Contents: The Sir! No Sir! blog is an information clearing house, drawing on a wide variety of sources, to track the unfolding history of the new GI Movement, and the wars that brought the movement to life.
Where applicable, parallels will be drawn between the new movement and the Vietnam era movement which was the focus of the film Sir! No Sir!
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This article, by Richard Lee, was posted to The Rag Blog, November 11, 2009
To Barack Obama:
Let’s have a military buildup! You can show those crazy-ass generals at the Pentagon that you aren’t just a chicken-shit weenie from Harvard.
You gotta do it right, however. Stop waffling about a measly 40,000 or 44,000 troops and do it like you mean it! I know you have never fought for or against anything. (That squabble with the Court Clerk to get your papers filed doesn’t count.) But you can do it! Don’t forget to keep that HOPE and CHANGE thingy going, so we won’t see what is really happening behind the curtain.
Since you don’t have a clue how to go about it, you should go back and dust off the template that the power-drunk cowboy used way back when. Turn to the record of his build-up, covering March 8, 1965, through, say, the end of January, 1966. Yep, that’s right I’m talking about Vietnam (they told me you were smart); don’t let that slow you down, a buildup is a buildup and you can do it in Afghanistan just like Lyndon and Waste-more-land did it back then.
You’ve already got 68,000 troops and an untold number of mercenaries... uh, contractors there so maybe you can forgo the photo op of the Marines stomping ashore like at Da Nang, or maybe you can arrange something like that, it was a good photo. No one will call you on it; the ignorance of the American people knows no limits. Don’t forget to include the Afghani ARVN; they’ll do you a lot of good.
That done, throw caution to the wind, fire anyone who counsels caution, and begin a real buildup!
Expect casualties. Lyndon was told to expect civilian casualties of 25,000 dead, about 68 men, women and children a day, mostly from “friendly fire” and 50,000 wounded. That was an estimate for the one year the generals said it would take to bring the Vietnamese “to their knees” and initiate their surrender; one year, or maybe 18 months at the most. That number was good enough for Lyndon, so don’t let anybody’s numbers scare you. In 1968 there were 85,000 civilians wounded.
Next, establish free fire zones. Once you get all those troops there, they will need some place to fire off all their ordnance. Go to an inhabited area, drop leaflets or have USAID workers visit and tell the population to get on the road and become refugees. Those who are too old or too infirm to go, or who come up with the excuse that Afghanistan is their country and they ain’t going; well, those are Viet Cong... I mean, Tally Band.
What good is a free fire zone if it doesn’t have any targets to shoot at anyway? While you are busy changing “Viet Cong” to “Taliban," change the name “free fire zones” to Specified Strike Zones; those pesky Congressional liberals will feel better about it. It worked when Lyndon did it.
Get an air war going. Crank up the SAC B-52’s, they don’t have anything to do now that the Russians opted out of the Cold War. One B-52 at 30,000 feet can drop a payload that will take out everything in a box five eighths of a mile wide and two miles long. You can still call it “Operation Arc Light”; no one will remember that’s been used before.
Don’t forget to let the other planes in on the fun! Fighter bombers can deliver ordnance too. Lyndon, in that first 10 months, got it up to 400 sorties a day, add in the B-52’s and they were able to drop 825 tons of bombs a day. Some even hit their targets.
Drop more than bombs. I hate to suggest a return to Agent Orange. Military science must have come up with better stuff in the last 50 years. If not, then use the leftover Agent Orange, the residual effect is worth it. Not only will those enemy Afghanis (or friendly ones, for that matter) not be able to plant food crops in target areas for decades, but “Taliban fighters” will keep dying from it for years after we’re gone.
During the 10-month Vietnam build-up, specially equipped C-123’s covered 850,000 acres, in 1966 they topped that, “defoliating” 1.5 million acres. By war’s end they’d dropped 18 million gallons of Agent Orange, in addition to millions of gallons of less notorious but still deadly poisons code-named for other colors -- Purple, White, Pink, and more -- over 20% of the south of Vietnam.
