The Mirror Test
America at War in Iraq and AfghanistanBook - 2016
From the critics
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Eventually, my black footlockers arrived stateside. It was, at long last, time to unpack. As I emptied the dented, dirty, and once mini-padlocked containers and my hands sifted through their contents, it all came back.
Surprisingly, strangely, gratefully, and, yes, finally, I felt ready to go through what was inside them. . . inside me.
The base [Helmand, Afghanistan] was set in the middle of a gray-yellow desert that turned orange at dusk and dawn. The place looked like Mars, but instead of Martians, I saw only hundreds of Marines whose uniforms bended into the landscape. It was like landing on "Planet of the Marines."
Over cups of hot tea on that hot day, I played at being a good host. A fan blew hot air around the room, disrupting the flight of a few non-aerodynamic flies trying to land on the sugar spoon.
Richard Holbrooke: "No one in Washington knows anything about Afghanistan. And what they do know is mostly wrong."
Our convoy departed well before sunrise. It was late afternoon when we arrived in Musa Kehl District, but the slanting rays of the sun still felt hot. Low-swooping hawks soared on the dry wind blowing peak to peak.
The day seemed primed for lightning strikes. No thunderstorms had been predicted, but I knew they could come fast, rolling down from the far-away, mirage-like mountaintops: a spiked, curved spine of rock like the back of a giant stone Stegosaurus.
I was going from one war [in Iraq] right into another [in Afghanistan], because I wanted to justify my country's actions. . . . Most of all, I wanted to convince them what the United States of America still stood for -- not what we risked becoming because of Iraq. . . our national mirror so cracked. . .a countenance scarred and increasingly unrecognizable.
Iraq had taken a toll on me, too. I saw it in the mirror. . . . But I also felt resilient in a newfound and unexpected way. . . . A forging of something deep inside, a soul, a spirit, made larger, in a way, amid all the broken parts.
A question I should be asked. A question both Republican and Democratic policy makers should be asked. . . and asked not once or a few times, but repeatedly.
"Did you kill anyone over there?"
Congressman Walter Jones (NC): "Congress will not hold anyone to blame. Lyndon Johnson's probably rotting in hell right now because of the Vietnam War, and he probably needs to move over for Dick Cheney."
A friend recounted a post-9/11 CODEL [Congressional Delegation] to Paris [as part of a visit to the Middle East] that has since entered State Department lore. A group of House representatives and "spouses" stayed at the Hotel Intercontinental (635 euros, or over $1,000, per night). Before arriving in France, the politicos sent a forty-four-page fax detailing what every member wanted in their minibar. "Not Smirnoff Vodka, but Grey Goose. Not Seagram's gin, but Tanqueray. Not Johnnie Walker Black, but Johnie Walker Blue. Red Bull, fresh-squeezed pomegranate juice, and Pop Tarts, as well as a premium selection of French wine and cheese upon arrival."
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