The Rant 

I'm reading a collection of short stories by Rudyard Kipling. Some of them are set in Afghanistan, where the British were fighting the Afghans in the 1800s. Funny how in 2008, the British are back in Afghanistan fighting the Afghans.

You would think that three wars with the Afghans would be enough, but apparently the imperial impulse dies hard, even after the original British Empire has left Great Britain a third-rate country whose leaders seem to think they have no choice but to play tag-along behind the Americans.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization has no reason to exist, let alone be in Afghanistan. It is a relic of the Cold War that should have been disbanded when the Russians disbanded the Warsaw Pact. The American establishment, however, seems to think it is a handy way to drag the Europeans into our own imperial schemes.

Nevertheless, American forces have been in Afghanistan for five years now, and American officials keep saying the Afghan army is not ready to defend the country. They say the same thing about the Iraq army. Funny, we can take a kid out of high school, give him 16 weeks of training, and ship him off to combat, where he gives a pretty good account of himself. Why has it taken five years to field an army in Iraq and Afghanistan? I've never been able to get an intelligent answer to that question. I suspect the real answer is that the American government does not plan to leave either country for a very long time.

There is a lot of oil in one country and a route for a pipeline in the other. The U.S. seems to have decided to replay the "Great Game" with Russia over the Caspian Sea petroleum resources, just as the British Empire once played it with the Russian Empire when both had their eyes on India.

As most of you know, I would prefer that we abandon our empire, for it is, like every other empire in history, bleeding us of treasure and blood. We don't need to have troops in South Korea, Japan, Germany, the Balkans, and the Middle East. None of those countries is a threat to us, and all of them are capable of defending themselves. We have many domestic problems that need both the attention and the resources of our government.

Of course, journalists have as much influence on national and international affairs as a fan sitting in the bleachers has on the management of a professional baseball team. We can only observe and cheer or jeer. Voters are the only plain people who can influence foreign policy, but they can only do it if they choose intelligently which politicians to retain in office and which ones to dump.

The American establishment, by and large, excludes the people from any discussion of foreign policy. Other than as a recipient of propaganda, we have no part to play in setting the policy of our own government. We should object to that on principle, but most Americans have little interest in foreign affairs.

Perhaps when the traditional population has been replaced (or should I say displaced) by new immigrants, which shouldn't take that long at the present rate, the newly arrived citizens will be more interested in foreign affairs. By then, we should be multilingual as well as multicultural. We might even get a president who can read a foreign newspaper.

I am, at least, preparing for the future by developing a taste for Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Arab, Hungarian, French, Persian, and Slovakian cuisine. All are easily available in the middle-class American city where I live. That in itself ought to tell you something.

Charley Reese has been a journalist for 50 years.

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