There are many on the Dog’s side of the political spectrum who want to end our war in Afghanistan right away. They are not cold or heartless; in fact they make their arguments from good, sound humanitarian principals. They will tell you that we have, through our neglect of Afghanistan gone too far down the road to ever get back. They will ask, and to the Dog’s point of view, really want to know what it is we can “win” there if we can indeed win. They will point to the fact that we are broke as a country and that these foreign wars are taking money that could be spent in places where Americans are suffering, in Detroit, in Florida, in California and Nevada.
All these good progressives and liberal have reasons for calling for the end to the Afghan war that they feel reflect their core principals and values. The Dog has another view, and it, like theirs comes from his core principals and values. The following is an attempt to explain what those reasons are and how we should move forward to fulfill the responsibilities we took on in Afghanistan. The Dog chooses that word responsibilities very carefully. There is no doubt that we went into Afghanistan and removed the government in power at that time. We did it to get at Al Qaeda and there is still a question of whether we actually had to go that far, but once we do so, we gained a responsibility to put a new self sustaining government in place.
It is the Pottery Barn policy that Sec. of State Powell iterated prior to going into Iraq, if you break it, you bought it. 7 years ago we broke Afghanistan, and we have yet to buy it. The criminal Bush administration put a government in place with President Karzai , but like so many of the plans of that administration they did not follow through on what it would really take to make it successful. Through our policies we alienated our NATO allies and even though they did send troops to support this mission we never really allowed it to be a NATO mission in any real sense of the word.
This has lead us to a situation where we have far too few troops spread far too wide in a country with very tough terrain. This is a situation that favors local insurgents who know the land and use it and the small number of troops to their advantage. Being able to slip back and forth to Pakistan and have safe haven added to our lack of resources and attention because of our military adventurism in Iraq, created a situation where the Taliban have been able to regain control of vast areas of the country.
The final piece of the puzzle is that the Taliban provide what the Afghan people hunger for, stability. It is true that their brand of security and stability is brutal and oppressive, but for a people that have basically lived in a country at war for an entire generation, any stability is better than none, even brutal stability.
So, that is the past, obviously not all of the details that have brought us here, but the general outlines. We have seen the results of allowing Afghanistan to stay under Taliban control. They were willing to allow terrorist groups not only be in their country but to operate large scale training camps and move in the entire country with impunity. This level of infrastructure is what allowed Al Qaeda to plan and execute the 9/11 attacks on the Unites States. Without this kind of basing where they did not have to invest time and effort into staying hidden they were able conceive and most importantly execute this ambitious plan.
We can not allow this to happen again in Afghanistan. Right now we know if we leave who it will be that will take control of that nation, it will be the Taliban. They will, rightly, be convinced that they won against us and so there will be nothing to deter them from having the same policy about Al Qaeda that they had before. If Al Qaeda gains this type of base again, there is no doubt that some Western country will see some major and ambitious terrorist attack from them. That is their goal and reason to exist so we must assume they will continue to try.
This is one reason that we must stay in Afghanistan. However it is our reason. If it is not enough for us to use our self interest as the motivator, then perhaps there is the human side of things. One of the reasons that many want us to leave is the high number of deaths that occur from air strikes. They argue that the deaths of the Afghan people should be reduced. This is a very true, but it is actually by putting more troops into this country that we have the best chance of reducing the accidental killing of civilians. If we have more troops on the ground we do not have to rely as heavily on air strikes and are more likely to recognized the difference between a wedding party and a major meeting of Taliban leaders. This will cut down, though not end, the number of civilians that are killed as we fight the Taliban.
It is a sad fact of war that even with the best will in the world, civilians are killed. It is one of major reasons that you should never engage in war unless you absolutely must. As part of trying to help the Afghans to a government that they choose and sustain themselves, we must reduce the civilians killed. However there will be many deaths if we just leave, so the very fact that people are dying is not enough to justify our departure. We can do more to make this country safe for the people and we should.
