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!
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
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.
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:
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
His mujahid could actually have been,
Given the characteristics,
Mohammad Mullah Omar, six foot six,
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?
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”.