Obama & Afghanistan: Good News & Bad News
I’ve just finished reading Obama’s new plan on Afghanistan. It’s not all bad, but there are definitely things that peace activists must oppose and protest. I’ll start with the good news because peace folk are likely to miss them.
- It refrains from the Bush fantasy that Western-style democracy can be imposed at the point of a gun. I believe in democracy. I even believe in democracy. I also believe, as Glen Stassen and others have pointed out, that spreading democracy is a peacemaking practice. But it cannot be done at the point of a gun, nor imposed from outside a nation. It must be grown from within–and a culture has to be prepared for it. Obama gives up the idea that America can impose a Western democracy on Afghanistan (or Iraq, etc.). Fantasyland is abandoned.
- Obama knows that a purely military solution is impossible. He has a realistic, even classicly conservative, grasp of the limits of military power.
- The plan focuses on making the Taliban and al-Qaeda terrorists irrelevant in Afghanistan and Pakistan by creating an economy and civil society that does not depend on them. The focus will be to build infrastructure, schools, hospitals, and train civil servants and create small (non-drug) businesses throughout the countryside.
- The plan involves the region, using carrots to get Pakistan involved. It will also take constructive involvement by Iran.
- The plan recognizes that “Taliban” is a broad term and seeks to negotiate with the elements which can be won over, reserving combat for the hardcore that protect al-Qaeda terrorists. Military action is limited to fighting the terrorists rather than trying to do everything.
- The troop escalation is still a military escalation which is likely to be an escalation into a quagmire. It looks far too reminiscent of the initial escalation by JFK into Vietnam or, more recently, the Soviet entrance into Afghanistan.
- I don’t see enough involvement by NATO, the EU, or the United Nations. I especially would want to put UN peacekeepers in blue helmuts for the mission of protecting civilians.
- The plan, even if everything goes perfectly, will take YEARS and WAY TOO MUCH MONEY and TOO MANY LIVES. Obama thinks the alternative is to leave America too vulnerable to terrorist attack, again, but there is neither the money nor the political will for this longterm strategy. IF we had not invaded Iraq and IF we had taken this approach to Afghanistan back in ’02, we may now be approaching an exit these 7+ years later. But we don’t have 7 more years and all the counterinsurgency experts say that it would take at least that long for the counterinsurgency to work.
- Afghan Pres. Karzai likes this plan and that’s a good sign. It may also have popular support, initially, though I doubt anyone’s doing surveys of the Afghan people. But for how long? I think the Afghan people’s tolerance for our presence in their country, especially our MILITARY presence, will not last more than 2 more years, tops. If we stay when they want us to leave, we will TRULY be in an unwinnable quagmire, much like Vietnam.
I urge peace folk to push for Obama to double or triple the civilian components of the plan and to internationalize (via NATO and the UN) the military presence–and to give us a timeline and an exit strategy. Congress should demand the same before releasing any funds for this plan. We stand at a crossroads: This can either be the beginning of an end to the Afghan war or the beginning of a deeper swamp of war.
Let me clear: We are going to need bodies in the streets protesting the military aspects of this. Get out your “Troops Home Now!” signs. This struggle will be difficult. Wage PEACE!
P.S. It’s not helpful to attack other peace folk. That’s an “epic fail” way to lose. We need to be hard on the problem, not each other. I also see no need AT THIS POINT in spewing anger at Obama. That’s not a way to get him to listen. I wrote polite (but firm) open letters to Bush against invading Iraq and proposed alternatives. I never liked him, but tried not to personalize my opposition. I only grew personally angry after he dismissed 1 million people (myself included) in the street in opposition to the invasion as “a focus group.” (Also, Bush lied to the people. Obama has not. He may be completely wrong, but he has not misled us. He ALWAYS told us he would add troops to Afghanistan.)
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