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By now, it seems as if everybody and his brother has joined the debt-ceiling imbroglio in Washington, perhaps the strangest homespun drama of our time. It’s as if Washington’s leading political players, aided and abetted by the media’s love of the horserace, had eaten LSD-laced brownies, then gone on stage before an audience of millions to enact a psychotic spectacle of American decline.
And yet, among the dramatis personae we’ve been watching, there are clearly missing actors. They happen to be out of town, part of a traveling roadshow. When it comes to their production, however, there has, of late, been little publicity, few reviewers and only the most modest media attention. Moreover, unlike the scenery-chewing divas in Washington, these actors have simply been going about their business as if nothing out of the ordinary were happening.
On July 25, for instance, while John Boehner raced around the Capitol desperately pressing Republican House members for votes on a debt-ceiling bill that Harry Reid was calling dead-on-arrival in the Senate, America’s new ambassador to Afghanistan, Ryan Crocker, took his oath of office in distant Kabul. According to the New York Times, he then gave a short speech “warning” that “Western powers needed to ‘proceed carefully’ ” and emphasized that when it came to the war, there would “be no rush for the exits.”
If, in Washington, people were rushing for those exits, no chance of that in Kabul almost a decade into America’s second Afghan War. There, the airstrikes, night raids, assassinations, roadside bombs and soldier and civilian deaths, we are assured, will continue to 2014 and beyond. In a war in which every gallon of gas used by a fuel-guzzling US military costs $400 to $800 to import, time is no object and—despite the panic in Washington over debt payments—neither evidently is cost.
In Iraq, meanwhile, in year eight of America’s armed involvement, US officials are still wangling to keep significant numbers of American troops stationed there beyond an agreed end-of-2011 withdrawal date. And the State Department is preparing to hire a small army of 5,000-odd armed mercenaries (with their own mini–air force) to keep the American “mission” in that country humming along to the tune of billions of dollars.