What Joe Biden and I Saw After the US Invaded Afghanistan By Thomas L. Friedman, New York Times    

What Joe Biden and I Saw After the US Invaded Afghanistan
By Thomas L. Friedman,  New York Times

April  18,2021 –

This morning I  jumped out of bed, my  head full of new ideas
But, when I went to the mirror to shave
I saw that  two white  donkey’s ears had
Pushed their way through my hair!
I quickly put on a hat.
These must stay a secret.
Thinking  of Midas and his barber
I rushed out and whispered into a hole in the yard.
Now nobody will know about my ears  except the grass.
As I’ve always said
I dislike poetry
-why don’t they just say what they mean-
However, poetry  seems to be  what grass speaks
So, this is my Leaves of Grass.

As I  moved my new ears under my hat, thinking about donkeys,
Suddenly, I was back in Kabul
Watching that  skinny  white  donkey out of the car window
Clattering  after me and Joe,  down
Wasir Akbar Kahn Road
And  how unsettling  that was
-I recorded it in my diary, January 2002.
I called the donkey  “sad and bizarre”
But,  as  I thought then, it  was trying to speak to me-

because, you see, I knew the  animal!
I’ve seen pictures.
It was the Buraq!
The winged
Half-donkey, half-mule, who  carried  Muhammad
To the “furthest mosque”(  Al Aqsa)
On  his miraculous  Night Journey.

Unlike Joe, I am a scholar and a linguist: Oxford,
Years in Jerusalem.
I’ve been to the Qumran Caves, and know the latest
Revelations from the Dead Sea  Scrolls:
“Render in your gates judgements which are true, and make for peace” etc.,
Zechariah 8, the  word of God exhumed.

My studies were  broad. Ashoka, Mauryan King, same period,
I  know his word too:
So stunned, so horrified
By his own crime-
-He flattened   Kalinga, put  a hundred thousand  souls to the sword
And  drove the rest into the desert-

That he put  great stones and pillars throughout South Asia,
Year after year,
And in Afghanistan, in both Greek and Aramaic,
Carving on them  his  deep remorse and shame
Vowing, in edicts, thenceforth to protect all, all
Down to the tiniest beetle
-Humans, animals, creatures of the  forests-
And he  planted shade trees, and fruit trees, along all the roads,
Exhorting, from passers-by,
Kindness, self-examination, truthfulness, and forgiveness.

Some try to  expiate, others don’t.
Brzezinski, geo-strategist, Great Game player,
Set his  Afghan  trap, 1978,
On the Roof of the World
For the  reluctant Brezhnev
By igniting the mujahideen, Warlords
Dostum, Massoud, Hekmatyar,
Osama,  cosmopolitan riffraff,
With  $20 billion worth of
Stingers, Scuds, Frogfoots, Hind helicopter gunships
To blow up the state.
(So , of course, eventually they  hit  the
World-famous Kabul Museum

And dusted the Afghan pillars of Ashoka
Of which only a fragment of the  the 13th Edict,
The one confessing  remorse,
Was sighted briefly on the Black Market
But its whereabouts are unknown today.
When asked  if he regretted
Igniting war, destroying a country, 1.7 million deaths,

“Regret?”  cried Zbig, “regret what?
What is more important, some
Agitated Muslims,
Or the Liberation of Central Europe?”

To quote Kipling,
“We of the Great Game are beyond protection.
If we die, we die. Our names are blotted
From the Book. That is all”.

In 1992, President  Mohammad Najimullah, his government
Fallen, and weak with self-doubt
Took sanctuary in the dark of Kabul’s UN compound
For four years. Fighting despair
He passed the time translating “The Great Game” into Pashto,
Hoping to save his beloved country from another
Cycle of imperial sport. Before he finished,  he was seized,
Castrated, otherwise mutilated, and  dragged
Through the streets,
Then hanged, for days, beside his brother, from a lamppost.
Manuscript, whereabouts unknown.

As for  Suleiman Layeq, revered Afghani  poet and government official,
He kept  his footing in the rolling boulders of   bloody Afghan  politics
But was  so regretful  of his role, of his own, and everyone else’s failures
That later  he offered to be the first  victim
To come before a  tribunal.

For decades he worked on  an 800-page, rhymed epic poem
Puzzling over  the imagined life of a young mujahid, who  had been brought
Before him as a prisoner, once,
In a remote wilderness outpost.

He was so  enchanted  by the man’s beauty  and nobility
-Though a simple peasant “He seemed to be carved out of marble”-
That he pardoned him on the spot.

Upon  which
The young man confessed his guilt. “Why do you tell me this?”
“Because you have given me a gift,  my life, and I
Have nothing to give you in return  but the truth”.

Just a year ago
Layeq received a mortal wound:
Terrorist attack.
His son brought the unfinished manuscript
To his bedside, hoping to comfort him,
But he  turned away, said softly
“I have nothing to add”,
Returned to his reading
And died.

His  mujahid could  actually have been,
Given the characteristics,
Mohammad   Mullah Omar, six foot six,
A listener,
A man of equal  beauty and presence,
Who claimed to walk the middle path.
Afghanis saw him as  Robin Hood.
He knew how easy it is to do evil
Simply by not protecting the weak
And with the help of Allah, and angels,
He flushed out the warlords,
Ended bacha bazi, and,
When Emir, blew up the Bamian Buddhas
-“If  the foreigners had come  to help people, not to
Study antiquity,  I would never  have ordered their destruction”-
Voiced sympathy and sadness over 911 deaths,
Asked OBL to leave, but  was unwilling “to go down in history
As someone who had betrayed his guest”;
Was the first in centuries to remove the cloak
Worn by Mohammad on his afore-mentioned
Night Journey  to Heaven, from  Al Aqsa,
Out of the Mosque in Kandahar
Where it lies in state
To hold it up  before a crowd , the ulema, as they hailed him
Commander of the Faithful.
Joe Biden and I did not seek out this Man from the Mountains.
No, instead we  debated burying Afghanistan’s
Violent past with the present.
Hack’n squirt the Olive Tree.
As I ‘ve been saying, Give War a Chance.

O ears, do I regret?
Midas, unmoved
By the judgment of Tmolus,
Voice of the forest, ears
Of the soul, remained obstinate.
He was rich, and in this country
There is gold, amethysts, emeralds, lapiz lazuli, copper,
And now there is the Silk Road. As I said,
Not every mountain top can be Switzerland.
So, we can say farewell on this blithe note: it was worth a try,
And it’s not over

I will bray to the grass, and wear a  hat.
To  quote Kipling again, “When everyone is dead,
The Great Game is finished, not before”.

Ellen Taylor can be reached at ellenetaylor@yahoo.com.