The war in Afghanistan is probably the biggest pitfall for President Obama and for US foreign policy in general. It’s past time we got out, and two of the blogs I read regularly had some important posts that you should go read now.
Does that sound like a stirring appeal to urgent national security interests? Why should we continue to kill both Afghan civilians and our own troops and pour billions of dollars into that country indefinitely? Because “there’s a reasonable chance the counterinsurgency approach will yield something better than stalemate.” One can almost hear the yawning as the Post Editors call for more war. We don’t need to pretend any more that war, bombing and occupation of other countries is indispensable to protecting ourselves; as long as “there’s a reasonable chance it will yield something better than stalemate,” it should continue into its tenth, eleventh, twelfth year and beyond.
Of course, the reason the Post editors and their war-loving comrades can so blithely advocate more war is because it doesn’t affect them in any way. They’re not the ones whose homes are being air-bombed and whose limbs are being blown off. That’s nothing new; here’s George Orwell in Homage to Catalonia, describing (without knowing) Fred Hiatt in 1938:
The people who write that kind of stuff never fight; possibly they believe that to write it is a substitute for fighting. It is the same in all wars; the soldiers do the fighting, the journalists do the shouting, and no true patriot ever gets near a front-line trench, except on the briefest of propaganda-tours.
Sometimes it is a comfort to me to think that the aeroplane is altering the conditions of war. Perhaps when the next great war comes we may see that sight unprecedented in all history, a jingo with a bullet-hole in him.
And Shaun at Upper Left (emphasis in the original):
How, I wonder, can you be in favor of having any force, necessary and/or reasonable, if you don’t first know what victory is and how we will achieve it. Isn’t the size of the force, it’s need and rationality, dependent on the goal, the definition of victory?
They say the memory is the second thing to go, and I’m getting on, but as I remember we entered Afghanistan with three identifiable and arguably defensible goals. The first was to destroy it’s capacity as a training and operational base for Al Qaeda. We accomplished that swiftly and handily. The second was to punish the Taliban government that had given them safe harbor by deposing them. That, too, was the matter of a brief and decisive battle. Finally, in the wake of an unconscionable attack on American sovereign territory and the death and destruction attendant to those attacks, we set out to kill or capture as much of the Al Qaeda high command as possible, and in particular their spokesman, strategist and financier, Osama Bin Laden.
The second goal, though apparently swiftly achieved, continues to be a stumbling block for adherents of the disgraced former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s “Pottery Barn rule.” The rule fails in Afghanistan, though, because we didn’t break it. It’s been broken for centuries, and centuries of outside interference have caused the debris to spread far beyond Afghani borders. Some of it spilled into ours, and we swept it out of our path. If Afghanistan were to organize itself in such a way that it could accept and distribute humanitarian aid, it would certainly be a candidate with other countries that receive American largesse, whether publicly or privately provided. The level of American military force that would be required in order to effect and enforce such an organization of Afghanistan, though, in time, treasure and blood, would defy any possible conception of “within reason.” Its impossibility, by the same token, renders its need moot. We didn’t break it. We needn’t buy it. And we’re only making it worse.
And while you’re over at Shaun’s place, you ought to read all the posts he’s been doing on Afghanistan.