LOS ANGELES -- I had to pull over to the side of La Cienega Boulevard last Tuesday evening as I drove home from work. I was crying.
It was nothing, or it was the same old thing. I was listening to the news on National Public Radio when there was another story about another death in Afghanistan. Pfc. Andrew Meari, age 21. A village called Senjaray. An Afghan on a moped pulled up next to an American truck and blew himself up, killing Meari and another guy. The Americans, my countrymen, were there, near Kandahar, working to win the trust and cooperation of the locals.
They were paying the locals, sipping tea with them, giving them weapons and advice. The locals killed them. What hit me was listening to Spc. Robert Criss, who said Meari was his best friend: "I don't trust anyone out there. They just seem shady all the time. ... They duck around corners and peak out at us."
"We were making inroads," said Capt. Nick Stout, Meari's company commander.
No we weren't. We were occupying their country -- and they hate us. I was not crying for Meari, though God knows, he and his family deserve our tears. I was crying for my country, for the cowardice of our leaders who continue to send the same brave young men out again and again to die rather than admit they have no chance as strangers in a strange land.
They, the cowards in Washington, know what they are doing. If they don't, they can read the reports of the University of Chicago Project on Security and Terrorism, which analyzed each of more than 2,200 suicide attacks around the world since 1980. Their conclusion, obvious if you read history, is that extremist religion is not the motivation for such terrorism. The reason, above all, is military occupation of other countries.
What would we do if foreign troops occupied the United States? What did we do when we considered British troops occupiers in 1776?
An extraordinarily brave American, Spc. Salvatore Giunta of Hiawatha, Iowa, the first live American to win the Medal of Honor since the war in Vietnam, said this after his heroism was recognized in a battle far from Kandahar, in the Korengal Valley three years ago:
"These people won't leave this valley," he said of the Afghans, as reported by Elizabeth Rubin of The New York Times. "They have been here far before I could fathom an Afghanistan."
Then he said: "All my feelings are with my friends and they are getting smaller. I have sweat more, cried more and bled more in this country than my own."
Our soldiers fight for each other, for their friends, as soldiers have fought and died for each other through the centuries. They are certainly not fighting, this small band of volunteer brothers, for the ideas or ambitions of George Bush or Barack Obama, or Donald Rumsfeld or David Petraeus.
They are not even fighting for the rest of us, the American people. We just had a national election for the Congress, that half-dead body which is supposed to declare wars, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were barely mentioned by candidates. And why should they be? Except for the fact that it is draining our treasury, the wars are barely affecting the overwhelming majority of Americans. We have a volunteer army, the National Football League with guns, and we are spectators. Did we even notice when the troops abandoned the Korengal Valley in defeat three months ago? Are we noticing that Congress, the White House and the Pentagon are now planning to hold off on major troop withdrawal from Afghanistan until 2014, four years from now?
So, cry the beloved country. Shed tears for the brave. And for the cowards, too, the men and women in Washington who refuse to admit we cannot impose our will on the world -- and certainly never will unless we are in a struggle where we are all engaged and all at risk. The band of brothers out there are alone. We have already abandoned them in a bloody fog of empty words about national security.