The Best Defense

'This is What Winning Looks Like'?

By "A Guy in Afghanistan"

Best Defense guest columnist

The United States has invested a great deal of blood and treasure in Afghanistan. Thus far, senior leadership (both civilian and military) would have us believe that we are receiving a valuable return on our investment, in the form of a stable and democratic government. Some exaggeration of the positive aspects is to be expected, of course, but when the ground truth blatantly belies the narrative, shouldn't we start questioning it?

The story of Helmand is a microcosm of America's Afghan counterinsurgency experience. Massive expenditures have piled up, as well as many lives lost. Supposedly, security and democracy have now taken root in the former Taliban heartland. However, from my time there last year, that's not what I saw. I saw large swaths of Taliban-controlled areas where ISAF and ANSF forces simply did not go. It wasn't for any lack of strategic importance; it was because ANSF had tried to secure these areas and failed.

The documentary This is What Winning Looks Like shows what most coalition forces in Helmand, and Afghanistan more broadly, experience:

  • An incredibly corrupt and extremely unpopular national government,
  • A largely ineffective Afghan security force,
  • An economy artificially propped up purely through the largesse of aid programs.

These problems aren't going to be resolved by the end of 2014, or 2017, or whatever deadline we place upon them. Afghans recognize this; a common saying is "you have the watches, but we have the time." Why are we throwing good money and lives after bad when there is no foreseeable way to salvage any positive return on our investment?

Noorullah Shirzada/AFP/Getty Images

The Best Defense

Re-watching 'Michael Collins': It was a sign when they didn’t spell 'guerrilla' right

My wife and I both recently read the two volumes of Ernie O'Malley's memoirs of the Irish war of independence and the subsequent civil war (thanks to a BD contributor recommendation), so we decided to watch the film Michael Collins. I was surprised at how cheesy and Hollywoodish the whole thing seemed, with a dull love story embedded in the middle, with the female love interest played woodenly by Julia Roberts. 

But I shoulda know the jig was up during the introduction that gave the historical context, and it informed us of the "guerilla" war in Ireland against the British -- that is, with one "r."

I know, I know, we should have been watching The Wind That Shakes the Barley. But my wife already has seen it twice. The first time, we were in a theater, and she gasped when the priest refused communion to the anti-Free Staters. She said, "My mother told me that happened to her father" (in County Clare).