To help keep the buildup affordable, take no costly precautions with our own troops; it’s hot in Afghanistan, so let them take off their shirts while spraying. The afflicted Vietnam vets sued the government over it, they won! My brother Tommy was one of them. What did they win? Well, when they die, they get $300.00 from the government. You can forget about the vets anyway when the war is over, that’s S.O.P.
Now, a buildup ain’t all in the air. Howitzers, Long Tom Cannons and mortars expended enough high explosive and shrapnel in Southeast Asia to equal the tonnage dropped from the air.
And it’s not just troop strength that you’ll need to build up. Your friends The Masters of War have probably already told you that. A build-up is troops and MATERIAL. See how Waste-more-land did it, and more or less copy that. Brown and Root are still in business; have a sit down with them; they can help you sort it out.
Build airfields. With hundreds of thousands more troops you will need lots of airfields. Jet airfields are best for business. Lyndon had three in Vietnam before he started, he quickly built five more. So, discount what you have and get cracking! A 10,000 foot runway to start, and then add parallel taxiways, high speed turnoffs, and tens of thousands of square yards of aprons for maneuvering and parking. Use aluminum matting at first; you can replace it with concrete later. You gotta build hangers, repair shops, offices and operations buildings, barracks, mess halls, and other buildings. Don’t stint on the air conditioning!
Build deep water ports. What? Don’t have an ocean? Kee-rist, what kind of a country are we liberating anyway? Well, you still gotta build ports! Guess you can build them in Kuwait and other countries and truck all the shit through Iraq, they will be pacified by then and welcoming us with open arms and goofy little dances. Pakistan might like one or two, it would be good for business and we can just pay them to be our friend like we do now... only more.
Ports were dredged to 28 feet back then, but the newer boats draw 40 feet. It may be only mud to you, but its gold to the contractors. Half a dozen new ports should get you started.
But wait, there’s more. Four or five central supply and maintenance depots and hundreds of satellite facilities, build them along the lines of the prison gulag you are building in the U.S.
Build thirty more permanent base camps for the new combat and support troops you are sending. Another fifty or so tactical airfields long enough to hold C-130’s. Build two dozen or more hospitals that have a total of nine to ten thousand beds. Be sure there are new plush headquarters buildings for the brass and about four or five thousand staff. Everything has to be connected by secure electronic data systems, secure telephones, two or three hundred communications facilities around the country. Tens of thousands of new circuits will be needed to accommodate the built-up war machine.
You are a smart guy, Mr. President, so I won’t belabor an explanation of each thing. But here is a quick list of bare necessities: Warehouses, ammunitions stowage areas, tank farms for all the petroleum, oil and lubricants, new hard top roads, well ventilated and air conditioned barracks with hot water and flushing toilets (think 6-10,000 septic tanks). Food, not just MRE’s, but for all those REMF’s who will need fresh fruit and vegetables, meat and dairy products. Thousands of cold lockers to store this, and you need to build a milk reconstitution plant, maybe two or three, and ice cream plants.
All this is going to take a lot of electricity, so you will need thousands of permanent and mobile gas-driven generators (better add another tank farm). PX’s, not just for cigarettes and shaving cream, but all the things that the consumer army you will be sending is used to having: video game consoles, blackberries, microwave ovens, computers, slacks and sport shirts (to wear on R&R -- could omit that by having no R&R), soft drinks (better build a bottling plant), beer, whiskey, ice cubes (more generators?). Hamburgers, hot dogs, pizza, steaks.
Be sure to stock candy, lingerie, and cosmetics to improve the standard of living of the local women. They will also need to buy electric fans, toasters, percolators, TV’s, CD and DVD players, room air conditioners, and small refrigerators.
Movie theaters, service clubs, bowling alleys... will the list ever end? No!
Well, that will get your buildup started. I haven’t even addressed the more and more and more troops the generals will want, that is way too heavy for me!
In re-creating Johnson’s buildup, it will be better to skip over the second week in November, 1965, and all that stuff about the Drang River Valley, that’s just for historians. Close the book when you get to the end of January, 1966. Don’t read through April, with all those dreary reports from Khe Sanh. Don’t read about Tet 1968. Just remember it was the press and the Congress and the people who lost their will that lost that war, and not the stupid blundering generals or the presidents who didn’t give a shit how many they killed on either side.
One last thing: get your architects busy designing the Bush/Obama wall to put opposite ours on the Mall. Maybe you can even have your vets pay for it themselves like we had to.
I go there whenever I am in that stinking city. I sit on the edge of the grass just before sundown and sometimes I talk to the wall. The wall stands silent then; they are still waiting for an answer to the question of why we went to Vietnam. When it gets dark, sometimes the wall talks back. They say a lot of things, but they never say, “God bless my Commander-in-Chief.”
Richard Lee, Vet (Veterans Day, 2009)
This documentary was released in six parts, between February and August 2009, by Robert Greenwald. As the President considers his options, following a blatantly fraudulent Presidential election and an ever increasing US/NATO/Afghan death toll, the same group of chicken hawks (the Project for a New American Century and their Coterie of neo-conservative war-mongering fools and high ranking brass who were responsible for the Iraq war are now calling for a massive increase in US troops beyond the 17,000 mentioned in the film, the questions and issues raised in this film are brought into sharp focus.
Part One: Afghanistan + More Troops = Catastrophe
President Obama has committed 17,000 more troops to Afghanistan. This decision raises serious questions about troops, costs, overall mission, and exit strategy. Historically, it has been Congress' duty to ask questions in the form of oversight hearings that challenge policymakers, examine military spending, and educate the public. After witnessing the absence of oversight regarding the Iraq war, we must insist Congress hold hearings on Afghanistan.
Part Two: Pakistan: "The Most Dangerous Country"
The war in Afghanistan and its potentially catastrophic impact on Pakistan are complex and dangerous issues, which further make the case why our country needs a national debate on this now starting with congressional oversight hearings.
Part Three: "Cost of War"
As we pay our tax bills, it seems an appropriate time to urge everyone to Rethink Afghanistan, a war that currently costs over $2 billion a month but hasn't made us any safer. Everyone has a friend or relative who just lost a job. Do we really want to spend over $1 trillion on another war? Everyone knows someone who has lost their home. Do we really want spend our tax dollars on a war that could last a decade or more? The Obama administration has taken some smart steps to counter this economic crisis with its budget request. Do we really want to see that effort wasted by expanding military demands?
Part Four: "Civilian Casualties"
When foreign policy is well-reasoned, we see attention given to humanitarian issues like housing, jobs, health care and education. When that policy consists of applying a military solution to a political problem, however, we see death, destruction, and suffering. Director Robert Greenwald witnessed the latter during his recent trip to Afghanistan--the devastating consequences of U.S. airstrikes on thousands of innocent civilians.
The footage you are about to see is poignant, heart-wrenching, and often a direct result of U.S. foreign policy.
We must help the refugees whose lives have been shattered by U.S. foreign policy and military attacks. Support the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan, an organization dedicated to helping women and children, human rights issues, and social justice. Then, become a Peacemaker. Receive up-to-the-minute information through our new mobile alert system whenever there are Afghan civilian casualties from this war, and take immediate action by calling Congress.
Part Five: "Women of Afghanistan"
Eight years have passed since Laura Bush declared that "because of our recent military gains, women are no longer imprisoned in their homes" in Afghanistan. For eight years, that claim has been a lie.
The truth is that American military escalation will not liberate the women of Afghanistan. Instead, the hardships of war take a disproportionate toll on women and their families. There are 1,000 displaced families in a Kabul refugee camp, and they're suffering for lack of food and blankets. A few weeks ago, you generously gave $6,000 to help and $9,000 more is needed to take care of all 1,000 families. Thats a donation of $15 per family to provide the relief necessary for their survival.
