Sunday, November 15, 2009

Okay, So Where Are The Good Arguments?

I keep reading editorials on Afghanistan, hoping to come across a good argument for why the war should continue. The closest I've come is, "We should stick it out a bit longer so we can truly say we gave it our best shot". Not very compelling. More often, it's a regurgitation of silly, tired arguments like this:
  • "The Taliban cannot rely on the support of a nationalist mass-movement.... The locals are wary and weary. They feel as if they have been at war for ever, and they only wish that it would stop.... Most locals are ready to rally to the support of any side which looked as if it could win and thus bring the bloodshed to an end. If it seemed that whatever the cost, Nato was on for the long game, the West would gain a cautious and growing respect. But every time there is a rumour that we might pull out, the locals rush to reinsure themselves with the Taliban."

    All we have to do to "win" is let a population completely weary of war know that we'll stay and perpetuate the war forever, then they'll support us. (Got a problem with that?) Moreover, given a choice between the Taliban, some sort of Sharia-based Islamic government, or the corrupt, western-backed Karzai regime, who says they prefer our version of the end game?

  • "Nato tactics are also evolving. There is still a need for more helicopters, better equipment and above all, more men."

    No sh..., er, kidding. And you know what? Next year we will truthfully be able to say the same thing. And the year after, and the year after, and... every year for as long as the war continues.

  • "It is part of a wider civilising mission. The Karzai government's difficulties are well-publicised. Corruption is bad; so is ballot-stuffing. But neither is unknown, even in supposedly more advanced countries: think Illinois in 1960."

    If you think that "Illinois in 1960" is a fair comparison to "Afghanistan in 2009", you've pretty much given up any pretense that you're arguing from fact or logic. The author's notion that Karzai's government is the best in Afghanistan's history raises the question, what was the second-best? Najibullah's? Isn't this called "daming Karzai with faint praise"?

    Also, that part about civilizing... is it just Afghanistan? What does that mean? Teaching them that their interpretation of Islam and Sharia law is backward, that they need to treat women as equals, that... seriously? And should we tell them that - "We're here until you behave like civilized people, by our definition"? Because that type of condescension is sure to help our cause....

  • "[Soldiers fighting this war] have also made an essential contribution to all our safety. It is not necessary to believe in a relentless clash of civilisations to recognise that there is a problem with Islam. By no means all 1.3 billion Muslims hate the West and they do not all live in failed states. But there is a lot of anger and a lot of failure, especially in Pakistan. Although the West needs effective diplomacy in order to build up alliances with the Muslim world, diplomacy is not enough. The West cannot afford to display weakness. If we let Afghanistan slip through nerveless fingers, we would not only lose it to the terrorists. Pakistan would be in jeopardy and so would our standing throughout the region. The West will only be seen as a reliable friend if it is also a reliable foe."

    That's a jumbled mishmash of thoughts, concluding with a platitudinous attempt at a bon mot. ("You gotta be cruel to be kind, in the right measure, cruel to be kind, it's a very good sign...."

    I don't think we can doubt that the war in Afghanistan has disrupted al-Qaeda activity in Afghanistan, but it can hardly be said that al-Qaeda was defeated in Afghanistan, can't survive without Afghanistan, or can't recruit and flourish in other parts of the region and world. It's also fair to say that they're using the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as recruiting tools. So once al-Qaeda was displaced from Afghanistan, what part of the war has made us safer? For that matter, were their training camps to return, and for some reason the West decided not to blast them to smithereens, would we in fact be less safe than we are with their present activities in Pakistan or Somalia?

    Who in their right mind thinks that our activities in the region, dating back to our support for ousting the Soviets from Afghanistan, have stabilized that country or warmed its people to the U.S.? Does the author believe that U.S.-Pakistan relations are headed in the right direction?

    Further, hasn't the overblown argument that "our enemy won't respect us unless we fight forever" proved wrong in... pretty much every context? What makes this one special, even if you pretend that ending the war in Afghanistan would mean ending military operations in the region, which of course it does not. Other than staying involved in a permanent war and occupation, the author sees no way to earn respect from Arabs and Muslims?

  • "The soldiers I talk to who have served in Afghanistan all know about the cost. They have seen it. But they are unanimous in their belief that it is a price worth paying. The rest of us can make our contribution by demanding that they are given the tools they need to finish the job."

    Let's flash back to something this yutz said earlier in his commentary.... "A majority of the public wants to withdraw from Afghanistan. A majority of the public is wrong.... thank God that we are a representative democracy, not a plebiscitary one" - Unless you take the plebiscite from a subsample, assumed to support your view, in which case how dare you question their wisdom?

Is there anyone presenting a good case for staying in Afghanistan? To me that means (a) a clear statement of what we're capable of achieving, and (b) an explanation of how it will be achieved. Wishful thinking is great, but my mind keeps going back to Burgess Meredith.

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