Monday, August 31, 2009

A Winnable Afghan War: Afghanistan isn't Iraq

A headline caught my eye today: "U.S. commander says Afghan war winnable, new strategy needed" - a statement that isn't as in-your-face obvious as it might seem.

The CNN article focuses on their synopsis of what General Stanley McChrystal said; the military action that the Obama administration has called "a 'war of necessity' "; and conditions in in Afghanistan.

A few quick observations or opinions.

Afghanistan isn't Iraq

Looks like going after terrorists in Afghanistan isn't going to be presented as a unilateral action, like America's unilateral, United Nations-mandated invasion of Iraq, that involved over two dozen nations. CNN quoted President Obama on this point: This is "a 'war of necessity'".

The Middle East Isn't Vietnam

Even with the president's reassurances, I think it's only a matter of time before enlightened self-interest wears thin, and anti-war protests start. Again.

Anti-war protests and movements are nothing new. Following the first 'war to end all wars,' Maurice Elvey directed "High Treason."
"...'It was also a film that was so overtly anti-war that it promoted itself as the "Peace Picture,"...' in which the chairman of the peace movement blew up the president of his own country...."
(August 7, 2009)
I was in a 'peace march' myself, in the seventies. Or, rather, a march to demonstrate a lack of solidarity with the (in my view, daft) American strategies being implemented in Vietnam. I wasn't exactly supportive of the war in high school, either: not as it was being waged. I think this re-creation of one of my high school art projects gives an impression of my attitude:

If that looks familiar, you've probably seen what I used as my model: a cartoon from a humor magazine of the period. What can I say? I've never been good at conforming.1

The Vietnam war, as described by America's dominant culture, taught a great many lessons. Many, I think, learned the wrong lessons, like:
  1. Military anything is bad
  2. America is to blame
  3. America mustn't get involved in world affairs
    • Except for
      • Environmental issues
        • Which are its fault (see #2)
      • Human rights issues
        • Which are its fault (see #2)
      • Economic issues
        • Which are its fault (see #2)
        • Provided that the right (or, rather, left) policies are supported
  4. War is always avoidable
    • With no unpleasant consequences

War isn't Nice

I've encountered a few people who actually fit a particular stereotype of the 'patriotic American:' not particularly informed or reflective; convinced that America is always right; apparently convinced that most if not all dealings with foreigners are suspect; excessively confident in the ability of guns and bombs to solve problems.

I haven't known many: but they do exist. And, they are among the very small number of people who seem glad to learn that an armed conflict has started.

I have yet to meet a member of the American armed forces who likes war, or who is glad to hear that one has started. Given the size of this country's military, I suppose a few might exist. But I think they're more likely to be found in "M*A*S*H" episodes than in the real world.

It would be very nice to live in a world where all conflicts could be solved with discussions and understanding. Sometimes that approach works. Sometimes it doesn't. Pakistan seems to have tried diplomacy and conciliation in the Swat Valley. That time, it didn't work. (May 31, 2009)

The War on Terror Won't be Over Soon

I'm not being defeatist. On the other hand, the conflict we're in isn't like the old battles between nations that could be over in a few months or years. Even if Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and Al Shabaab were to suddenly disappear, 'Islamic extremism' wouldn't go away.

Many (most, I trust) Muslims and Muslimas are not terrorists and don't approve of killing people who don't look and act just like them. On the other hand, some (a few, I hope) don't seem to either like or approve of what's happened since the signing of the Magna Carta are convinced that their particular flavor of Islam is right, that everybody else is wrong, and that - as a rule - people who don't do things their way should be killed.

People like that just aren't safe to have around.

Part of the solution, I think, is confronting force with force: intelligently; not reprising the daft micromanagement of Washington in Vietnam. I don't like it. But I don't like the idea of another 9/11 either. And I don't like the occasional honor killing or execution of a trouser-wearing man. In the short term, I do seriously think that force is needed.

Another part of the solution, again I think, is for the global culture to change.

One option is for everybody else to trash what we've learned about individual rights and do things the "Islamic" way - as determined by a few experts. Aside from people who think the Taliban and company are right, I doubt that this would be satisfactory.

Another alternative - one of many, of course - is something that I think has begun: a re-evaluation of Islam by Muslims and Muslimas who have learned to get along with today's world. That, coupled with radical changes in how some countries govern themselves, could result in a world where violent people who are convinced that they alone are the 'real' followers of Islam are as effective and respected as white supremacists are in today's America.

A perfect outcome? No: but this isn't a perfect world.

Related posts: In the news:
1A word of explanation for that poster's 'message' might be in order. Although I thought there might be a sensible reason for the fighting in Vietnam, it was pretty obvious that Washington had no intention of winning the conflict.

My view, as a teenager, was that if the war was winnable, an effort should be made to win it: not just show the Vietcong that we were able to take a hill, and were willing to give it up again.

If the war wasn't winnable, withdrawal and regrouping was an obvious option. I knew a little about Dunkirk.

If there wasn't a good reason for fighting: I figured that America should withdraw. As someone told me, 'we could say we won, and leave - who would know the difference?'


Brigid said...

"Pakistan seems to have tried diplomacy and conciliation in the Swat Vally." I'm pretty sure that "vally" is misspelled.

Brian H. Gill said...


Right you are. Fixed, and thanks!

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.