Here's what your money will buy:
Part Six: "How much security did $1 trillion buy?"
The war in Afghanistan is increasing the likelihood that American civilians will be killed in a future terrorist attack.
Part 6 of Rethink Afghanistan, Security, brings you three former high-ranking CIA agents to explain why.
There is no "victory" to be won in Afghanistan. It is the most important video about U.S. Security today.
This article, by M. Ashraf Haidari, was originally published in Journal of International Peace Operations, September 4, 2009
The study of the political landscape of a country used to involve looking for the existence of certain state and security institutions; it has changed in the recent decades to examining whether these institutions perform as they should. In the case of Afghanistan , however, the metric is slightly different. Here, human capital has remained underdeveloped, courtesy of the decades of war that preceded the current state-building efforts. As a result, the question here is not whether institutions exist, but how well institutions are run and how meritorious those running them are.
Capacity, or lack thereof, in the police, the judicial system, the bureaucracy, education and other fields is a thread that weaves through the successes and failures of our efforts to build a state essentially from ground up. In what follows, I will outline some of the key lessons learned over the past eight years. Indeed, whether or not we proactively work together to build upon these vital lessons learned will determine our collective success or failure in the few critical years following the 2009 presidential and 2010 parliamentary elections in Afghanistan .
Afghanistan’s battle against the Taliban and other extremist elements is unique in that it is the national police, not the army or the international forces, who constitute the first line of defense. Our sincere efforts to fight drug-trafficking and production, defeat the insurgency, and create an enabling environment for the civilian institutions also hinge on this key area.
However, law enforcement institutions have been neglected from the beginning in Afghanistan . The implementation of judicial and police reforms—reforms that should have been the foundation on which other state institutions were built--was shelved indefinitely due to a lack of resources. This paucity of resources has contributed to a significantly higher number of police casualties. Between 2007 and 2009 alone, more than 1500 Afghan National Police (ANP) officers were killed. Close to 600 Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers have lost their lives in the same period. The total International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) casualties since 2001 are at about 1300. Thus, given the substantially higher risk environment the ANP faces and the seminal role it plays in maintaining day-to-day law and order across Afghanistan , it is very important that long-term attention and resources be focused on police training and equipment. These enable them to counter threats from the Taliban and other militant elements, who are often better trained, paid, and equipped.
Another related and equally neglected institution has been the Afghan justice sector. Although the effectiveness of the justice sector determines the legitimacy of any government in public eyes, the reform of this critical sector in Afghanistan has unfortunately received the least amount of international attention and aid resources. Afghanistan has fewer than 1500 judges and 400 defense lawyers for a population of approximately 33 million. Most of these judges and attorneys lack modern legal training, as well as office resources and protection to execute their duties effectively. This is one of the main reasons why 62% of Afghans believe the government does not provide timely justice, and only half believe the government’s justice system is fair; compare this to 70% favorability for traditional methods, according to an Asia Foundation survey.
The popular sense of justice is still percipient—Afghans expect the government to provide them timely and effective justice. Indeed, failure to do so will undermine popular confidence in the government, as well as in the state-building efforts of the international community.
Work on the justice sector must be complemented by an increased emphasis on aid effectiveness. In the past, many donor-related contractors have undermined the Afghan government’s efforts by working parallel to it, instead of working with it or through it. Over the last eight years, this parallel method of operation has resulted in very little transfer of knowledge and skills to Afghans. Donor-related firms continue to receive highly profitable contracts, which they frequently subcontract to smaller companies for implementation. Indeed, each layer of subcontracting skims some 20% of the taxpayers’ aid monies, consequently robbing the beneficiaries of the “billions of dollars” in officially announced aid to Afghanistan .
