War: What Was It Good For?

Today brought a heart-rending statement from George Packer, one of our great American writers. From today’s New Yorker online:

“If things look grim in Afghanistan, they hardly look better in Iraq. And it’s terrible to think that this is the meaning of all those years of war, all that death and heartbreak. It’s even more terrible to wonder if that was the only meaning they ever could have had.”

The story talks about the recent massacre of Afghan civilians by an out-of-his-nut U.S. Army sergeant, and puts it in the context of both recent incidents (the Koran burnings and the tinkling on of Taliban corpses), to conclude–Walter Cronkite style–that an honorable end to the war in Afghanistan no longer seems possible. And it gives an update on Iraq:

The Christian population is well below half of its pre-war level, and now even the Kurdish north is no longer safe for Christian refugees, who are fleeing Kurdistan to Turkey, Jordan, and—if they can—the U.S.

Shiite gangs have gone on a killing spree aimed at young Iraqis who dress in the style known as “emo,” and whom many Iraqis believe to be gay, or even devil worshippers. The victims—the number may be as high as ninety or a hundred—have had their skulls crushed with concrete blocks.

Iraqis who worked for the U.S. government continue to be targeted in their own country, while the doors to American immigration remain shut tight to them.

Bombings and assassinations continue to be daily realities in Baghdad and elsewhere.

In foreign policy, Iraq has positioned itself as the only Arab friend of the Iran-Syria axis, while Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian army continues to slaughter civilians, and the theocratic regime of the Iranian Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, consolidates its hold on every lever of state power and plays nuclear brinkmanship with the region and the world.

And where does it all lead? Packer:

Walking away eventually becomes the only thing for foreigners to do. We’re on our way there in Afghanistan—a little faster after today. But don’t mistake that for any kind of successful extrication, or negotiated bilateral relationship, or return to American priorities. It will be hell for Afghans, as it’s hell today for Iraqis—hell with us there, hell after we leave.

All this is even tougher to take when you know that Packer supported the war going in. For an account of that, see his 2006 master work on the war in Iraq, “The Assassin’s Gate.”

Why do I have the intense urge to mutter, “Have mercy on our souls”?


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