By Lynn Paris
A long, long time ago, I thought the war in Afghanistan was a just war. Right after 9/11, when we knew where the enemy was, and the enemy had just attacked us on our own soil, killing nearly 3000 of our fellow Americans. That’s enough justification to go to war for anyone; the country was united on that. Eight years later, we need a whole lot more convincing.
As Obama and team deliberated on their war strategy, it looked to me like a no-win situation. Whatever decision he made, Obama was guaranteed to alienate at least half the American population as well as their elected representatives. So he made what at least at first glance appeared to be the compromise solution; he gave the conservatives more troops, the liberals a "withdrawal date" beginning in July of 2011, and the moderates assurances that this strategy is absolutely necessary to our "national security.”
Most Democrats don’t support the troop increase and have little confidence this plan will succeed. They want to be reassured that the target date to begin withdrawing troops is firm. Or, they want to cut our losses and get out now.
Most Republicans object to any suggestion of a timeline for bringing the troops home. They claim it will signal to the Afghanis that we are going to desert them again and will allow the enemy to wait us out. Oh, and then some of them also want to get out now. It’s not strictly a partisan issue this time.
Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania, a vocal war critic who is a senior House Democrat overseeing military spending said he didn't think that 30,000 more troops would make the United States more secure.
"Al-Qaeda can go anyplace. They don't have to be in Afghanistan," he told reporters.
Listening to Dan Rather last week on “The Daily Show” helped confirm that statement. He had just returned from his eleventh trip to Afghanistan, and told Jon Stewart that there are approximately one hundred . . . that’s right . . . one hundred, Al-Qaeda living in Afghanistan. To which Jon Stewart replied, “Well hell; there’s probably more of them in Queens!”
The fact is, everyone knows they’re actually holed up in Pakistan, passing through the porous border in the amorphous region between the two countries at will. That’s the center of extremist jihadism, but we can’t send troops to Pakistan.
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, making the rounds of Sunday morning news shows, was careful to say that the July 2011 withdrawal date was both firm and flexible, to which many of the dubious replied, “It can’t be both.”
Apparently it can, because Gates went on to explain that the beginning of drawing down troops would not necessarily be based on conditions in Afghanistan and that the president was committed to begin pulling at least some troops out by the target date. Or in other words, as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton put it, “I do not believe we have locked ourselves into leaving. But what we have done ... is to signal very clearly to all audiences that the United States is not interested in occupying Afghanistan."
So, we’re nothing like the Soviet Union, which had as their goal to defeat and occupy Afghanistan. All we want to do is clear out the Taliban strongholds, stabilize security, and build up the Afghanistan government so it can maintain its own army and educate its citizens (a pretty tall order considering ninety percent of them are functionally illiterate due to years under the repressive Taliban regime and/or occupation.)
Last week, after meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Hillary said that his reaction to the new U.S. strategy was "really positive. The president was very upbeat, very resolute this morning." I can imagine he was. Why shouldn’t he be? From what I’ve read, every member of his extended clan is profiting from our presence there.
She added that Karzai's pledge to fight corruption "must now be met with action."
The question is, does anyone actually believe that the United States can or will hold Karzai's corrupt regime—the one that had to rig an election to stay in power-- accountable? And do we actually believe we can win the hearts and minds of Afghan’s tribal elders when we made the decision to surge without consulting them and when we funnel hundreds of millions of dollars in bribe money directly to the Taliban?
Frankly, I don’t know what to believe. What I do know is that this war is morally ambiguous for me. One could argue, as the president did quite convincingly in his Nobel peace prize speech (and not nearly as convincingly in his speech at West Point) that there are times when the use of force is not only necessary but morally justified. One could argue, as he did, that evil does exist in the world, and that negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda's leaders to lay down their arms.
One could also argue that as did Robert Gates, that for the jihadists to “be seen to defeat the sole remaining superpower in the same place (as the Russians were defeated) would have severe consequences for the United States and the world," Gates said.
One could argue that, but it wouldn’t necessarily convince me that this is a just war, or a necessary one.
What about the severe consequences when a culturally alien foreign power (us) tries to win the allegiance of a people with a long tradition of strong opposition to foreign invaders(the Afghans)? It might have worked eight years ago, when the Taliban were at their most oppressive and we looked like we were coming to the rescue of Afghanistan. But after eight years demonstrating that we aren’t much good at that, it’s going to be even harder to win their support . Unfortunately, many of them have brothers, fathers and uncles who are in the Taliban; they aren’t leaving. At some point, they know we are.
It scares me to think that we are going to leave, according to Obama’s soft timetable, without having accomplished our stated mission, and with billions of dollars wasted and who knows how many American lives lost. Or, that we are going to get stuck there for years and years, just like in Vietnam, in a hostile environment, with a corrupt regime and no way to leave. I have nothing but the utmost respect and admiration for the brave men and women who serve our country so honorably. But if it were my son, I wouldn’t want him to go. In fact, I would beg him not to.