Moreover, most of the contractors and their affiliated business partners neither have the necessary work experience in Afghanistan nor the right expertise to operate successfully in Afghanistan . Yet, so far, only about 10% of all aid money given to Afghanistan has been spent through the government; the rest has been channeled through private contractors and other means. And because of a lack of consultation and coordination with the Afghan government and people, these agencies have concentrated most of the aid activity in insecure areas, apparently hoping to help defeat the insurgency by winning the people over. Not only has this tactic not worked, but the absence of enough aid in the peaceful provinces has caused disillusionment among the masses and given insurgency a foothold there.
Coupled with aid effectiveness is aid coordination. So far, donor countries have failed to effectively coordinate their efforts in various sectors. This has hampered aid effectiveness and slowed down the process of state-building. Case in point is the education sector. In many instances, the building of a school is constructed by one country, the chairs and desks are provided by another, and other equipment is financed by a third donor—if donors notice the shortages in the school that was just “built.” The overall aid effort in the country is characterized by this same lack of coordination.
Common to each of the above lessons is the importance of human development and institutional capacity building in Afghanistan . Past experience is instructive in this regard, as the first point of contact between the Afghan people and the governing entity used to be the army, the police or other militia groups. These institutions mostly kept people in check rather than protecting them. As a result, Afghans are not used to—but have shown great demand for— a government whose main function is to protect them and maintain conditions for peaceful life.
Unlike established democracies, therefore, the source of legitimacy and support for the government in Afghanistan does not overwhelmingly come from electoral majority. It rather comes from the nature of people’s first experiences with the government, the bureaucracy, the police and the justice system. The more positive these experiences, the greater respect and legitimacy the government and the democratic system garner in the eyes of the Afghan people.
In order to ensure that these popular experiences are positive, building institutions that are staffed by qualified professionals is necessary. In case of Afghanistan , that has to happen from scratch. As stated earlier, with less than a third of the Afghan population being literate, the pool of competent people for professional careers and leadership capacities is already small. Unfortunately, decades of war have significantly hampered human development in Afghanistan , and the absence of effective state institutions in these periods—such as the police, the army and a civil bureaucracy—has certainly contributed to the deceleration of the development and transfer of knowledge and skills to successive generations.
Therefore, human development and institutional capacity building must top the agenda of international peace operations in Afghanistan . Without enough knowledge and skill, Afghans could hardly achieve self-sustainability to help drive the rebuilding and development of Afghanistan on their own. The road leading up to this level of competence is long and hard, but a serious emphasis on education and training is imperative.
Improving the infrastructure for, and quality of, both secondary and higher education coupled with ensuring greater inclusion of women in education are cornerstones of this policy. To complement that, helping Afghanistan establish a culture of meritocracy in all hiring and firing, and emphasizing accountability in all institutions of the government is critical to improving governance and curbing corruption.
Finally, it is important to note that international peace-building efforts so far enjoy tremendous popular support in Afghanistan . Some of the most recent public opinion polls indicate that more than two-thirds of the Afghan people believe our country is headed in the right direction. A July poll by Glevum Associates found that an overwhelming majority of the Afghan people—more than 80 percent—believe the August elections will be inclusive and representative. Such overwhelming popular trust in the democratic process is a signal to the international community that the Afghan people are still optimistic about the future, support human rights and the rule of law, denounce extremist elements, and demand a future with democracy rather than militant extremism.
But perhaps the most important lesson is that even after being neglected twice—first after the defeat of the Soviet Union and then after the ouster of the Taliban—the Afghan people still want to be part of the global community of nations. They are ready to give the international community another chance.
Indeed, international peace operations have hardly been cheap, and it takes time, patience, and commitment. However, the alternative— neglecting Afghanistan again—in a world where security has rapidly globalized, is far more costly, as we vividly remember from the tragedy of September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States.
To this extent, failure in Afghanistan is not an option, and peace can hardly take hold in Pakistan and the rest of the region without stability in Afghanistan . Nor can global security be ensured without a consolidation of Afghanistan 's democratic achievements of the past eight years.
