Bing West Writes for the NRO on Afghanistan

by Sunny in Kabul on 5/3/2013 · 3 comments

The National Review Online is widely regarded as a paragon of rational thought and well-reasoned argument. They do not deign to dabble in the petty squabblings reserved for lesser publications like the Daily Caller, but regularly take a moral high ground. Such moral high ground can, at times, be construed as being terribly racist-y, but no matter: it’s the National Review (somehow I can never say that without hearing a skirling of bagpipes, or at least a fanfare of trumpets).

Since they’re the National Review, they’re able to draw upon a veritable stable of thinkers and writers to enlighten the rest of us huddled masses as we hunch over our smartphones and try to outdo each other with Buzzfeed driven cuteness. Which means that we’ll never darken the hallowed halls of the Review. But people like Bing West, on the other hand, get to do just that.

In some circles, Mr. West is known as a bit of an “expert” on things like the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which share a great many similarities, among them use of the letters “i” and “a.” He’s been to the ‘nam, he’s worked for the Gipper, and above all else, he’s written books on the subject. Books that have come about after the kind of in-depth knowledge one only gains after one “embeds” with military units.  In his latest for the Review, West starts off with a healthy dose of what the Review has long been known for, and that’s circumspect, intellectual honesty:

National Review has asked me to comment upon the current state of affairs in Afghanistan. I don’t know what the current state is…

This would have stopped me in my tracks because 1) I could not dare ascend to the heights one achieves in writing for the Review, and 2) I’ve learned the semi-hard (phrasing?) way to write what I know. But not West. Oh no:

…I do know it doesn’t much matter. Let me explain.

Enter Bing West, curmudgeon:

Our reason for invading that remote, medieval country in 2001 was to destroy the al-Qaeda terrorist organization, which had murdered 3,000 civilians at the World Trade Center.

Since some of us have long belabored under the impression that Al Qaeda probably had more connections to Pakistan than Afghanistan, it’s comforting to learn that we were right to go after them in Afghanistan all along. And having lived for the last three years in Afghanistan myself, I have to remind myself that one learns something new every day: I was not aware that I’ve been cooling my heels in a medieval country. I feel cheated: where’s the jousting? The serfs? The singing of songs around long tables while we quaff flagons of mead and ale?

All the time I’ve spent working with Afghans with Master’s degrees, wearing suits, using cellphones, and they’ve been holding out. They probably just pretend to know about things like Microsoft and electric lighting. I feel cheated, really. No more attempts to see buzkashi for this bamboozled foreigner…it’s the lists for everyone! Fortunately for us as eager readers, he’s not done with the culturally relevant comparisons:

Like Detroit or Jersey City, Afghanistan would always need more money.

So it’s a medieval…welfare state! This is a construct I can understand! Kabul’s just like Motown after the Big 3 took a dive, right? Just chock full of greedy people all too ready to stay on the gubment dole, am I right? But it gets worse: the generals actually want us to fail.

Our forces fell under the political control of Karzai, and gradually our generals tightened proscriptions against air strikes to the extent that today, U.S. forces neither patrol nor go out as advisers, while Afghan forces are forbidden to call in air.

This has nothing to do with the pending US withdrawal at the end of 2014, and instead is a nefarious plot by evil general officers in league with Karzai the Kalamitous. It also has nothing whatever to do with the tendency of coalition airstrikes to kill innocent civilians, or that eventually (circa 2015), the Afghan security forces need to be ready to defend themselves without foreign air support assistance. And, since Afghan forces have yet to receive the training necessary to call in accurate air support, that limitation is only in place because, well, generals just don’t care about soldiers the way Mr. West does. Unfortunately for those same soldiers, this isn’t Vietnam:

In Vietnam, despite the ferocity of the fighting and the number of civilian casualties, the South Vietnamese had — and still have — affection for Americans. Even the politburo in Hanoi is amenable. The Afghan culture is quite different — standoffish, Muslim, tribal, and often xenophobic.

Again, I feel cheated: I’m missing out on the rich cultural experience one would gain from standoffish, xenophobic, tribal Muslims. Instead I’ve had to suffer through dealing with hospitable, hilarious, inclusive Muslims. I feel…lied to, on so many levels. And as he closes, Mr. West leaves us with this warning:

Afghanistan is just one battlefield. The bombing in Boston had no apparent link to events there, but Islamist terrorism is a cancerous ideology. Boston demonstrated that we must fight and win the global war on terror.

I’m shaking my head right now. Instead of Boston being the act of a couple of disaffected American youths, it’s just part of the global war on terror. Which, naturally includes Afghanistan. Sort of. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to barricade my door against the xenophobes and get ready for tomorrow’s jousting. Until next time, you stay on that sunny side!

Subscribe to receive updates from Registan

This post was written by...

– author of 15 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Happily married, cynic, and I long to drink the Kool-Aid. Two tours in Iraq, once as an Infantry officer, once as a Civil Affairs officer supporting a PRT. Now it's civilian development work in Afghanistan since 2009. I want to believe, it's just that the lies are so laughable.

For information on reproducing this article, see our Terms of Use


Barbara Murphy-Bridge May 6, 2013 at 5:17 am

Popular western media does tend to distort ones opinion on foreign countries ; we just came back from Baja California, Mexico and most people thought we were crazy to go and would be in danger because of the drug wars . Not. The people of San Felipe are just wonderful.
The only only comment I have regarding your article is this:
I venture to say that a foreign woman residing in Afghanistan would rarely have the cultural experience you are fortunate enough to be exposed to – ” working with Afghans with Master’s degrees, wearing suits, using cellphones; ” hospitable , hilarious, inclusive Muslims” .

Steve Connors May 13, 2013 at 1:15 pm

“I venture to say that a foreign woman residing in Afghanistan would rarely have the cultural experience you are fortunate enough to be exposed to – ” working with Afghans with Master’s degrees, wearing suits, using cellphones; ” hospitable , hilarious, inclusive Muslims” .”

Sarah Chayes ( has managed it for quite some time, as have a number of others.

Sunny in Kabul May 28, 2013 at 7:29 pm

Since I work with and know several foreign women who reside here (some of them for years) and have had similar (and in some cases better) experiences than I have, I’d have to respectfully disagree. Don’t confuse antiquated cultural distortions in parts of this country with the fairly modern attitudes that tend to pervade Kabul and elsewhere.

Previous post:

Next post: