Saturday, September 09, 2006

Rethinking Afghanistan

Sideways Mencken has been examining the increasing problems in Afghanistan, first here and then here. The Taliban is far from defeated and our ultimate success is far from certain.

Meanwhile, a anonymous commenter on this blog has made the claim here that, before the invasion of Afghanistan, “many on the left understood EXACTLY that Bush would screw it up.” The commenter is greatly mistaken or at least greatly exaggerating. Given the nearly unanimous national support for the Afghanistan invasion, including all but one congressional Democrat voting in favor of retaliation for 9/11, it is clear that very few on the left (or anywhere on the political spectrum) understood exactly that Bush would screw it up.

And that’s the problem. Afghanistan has always been the “good war.” The war we all supported. Iraq, on the other hand, was opposed by a great many from the moment it began. As such, the media and citizen activists have never stopped giving Iraq immense attention. Meanwhile, Afghanistan’s story has ended up on page 2.

Some of this is because Afghanistan has been much less deadly for our forces than has Iraq. But I think most of it is because there simply has never been an anti-war movement in relation to Afghanistan. With no one screaming that we must withdraw immediately, there’s little focus on all that has gone wrong.

But now, the Taliban is resurgent, Pakistan has given up policing their border and lawlessness across the nation is on the rise. Something different needs to be done. But before we can marshal the will to change course, we need to stop viewing the war as unquestionably necessary.

I have often argued that those who initially opposed Iraq should not reflexively oppose our continued involvement there. It’s a whole new matter now. In the same way, those of us who supported Afghanistan (and that’s most of us) should not reflexively support our continued involvement there. Now, I’m not advocating withdrawal. In fact, I’m not advocating anything at the moment. I’m just saying: let’s start paying attention to Afghanistan and let’s start debating what our mission is now, what it should be and how we should achieve it.

I don’t actually think Afghanistan will get any renewed focus. Most people either assume we are on the right course or, like the anonymous commenter, assume failure was predestined from the moment Bush made the decision to invade. But maybe a debate can be sparked. And maybe we can solve the problems in Afghanistan while we still have the will and presence to do help.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

1. I should have said "some" on the left rather than "many". I acknowledge this error.

It is true that many liberals supported Afghanistan and assumed (mistakenly) that Bush would not outsource the fighting at Tora Bora.

The one thing that I remembered from one of Bush's 9/11 speeches that I was highly skeptical of, but was intrigued by, was something to the effect of "we won't let the loss of life of US soldiers prevent us from doing what needs to be done." I think this was in the spirit of "clinton was only willing to use air power and not risk the lives of ground soliders.".

Tora Bora was an early example (but certainly not the first) of where Bush's actions didn't match his lofty rhetoric.

2. where you say:

"or, like the anonymous commenter, assume failure was predestined from the moment Bush made the decision to invade."

I just want to be clear that (against my better judgement) I did support the invasion of Afghanistan despite my near certain belief that Bush was not interested in rebuilding the nation and would not care less how many innocent civilians were killed in the process...that his main desire was for revenge and for politics and not for really addressing terrorism. I knew instinctively from having seen Isreal's policy since its inception that 5 years later terrorism was going to be an even greater threat.

My biggest fear was that my baby girl (in 2001) would grow up in a world where Republican power (by exploiting fear) would be used in concert with terrorists so that each could justify its next round of killing. That we were only going to inflame terrorism rather than defuse it.

As an aside, I actually would have preferred an even bolder plan in Afghanistan that would have been willing to send US forces into Pakistan as well. I never understood why we were all of a sudden very ginger when it came to al qaeda hiding in PAkistan...I thought "you were either with us or against us"?

We didn't even seem to care about AQ Khan and just looked the other way when the world's leading source of WMD sold his wares around the world.

Our policy in Afghansitan will always be a failure as long as we are not willing to deal with Pakistan.

