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Matthews: Winning 'hearts and minds' harder than ever in Afghanistan

Let me finish tonight with this.Horrible things happen in war.

Let me finish tonight with this.

Horrible things happen in war. Even at its cleanest, it's good people killing other good people, guys fighting for their country against other guys fighting for their country; now, women, too.

I don't know where we put this latest horror.

An American soldier on his fourth tour in a combat zone--who's spent most of a dozen years over there fighting our wars--gets up one day and heads around door-to-door killing people including nine little kids, killing 16 people in cold blood, and then burning them.

Is this this war's My Lai? Is this the dread story that comes up in any war, all wars, when the combination of guys at the front too long, then sent back too many times, for too many years, all the time away from home?

These are different kinds of wars. It's not heading for Berlin in tanks, island-hopping our way to the Japanese home islands, or turning back invaders like in Korea or, in a much messier way, in Vietnam.

It's about trying to keep people who are "of" a country from coming back to dominate a country, people of extreme nationalism and zealous religion to grab back power a decade after we took it from them.

How do you sell the fact that we are the good guys after things like this continue to happen: the Koran burnings; before that, the soldiers peeing on dead Afghans; before that, the "kill team"?

How do you win "hearts and minds" with that stuff, making the rounds with each new story adding to the fire?

Ask yourself: Is there a job in the world today that's easier than being a Taliban recruiter? Getting people to join up against the Americans who've been in Afghanistan all these years?

Vice President Biden said a while back we should get our big force out of Afghanistan and shift to a policy of anti-terrorism, focusing on Al Qaeda, the group we went into that country to get. It does no good to say what might have been had we followed that course. It does do good to consider it now.

The mission of counter-insurgency, which the president chose over that of anti-terrorism, is still the mission. Is it still doable given the course of these events? Is our presence in that country helping to turn the hearts and minds against the Taliban, or in the other direction?

A good question to ask, now more than ever.


From the Hardball blog archive:

  • "The reason this war's gone on is that we have first-rate, highly-disciplines troops in the American military. They do what they're told. But that's all the more reason why we should have a mission that makes sense and justifies the total sacrifice these patriotic Americans stand ready to make." -Defining the US mission in Afghanistan (Aug. 9, 2011)