This time it's Afghanistan, with a foreign power, not to say an imperial nation, employing sophisticated weapons and military personnel to subdue a people and culture that it knows little about.
Last time it was Iraq, when the American people were lied into a war by false claims about weapons of mass destruction and, before that, Vietnam, by a phony Gulf of Tonkin resolution.
Both happened because the U.S. Congress passively tolerated and actively supported enormous troop increases and massive expenditures, as casualties mounted and countless civilians died in the crossfire.
Today, as President Bush snores and President-elect Obama waits in the wings, the Pentagon plunges ahead, planning to add 30,000 more U.S. troops to the 31,000 already in Afghanistan. Supply operations and maintenance services for the Afghan National Army will cost American taxpayers an estimated $300 million over the next five years, according to Walter Pincus in the Washington Post.
Yet there is little evidence that a military occupation, insensitive to the region's history and culture, can lead to democracy or economic development. Where is the justifiable outrage of American citizens the third time around?
Let facts speak to a passive citizenry and a blood-soaked military-industrial-university-ecclesiastical complex.
Eighty-five percent of the 12 million people of Afghanistan, one of the poorest countries in the world, depend upon agriculture. Almost half of its children suffer from malnutrition, its illiteracy rate estimated at 64 percent and life expectancy at 46 years, according to a World Bank report.
Its tribes of nomads, farmers and herders often are governed by their own leaders, in a type of tribal federalism. War and poverty have exiled four million people to other countries and hundreds of thousands within Afghanistan itself. A 10-year war with the former Soviet Union left 10 million land mines scattered throughout the country.
Millions of dollars of U.S. aid, much of it for the eradication of opium crops, has had little effect.
"Whatever goodwill may have been built up by such efforts had been lost by military killing of Afghan civilians, particularly in aerial attacks," according to Mark Pilisuk of the University of California Graduate School and Research Center.
The issues are obviously complex, and the challenges to Afghanistan's rebuilding itself seem almost insurmountable. So are the issues associated with current U.S. policy.
Alternatives to military adventurism — the thrust of Bush's policy, with Obama apparently bent on more of the same — exist.
Choices include supporting positive experiments in community building and human rights by the people of Afghanistan themselves. American Greg Mortenson, who built 55 schools for girls in the Karakoram mountains of Pakistan, provides one example. His remarkable story, "Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace - One School at a Time" (2006) has suggestions for carrying it on.
A recent policy statement by the Progressive Democrats of Worcester is another hopeful sign: "Negotiate an end to the war in Afghanistan and withdrawal of U.S. forces; the problem of al-Qaida is a police problem, not a military one."
Using drones and other modern "impersonal" weapons, the U.S. has killed numerous innocent civilians, who then ally themselves with the Taliban and even al-Qaida, while Osama bin Laden runs loose. Such results reflect the hubris and cruelty of previous failed policies, such as the so-called pacification program in Vietnam (shooting the cattle, burning huts, and taking civilians off the land) and "shock and awe" (killing retreating Iraqi soldiers and torturing prisoners in Abu Ghraib).
"The Iraq war," according to retired Brig. Gen. John Johns, "is one of the great blunders of history," including reports of U.S. war crimes, similar to those documented by Deborah Nelson in 2008 in The War Behind Me: Vietnam Veterans Confront the Truth About U.S. War Crimes.
What does our government believe that the U.S. can accomplish by military means in Afghanistan when that approach failed with the Russians in recent history and with the British earlier?
At heart, the so-called "war on terror" is a monstrous failure. It is *not *a "war" against a nation or a region.
Since the language is all wrong, the policies are often mistaken. Capturing al-Qaida and restoring Afghanistan requires the cooperation of every nation and every citizen of that country.
With our enormous resources and talent, the U.S. might help Afghanistan survive. As it is, we are dooming the country and ourselves to more death, destruction and cynicism.
Commentary by Michael True,
emeritus professor at Assumption College, Worcester, MA.