3. At this point we have squandered the resources, committment and international credibility by invading Iraq to prevent Afghanistan from delving back into a failed state.

Maybe I'm wrong (and I hope I am) but at this point failure in Afghanistan is PREDESTINED.

I wish I could say that the "middle way" can offer something can' only serves as an enabler for Rove and Cheney in their endless quest to project American power and win elections.

It is really a shame that the "centrist coalition" has been blind to this reality.

10:16 AM  
Blogger Alan Stewart Carl said...

The rest aside (where we probably agree on a good deal while disagreeing on some key points) I want to address your assertion the the "middle way" has been an enabler for the rightwing.

I don't think that's fair because I don't think contemporary American politics has a "middle way." When I say I am a centrist, I am not aligning myself with any political reality within America. In fact, I'm purposefully removing myself from the political realities. Centrist is the word I choose because it implies a rejection of extremism--not because it implies a desire to split the difference.

The middle way has no answers because it doesn't exist. And those politicians claiming to represent the middle way are often only concerned with balancing two sides and feigning compromise where there can be none. I have no urge to balance two opposing views which I find equally deficient. I'm looking for a third way, one that doesn't enable one side or the other but calls both sides to task and forges a new path.

Unfortuantely, I'm just one guy with some loose affiliations to others of similar temperment. I readily admit I don't have the answers I seek. But I do believe that new answers begin with new questions. Is there another way that no one in our government is advocating? Is there another worldview that the media is not projecting? Can we achieve some unity of purpose by rejecting both sides of the current debate?

I believe the answer to all of those is "yes" and I try to advance specific examples when I discover them or conceive of them. I'm not out here touting the majesty of some pre-existing "middle way" ideology. I'm looking for something new.

10:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

fair enough...I wish you the meantime the powers that be remain unchecked.

12:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

to followup...Yglesias wrote the following:

For all that anger, though, I recall that I also took it for granted that "we" -- the country, the government, the military, the CIA -- at a minimum were going to manage to get the bastards who did that. It hasn't, of course, worked out like that. We got some folks, but the ringleaders got away. We toppled the Taliban, but didn't really finish them off. And I remember self-righteously assuring the far-left types on campus who opposed the Afghan War that of course the USA would be fully committed to reconstructing Afghanistan -- it was a case where our moral obligations aligned almost perfectly with our narrowest interests in safety.

Although much older than a kid on campus that Yglesias would chide, I was one of those who didn't trust Bush precisely because he pooh-poohed nation building in the debates with Gore although that was precisely what was needed.

Yes, that was a minority view on the left but many foreign policy intellectuals on the left understood that although Afghanistan had to be attacked to root out al qaeda it had to be followed up with the committment to rebuild...

2:40 PM  
Blogger Alan Stewart Carl said...

Yeah, I thought we'd actually go in with a greater committment to catching Osama and rebuilding the nation. I didn;t think we'd go in, tear the place up and then move on to the next Islamic nation.

Your worries were well-founded, but I knew very few who were opposed to the invasion because they believed Bush would screw it up. The people who worried we'd screw it up were still in favor of going in--they were just urging caution (and I never faulted them for that). It was a different breed of leftist who opposed the invasion all together. And it was those with whom I so strongly disagreed.

3:28 PM  
Blogger Alan Stewart Carl said...

"Yes, that was a minority view on the left but many foreign policy intellectuals on the left understood that although Afghanistan had to be attacked to root out al qaeda it had to be followed up with the committment to rebuild... "

And, as to that, I think it wasn't a minority at all. I think a majority of us (left and right) who supported the invasion believed we had to follow through with serious rebuilding efforts.

As I just wrote, I had and have no problem with anyone who urged caution or worried Bush was going in with a bad plan. My problem is with those who were resigned to accept the attack as just payment for our internationl misdeeds -- who believed that no retaliation would somehow work better than any retaliation (cautios or otherwise).

3:32 PM  

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