A Letter From Afghanistan

A reader writes:

I’ve been reading your blog since the fall of 2002, and today I thought I’d share my perspective on the shutdown. I work as a senior advisor at one of the military commands in Afghanistan.  I don’t work for DoD; I work for one of the foreign affairs agencies.  I’ve been in one of the more dangerous places in Afghanistan for about 15 months now.  We get shelled frequently by the Taliban.  I’ve loaded flag-draped caskets containing the bodies of co-workers onto cargo planes.  I have a wife and some beautiful children that I don’t get to see very much on account of my work.

Unlike my military colleagues, my agency has not been exempted from the shutdown.  I’m deemed essential personnel by virtue of my service in Afghanistan, meaning I’m basically required to go to work, but I’m working for an IOU.  In addition, the longer this goes on, the more likely it is that I won’t be able to take leave and see my family any time soon.

I think you’ve covered the utter betrayal of our government by Republican congressmen pretty well.  But I think you raise an important point when you say that anyone who sees this as some kind of good faith compromise between two sides is complicit in this shocking turn of events. What gets me as much as the cynical Republican strategy is my supposed friends who enable it. I’ve gotten into more than a few debates with friends who support this – and also go out of their way to thank me for my service.

What I’ve taken to doing is explaining to them the practical effects of the actions they support and then asking them if they’d like to fly out here and join me in volunteering, pro bono, for their country.  Suddenly their tone of certainty changes and it’s equivocation time.  It’s a complete act of cowardice by people who, by and large, have never done anything for their country.

Is it any surprise that people feel this way?  Generations of American politicians have made it into office by tearing down the very government they want to join.  When I joined the government over a decade ago, I was amazed at how many competent, dedicated professionals I came across, many of who could have taken much more lucrative jobs in the private sector (and many of whom left such jobs to join the government).  These are people who believe in America and believe in service.

But the joke’s on us, because decades of spiteful rhetoric has conditioned Americans to view us as a blight on the landscape, a detractor from (rather than contributor to) this country.  And now, with this, I have to say, I feel completely and utterly betrayed by the people elected to represent me.  I’ve never had a more disheartening moment in my decade-plus long career in the service of my country, and that includes the time I was living overseas when Abu Ghraib blew up. It’s sickening.