I end the year with a question and one last outrage.
The U.N. believes about 1 million Afghans between the ages of 15 and 64 - roughly 8 percent of the population -- are addicted to drugs. The publication Development Asia estimates 2 million Afghan addicts.
Depending on whose figures you read next, some staggering number of these same addicts ends up in the Afghan National Police (ANP). Fully "half of the latest batch" of police recruits tested positive for narcotics, the Independent reported in March, drawing on Foreign Office Papers from late 2009. Also in March 2010, the Government Accounting Office (GAO) reported, depending on the province, 12 to 41 percent of Afghan police recruits tested positive. The GAO added: "A State official noted that this percentage likely understates the number of opium users because opiates leave the system quickly; many recruits who tested negative for drugs have shown opium withdrawal symptoms later in their training." The problem was dire enough, the report continues, to place under consideration "the establishment of dedicated rehabilitation clinics at the regional police training centers."
Pederasty, misogyny and corruption aside: This drug-addled ANP is part of the Afghan National Security Forces that the U.S. government fully expects -- no, completely relies on -- to secure Afghanistan against "extremist networks" and is spending $350 million per day in Afghanistan until that happens.
My question: Who's high here? Illiterate Afghans on drugs, or educated Americans on fantasy?
Like a legion of buttoned-down and uniformed Don Quixotes seeking the impossible COIN (counterinsurgency theory) -- winning Afghan hearts and minds from Islamic loyalties, constructing a heretofore unseen Afghan "city on a hill," training Afghan police (literacy rate 4.5 percent) while simultaneously weaning them from addiction, and don't get me started on "ally" Pakistan -- the United States has plunged into a depth of denial only an extravagant "intervention" could reverse.
This American flight from reality skews everything, whether large and obvious, like waging a sanity-defying war, or small and easily overlooked, like starkly refusing to bestow a medal on a deserving fallen soldier. I refer to the appalling fact that Pvt. William Long, slain at age 23 by an avowed jihadist outside an Arkansas military recruitment center in June 2009, has not received a Purple Heart from the U.S. government. When Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad fired his AK-47, killing Pvt. Long and wounding Pvt. Quinton Ezeagwula (no Purple Heart, either), he was committing an act of war. The United States refuses to recognize this fact even as Muhammad, in interviews, statements and letters to media, has never shut up about it.
The U.S. failure to recognize Pvt. Long's sacrifice is my year-ending outrage. In many ways it best symbolizes the others that have propelled this column through 2010. In this denial of jihad reality and callousness toward those who bear the brunt of sacrifices most Americans escape, we see symbolized the broader government failures toward the people on every front involving life and death.
Fortunately, the people are not failing Pvt. Long. On a cold and windy December day in Arkansas, at the close of a ceremony honoring Arkansans killed in recent wars, memorial organizer Ron Hopper told a story. As the Arkansas News reported, Hopper, whose son was killed in Iraq, mentioned a jewelry company that automatically makes a present of an engraved silver bracelet to all families of fallen soldiers. When the Long family asked the company to put their son's name on the list, "they were told that since he was not killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, the family was not entitled to one."
"An outraged murmur spread through the room," the report continued. "He may not have been deployed overseas. But he was killed in the Global War on Terror," Hopper declared. "For that reason, we ordered one made ourselves." And he presented a silver bracelet engraved with Pvt. Long's name to his sister, who, tears streaming down her face, announced she would give the bracelet to her mother for Christmas.
The government may be in denial in the sealed corridors of power, but at the VFW on Davis Drive in Searcy, Ark., reality lives, a thing of pain, loyalty and love.