Saturday, May 21, 2011

Spring Season

While the official date was weeks ago, it finally feels like we've turned the corner. Despite a few cool evenings and rainy days, you can actually feel the warmth in the air and see it on the trees. After a long cold winter, spring is finally starting to spread its wings. And nature's not the only one making the change. Stores are trotting out their warm weather collections, papers are publishing their vacation planning guides and school kids of all ages are starting to see the light at the end of this year's tunnel.

It's a seasonal adjustment that brings to mind short sleeve shirts, bike rides and barbeques. If you own a pool, you're starting to think about opening it up. If you have a convertible, you're starting to dream about putting the top down. And if you're the Taliban, you're getting your AK47 all oiled up. That's because just like Ralph Lauren announces his spring collection and Home Depot puts out the word that its garden center is open for business, the Taliban has issued a press release that heralds the start of its spring offensive.

Calling the spring of 2011 "a season of shining hope," this year's announcement had some new elements, including the assertion that the insurgents intend to protect civilians, while also focusing attacks on members of the government-appointed High Peace Council. In other words, this spring's suicide bombings and village raids will be a newer, shinier, more user friendly version of the usual carnage.

In fact, as long as there has been warfare there have been seasonal pushes. In the colder months, when snow and ice make it more difficult to move, fighters have a tendency to lie low. Other times, natural cycles such as the tides are important to maneuvers, and so drives are timed to coincide with favorable conditions, such as was the case with D-Day. And the Tet Offensive in the Vietnam War was timed to begin on the first day of the year on the traditional lunar calendar, the most important Vietnamese holiday.

Still, on the surface it seems a little ridiculous to announce your plans for guerrilla warfare with a press release. But it's as much about psychological warfare as it is about the actual fighting. Not that the locals are reading the New York Times or listening the BBC. Rather, the populations of the western countries that are pouring men and money into the cesspool that is Afghanistan and Hamid Karzai's corrupt government have about reached their tipping point. Polls show that support is eroding fast, even while those same populations agree that the goal itself, to rid the country of thugs, is a laudable one. Still, we've all got problems in our own backyards, so when is enough enough? When the guys you're fighting say they're going to crank it up one more time with gusto, that's when.

Now that Osama bin Laden is history, however, there might be a crimp put into those plans. With the treasure trove of intelligence that that Seals seized during the raid, speculation is that the command and control structure for the organization has gone into hiding. Add to that this past week's revelation that a sizable cache of porn was found on site, showing the ascetic mastermind was perhaps not so ascetic after all, and the whole enterprise might need to rethink its five year master plan, let alone its spring fling.

Contrast these goons with the North Vietnamese. Say what you will about Uncle Ho and his followers, you had to admire their single minded determination to take their country back. From the tunnels they built underground to the trails they carved out of impenetrable forest to the famous sandals they made out of tires, they got grudging respect out of their opponents for their tenacity. They eventually won their battle, though you can argue that the tide of history turned against them and the communists lost in the end.

Then there's the Taliban, who seem to be more bully than benefactor. If bin Laden is any indication, much like the autocratic leaders of many a failed regime, they have two sets of standards: one for themselves and one for those they subjugate. Only time will tell if they will fall apart of their own weight or gain a lasting toehold in a God-forsaken stretch of the planet. Let's hope it's the former, and their next press release is for their going-of-business sale.


Marc Wollin of Bedford thinks we are dammed if we do, dammed if we don't in Afghanistan. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, the Scarsdale Inquirer and online at

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