The other part of the equation is what will happen if we do leave. The Taliban, at the leadership level, are brutal theocratic authoritarians. The form of sharia they practice is extreme to say the least. They banned all public sports, but they did use the sports stadiums, for public beheadings. They insisted that all women ware the burka, and would beat any woman not warring it or who was not accompanied by a male family member. They would kill the victim of rape, for the crime of adultery if she was married. Girls had to attend secret schools, at the risk of their very lives just to learn to read. The Taliban ordered the demolition of two ancient Buddha’s because they were idolatry to them. If we leave Afghanistan right now, this is the group that we will be leaving the country and its people to.
One of the most persuasive set of arguments goes along the lines that we can not win, because of how bad it is and the history of countries that have concurred Afghanistan. The British and the Soviets are the ones that are most mentioned. To the Dog these are not fair comparisons. Both of those countries wanted to hold Afghanistan as a colony. This is not our intent. While we would like to have the Afghans as allies, we have no desire to control and administer their country. If we could leave without abandoning our responsibilities and our safety, we would already be gone. This is something we must be talking about with the Afghans. We must lay out our goals of helping them to a self chosen and self sustaining government, and keep that in sight at all times. It makes us less overlords and more partners. To the Dog it is this one fact that can make all the difference.
It is very easy to support insurgents against the people that are ruling your country, but if those people are trying to give you the right to choose how you are governed, and the insurgents are going to impose a government, well that is a very different choice, isn’t it?
There are many things that we can now do that were not possible when the criminal President Bush was in office. Our new president recognizes that our goals can not be achieved by military force, though it is a part of the equation. We are in an occupation, you can not win an occupation, there is nothing to win, you have all ready concurred the country. No, in an occupation, even one that includes an insurgency, you must be focused on what you can build. After all the goal of occupation, if you are not building colonies, is to set up the conditions to leave.
A major part of this must be providing the services that the Taliban is providing to the people of the provinces so that they start to get the idea that they do have other options. One major area that we must address is the opium production. The farmers in Afghanistan are growing more and more poppies which becomes more opium. They are not doing this because they are hard core narco traffickers, they are doing it to feed their wives and children. Right now we are focused on eradication, which deprives them of the means to feed their families and pushes them towards the Taliban. What we must do is break this cycle.
The very best way to do so is to buy the poppies from them, directly. It puts the money that they must have to survive into their hands. It shows that we understand that they are doing what they must, and we are here to help them. It opens a dialogue that after two or three growing seasons can be used to move them from poppies to other crops. It also cuts off a major source of funding for the Taliban. Finally it allows us to reduce the amount of heroin on the streets of the world. As an added benefit it also forces our old allies from the Northern Alliance to choose to leave the drug trade or face the same kind of choking that the Taliban will.
Now we will have to protect the farmers that agree to do this, as the Taliban is not going to take this laying down, they will use the tactics of intimidation to try to split the farmers from us, but if we make the commitment and keep it, we establish areas where the tribal elders feel we are the people helping them, not the Taliban.
There are lots of other steps that we will have to take, cleaning up the corrupt justice system, removing war lords from power, and finding a way to bring those of the Taliban that are open to reasonable accommodation from those that would rather die than compromise. If we can co-opt them , then we have a way to bring about a government that is really of and for the Afghan people. We must recognize that it is likely to be one that is not all we would like it to be, but it is not our choice or our role to tell them what kind of government they should have, it is our role to support them as they make the transistion. This is yet another reason why we are different from all the other powers that have concurred Afghanistan, and we must keep that promise.
We may very well fail; it is always possible to fail in any endeavor. It is possible that we have wasted too much time. It is possible that we do not have the money or will to do what it takes. Those are all true, but none of them relieve us of our responsibility to try; for our security, for our honor or for the sake of the people of Afghanistan. We must try, even if it looks bleak.
The floor is yours.