It was, when I first heard it, the most audacious, savagely imperial claim of my experience.
“Any land on which Serb blood has been spilled,” said the Serb Prime Minister and nationalist war criminal Slobodan Milosevic, “is Serb land.”
This spurious claim, derived from battles decades and centuries in the past, was used to justify ethnic cleansing in Bosnia which killed an estimated 200,000 Croats and Bosniaks. Their blood apparently entitled them and their descendants to nothing.
If you’re thinking that kind of claim is “so 20th, or 19th or 5th Century,” here’s the 21st Century version as put forward by President Donald Trump. His first justification for extending and re-expanding the American military effort in Afghanistan – offered in his presentation a couple of weeks ago at Fort Myer, VA is: “to honor those American soldiers who had died there since 2001.”
In other words, any withdrawal of American troops, any reduction of our use of force in Afghanistan would dis-honor all our fighters’ predecessors who had fought and died for Washington’s military policies. In other words, we can never honorably leave Afghanistan with anything short of victory.
And what is victory?
President Trump was explicit about that: “From now on, victory will have a clear definition: attacking our enemies, obliterating ISIS, crushing al-Qaeda, preventing the Taliban from taking over the country, and stopping mass terror attacks against Americans before they emerge.”
Note that merely attacking is, to Trump, victory, a logical nullity and moral horror.
But let us continue down Victory lane. “Obliterating ISIS, crushing Al Qaeda,” stopping the Taliban and pre-empting all terrorist threats. Nice work of you can get it, but few believe it’s a realizable agenda.
Some people, like Secretary of State Rex Tillerson would settle for just a stable, verifiable peace deal with the Taliban and says he and his Afghan government partners are ready to negotiate with “no preconditions.”
Let’s hope he has his ostensible boss’ support and the offer and the outcome would not offend President Trump’s appetite for attacking and his bloated sense of America’s honor.
Will Everett first went to Afghanistan as a freelance journalist. His work appeared on NPR and the BBC and Newsweek Magazine. He later worked for USAID in Afghanistan. He has also reported from the Middle East and West Africa, wrote and produced a documentary with Walter Cronkite as part of the World War One Living History Project. His novel We’ll Live Tomorrow was published in 2015.