Staff Sgt. Robert Bales is the man accused of going on a March 11 shooting spree that left 16 civilians dead in southeastern Afghanistan. As the New York Daily News put it, "The killings sparked protests in Afghanistan, endangered relations between the two countries and threatened to upend American policy over the decade-old war."
Why the fuss? This is nothing new. Not to the Afghans.
Over the last 10 years, U.S. forces have been slaughtering Afghan civilians like they were going out of style. There have been countless massacres of supposed insurgents or terrorists who invariably turned out to have been ordinary men, women and children going about their daily routines.
The only difference between the Bales massacre and other acts of bloodshed is that he acted on a freelance basis, minus orders from his commanding officer. Bales' actions were so similar to the "normal" behavior of U.S. soldiers that Afghan witnesses weren't surprised.
On July 7, 2011, for example, an air strike in Khost province killed at least 13 civilians, mostly women and children. On Dec. 19, 2011, U.S. troops and Afghan collaborators conducting a night raid on the home of an anti-narcotics official in Paktia province shot and killed his pregnant wife. At least eight children died in a Feb. 9 air strike in Kapisa province. A helicopter gunship opened fire on a school in Nangarhar province on Feb. 22, injuring nine girls.
The U.S. government doesn't want ordinary Americans to know how their heroic soldiers behave in remote combat zones. America's cult of militarism requires a placid, compliant populace lulled into the ridiculous belief that the U.S. military is defending freedom.
Bales is a PR problem. It's too icky for even a "support our troops"-besotted public to ignore. So Bales has become a political football.
Shortly after he turned himself in, the Army spin machine revved up.
"When it all comes out, it will be a combination of stress, alcohol and domestic issues--he just snapped," an unnamed "senior government official" told The New York Times.
After incidents like this, one can always count upon the political class to unleash the "one bad apple" chestnut.
"This incident is tragic and shocking, and does not represent the exceptional character of our military and the respect that the United States has for the people of Afghanistan," President Barack Obama read from a prepared statement.
Of course, from the Afghan point of view, this is low-grade spin.
The way the Afghans see it is straightforward: The U.S. invaded their country, imposed a ruthless and cruel occupation that has left tens of thousands dead or wounded.
To the Afghans, Bales didn't kill those 16 people in Kandahar province. The U.S. did. Obama did. We did. After all, if we hadn't invaded and occupied Afghanistan, Bales wouldn't have been there in the first place.
Reporters are digging up dirt on Bales' marriage and supposed drinking problems in order to distract us from this simple fact.