12,500 – 14,700
  • Total cost of Operation Enduring Freedom through 2012: $557.1 billion US borrowed dollars
  • Most chilling quotation from a Taliban leader: “You have the watches, we have the time.”

Sources:, CBS News



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