In the not too distant past, most Americans couldn't tell a Pashtun from a cartoon, a Sunni from a Moonie or a Kurd from bean curd. Then came 9-11 and we learned our very survival depended on securing freedom for people we barely knew existed. Exorcising the region's demons through democracy was so important, we were told, that America would pay for the effort in blood and bankruptcy.
Despite the bumbling and fumbling of the war effort, the bitter divisions in our country and the wheelbarrows of dough dumped in the desert, there was always the faint hope that a better Middle East might just emerge from the mess. And, whatever one thinks of the two wars, Saddam Hussein and the Taliban were real villains who were vanquished.
The idea, of course, was that once these monsters were slain, they'd be replaced with the sane. But, the monsters have multiplied and Sasquatch has morphed into a bevy of Big Foots (or is it Big Feet?). It appears that for all of our sacrifice -- and that of the secular Iraqi and Afghanistani people -- the crazies are back in control. Or, at least fanatics have instilled enough fear that "mainstream" Iraqi and Afghanistani politicians are tripping over themselves to please and appease.
In Iraq, "extremism" is too mild a word to describe the acts of those who abuse gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. The situation is so hideously haunting that Human Rights Watch released a new report this week titled, "'They Want Us Exterminated': Murder, Torture, Sexual Orientation and Gender in Iraq."
According to the report, the post-Saddam sadists "practice grotesque tortures, including gluing men's anuses shut as punishment." Human Rights Watch spoke to doctors who said that hospitals and morgues have received dozens of mutilated bodies, living and dead.
"Murder and torture are no way to enforce morality," said Rasha Moumneh, Middle East and North Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. "These killings point to the continuing and lethal failure of Iraq's post-occupation authorities to establish the rule of law and protect their citizens."
The New York Times reports that in Afghanistan the law has been quietly revised to give Shiite men the legal right to starve their wives if their sexual demands are not met and that Shiite women must obtain permission from their husbands to even leave their houses, "except in extreme circumstances."
President Hamid Karzai -- our pro-Western buddy -- signed the law and sold out the country's women. He did so to gain the support of Sheik Muhammad Asif Mohseni in this week's presidential election. This is the same pedophile-promoting sheik the Times reports is angry that Parliament had introduced a provision that banned men from marrying girls under the age of 16.
Frankly, I don't give a damn whether Karzai gets reelected. But, I do care about the rights of women. It is incomprehensible to waste American lives fighting the Taliban to protect a regime that looks an awful lot like the Taliban. If women are not equal partners, let's pack up and leave.
As far as national security, we could use the money saved by our swift exit to buy a new fleet of missile-equipped drones, which will keep Al Qaeda from operating terrorist camps in the open. The rest of the funds could be used at home to support healthcare, pay down the national debt or provide a one-time tax rebate to cash-strapped Americans. Sorry, but if Karzai can only offer Taliban-lite, I rather disengage and keep the pocket change.
The Obama administration needs to straighten out this fiasco or risk an erosion of public opinion. The American people will simply not support an Afghanistani government that treats women like stray dogs in Michael Vick's dog pound.
Of course, the current situation traces back to President George W. Bush. The president's zealotry made it difficult for the U.S. to identify spoiled spirituality as the root of our problem. Consumed by his own theological excesses, he was the wrong messenger to articulate that America was fighting for open, secular societies that allowed personal and religious freedom.
A battle still rages against fanatics who share a twisted view of faith. Yet, we continue to bury our heads in the sand and imbibe on the collective delusion that women's rights and gay rights are peripheral issues that can be bargained away for the "greater good."
Lands that won't respect the rights of minorities, in the name of religion, will continue to be God-awful places that land the United States in tumult and turmoil. I pray we have a grander strategy than merry-go-mullah, which swaps dictatorial despots for deranged demagogues. If Iraq and Afghanistan won't embrace modernity and freedom for all of its citizens, let's get out now and let Allah untangle the ugliness.