Wednesday, April 7, 2010

One More Time: Rethinking Afghanistan

Doug Bandow of the Cato Institute published a laudable piece in Huffington Post over the Easter weekend. I agreed with 90% of his message:
The American military has been constantly engaged since the end of the Cold War.
.... Most of these wars, interventions, and potential actions were justified as being in America's security interest. When that argument was implausible to start ... U.S. policymakers quickly played the humanitarian card. The U.S. military was killing and destroying to promote moral ends.

Unfortunately, war is rarely humane. It certainly has not been humanitarian in either Iraq or Afghanistan.

In fact, we should be ashamed of the horror that the U.S. government has loosed in our name. In Iraq, for instance, estimates of Iraqi deaths since 2003 start at 100,000 and race upward. The number of maimed or injured almost certainly is far greater. Murders, kidnappings, beatings, and theft reached epidemic proportions.

Millions of Iraqis have fled their homes and many their country. The indigenous Christian community has been devastated. The disruption of lives and families has been pervasive. It behooves American hawks to think carefully before extolling their beatific works from the safety of their offices in Washington.

Afghan casualties are fewer, but rising. Estimates of civilians killed start in the low thousands and approach 10,000. Many more have been wounded and social dislocations are widespread. Coalition commanders and Afghan officials routinely call for greater care in military operations to reduce civilian casualties.

None of this is surprising. By its nature war is horrible. Even the best efforts to limit harm to civilians -- and the U.S. military does a much better job than the armed forces of other nations in past wars -- cannot prevent the innocent from suffering.

And one cannot blame American military personnel. If their government is going to send them into combat, then they must be allowed to protect themselves, even when that means noncombatants will be caught in the crossfire.

But the cost of war, especially for those on whose behalf we supposedly are fighting, requires asking whether the conflict can be justified. Consider Afghanistan, where the president's escalation inevitably will result in more civilian deaths.

Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, recently made an astonishing admission of civilian deaths, so often euphemistically referred to as "collateral damage." At a meeting with U.S. personnel in Afghanistan, Gen. McChrystal discussed the problem of shootings at checkpoints: "We've shot an amazing number of people and killed a number and, to my knowledge, none has proven to have been a real threat to the force." He added that he knew of no case when "we have engaged in an escalation of force incident and hurt someone has it turned out that the vehicle had a suicide bomb or weapons in it."

Just what are we doing in Afghanistan?

Yes, the Taliban are bad news, as was Saddam Hussein. Taliban guerrillas, like Iraqi insurgents, also kill innocents; terrorists have killed indiscriminately in both nations. But it was the U.S. invasions which triggered or spread the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, respectively; it is the continuing American presence which results in shooting "an amazing number of people" in Afghanistan. And that doesn't count the "collateral damage" from bombing missions, drone strikes, and other military actions.

War is sometimes necessary despite its costs. Ousting the Taliban was imperative after the Kabul government provided hospitality to Osama bin-Laden and al-Qaeda as the group trained to attack Americans.

But that is where America's vital interests end. Attempting to build a strong central state allied with the West is a quixotic venture and would offer little value even if achieved. There is no more benefit for the U.S. to wage war, killing partisans and innocents alike, in order to deliver control of Afghanistan to Hamid Karzai and his warlord allies rather than to the Taliban and other warlords.

A resurgent Taliban is unlikely to again host a terrorist organization whose activities could bring down the wrath of the American military. Moreover, anti-American terrorists can operate from anywhere -- not just failed states like Somalia or weak nations like Pakistan and Yemen, but also countries throughout Western Europe.

These days Afghanistan has little to do with U.S. security in any form. If anything, the conflict exacerbates the problem of terrorism by reinforcing the terrorist meme of Washington warring against devout Muslims.

Finally, the war cannot be justified as a form of humanitarian intervention. The conflict is horrid. It will be horrid without the U.S., as fighting likely would continue. But it would be less horrid for America if U.S. personnel no longer were being killed or shooting "an amazing number of people," none of whom had "proven to have been a real threat."

The Obama administration should be withdrawing U.S. troops, not expanding America's force presence in Afghanistan. When considering war, officials should bear in mind the Hippocratic Oath: first do no harm. We are failing to meet that obligation in Afghanistan.
I've added boldface to emphasize points to which I attach importance.


  1. As far as the supply of 'stakeholders' among ISAF members, chasing terrorists in Afghanistan does not seem to excite many French and German voters.

    A classified CIA analysis from March, outlines possible PR-strategies to shore up public support in Germany and France for a continued war in Afghanistan. After the dutch government fell on the issue of dutch troops in Afghanistan last month, the CIA became worried that similar events could happen in the countries that post the third and fourth largest troop contingents to the ISAF-mission. The proposed PR strategies focus on pressure points that have been identified within these countries. For France it is the sympathy of the public for Afghan refugees and women. For Germany it is the fear of the consequences of defeat (drugs, more refugees, terrorism) as well as for Germany's standing in the NATO.

    The memo is an recipe for the targeted manipulation of public opinion in two NATO ally countries, written by the CIA. It is classified as Confidential/No Foreign Nationals.

  2. It's too gd expensive, the primary cost of more American lives... the budgetary considerations expose the 'quagmire' aspect of it all. In light of the Iraq 'collateral murder' incident, getting the eff out of the mid east is topping complaints list of emails to Reps and Senators this week. And those emails and calls make a difference.
    once again... signed, Pollyana.

  3. I think you will approve of the banner at my place Vigil. I am still working on the "how-to" of placing large post images but I am hopeful I made my point.

  4. Let's not forget Mr. Karzai, either. With Friends (fiends) like that, who in the hell even needs the Taliban?

  5. Will that is one of the many, many variables that persuaded me to rethink my position on this conflict.I have had family stationed there for almost a year, and yet I still supported the mission. Once Karzai started (continued) to act up I began to realize this was a fool's mission...

  6. Vig,
    "There is no more benefit for the U.S........Hamid Karzai and his warlord allies rather than to the Taliban and other warlords".

    To me this is key. Ideology/politics/cost/humanitarianism aside, geopolitically it doesn't matter to the US which group is in power.None is going to completely control the countryside, all have ethnic/religious issues with each other.

    Other than a place to possibly run a pipeline there is nothing to concern our national interest there.

    It was effectively a place we housed some disagreeable guests who came back to haunt us. The local mgmt will never let them check in again for many and varied reasons.