All stakeholders—Afghans and non-Afghans alike—should understand the gravity of committing to success by building upon the above lessons learned until the Afghan people can stand on their own and secure the future of Afghanistan.
This article, by Helena Cobban, was posted to Just World News, August 19, 2009
Pres. Obama gave a speech to the veterans of Foreign Wars annual convention on Monday in which he spelled out his view of the US's now-declining strategic stakes in Iraq and its continuing strategic stake in Afghanistan.
His words were considered and important.
On Iraq, he said,
In Iraq, after more than six years of war, we took an important step forward in June. We transferred control of all cities and towns to Iraq’s security services. The transition to full Iraqi responsibility for their own security is now underway...
But as we move forward, the Iraqi people must know that the United States will keep its commitments. And the American people must know that we will move forward with our strategy. We will begin removing our combat brigades from Iraq later this year. We will remove all our combat brigades by the end of next August. And we will remove all our troops from Iraq by the end of 2011. And for America, the Iraq war will end.
By moving forward in Iraq, we’re able to refocus on the war against al Qaeda and its extremist allies in Afghanistan and Pakistan....
From one viewpoint, of course, what the US military has been doing in Iraq has been moving back, not forward, despite all of Obama's uses of the term "forward".
It's forward, I suppose, if you understand that he means that the US has been proceeding with its commitments under the November 2008 Withdrawal Agreement. And his mention of the end-of-2011 deadline buttresses that interpretation.
Also, if he wants to describe-- for this presumably very nationalistic US audience-- this very necessary move out of Iraq as a move "forward", let him do so, I say.
And then, remembering what he has just said about Iraq, let's see what he said about Afghanistan. He described his administration's "new, comprehensive strategy" in Afghanistan in the following terms:
This strategy acknowledges that military power alone will not win this war—that we also need diplomacy and development and good governance. And our new strategy has a clear mission and defined goals—to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda and its extremist allies.
... These new efforts have not been without a price. The fighting has been fierce. More Americans have given their lives. And as always, the thoughts and prayers of every American are with those who make the ultimate sacrifice in our defense.
As I said when I announced this strategy, there will be more difficult days ahead...
But we must never forget. This is not a war of choice. This is a war of necessity. Those who attacked America on 9/11 are plotting to do so again. If left unchecked, the Taliban insurgency will mean an even larger safe haven from which al Qaeda would plot to kill more Americans. So this is not only a war worth fighting. This is fundamental to the defense of our people.
Steve Walt had an excellent critique of Obama's "war of necessity/ al-Qaeda safe haven" claim on his FP blog yesterday.
I want to take a slightly different tack. I want, first, simply to point out a few important things; and then I want to get more deeply into launching a "Just War theory" critique of the whole US military venture in Afghanistan.
So, the prefatory points I want to make:
1. Obama has made a significant and good shift from Bush's rhetoric on Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Bush and his military commanders used to talk about "destroying" AQ and the Taliba. Obama is talking about "defeating" them. This is welcome and long overdue. British military doctrine has always been about "defeating" the enemy-- a goal that can be achieved in a number of different ways. Most US doctrine since the Cold War has been about "destroying" the enemy-- a doctrine that strengthens the tendency to "bring in the big battalions" and leads to a general over-reliance on the use of naked force.
2. So the rhetorical shift has been good. But let's look at the contrast between what Washington (under both Bush and Obama) has done in Iraq and what Obama is still proposing to do in Afghanistan. In Iraq, under the political cover provided by talk of "surges" and such, the US military essentially started out cutting deals with the former insurgents by the liberal use of the money weapon. Then, the Bush administration quickly cut a deal with the Baghdad government-- which drove a pretty hard bargain and insisted that instead of Washington getting the open-ended SOFA it sought all that it ended up getting was an occupation termination notice with the fixed endpoint for complete withdrawal of December 31, 2011.
And the vast majority of people in both Iraq and the US seem very happy with that outcome. In the US, I am truly not hearing any talk about the fear that AQI people or other malcontents might "come over here and kill us in our beds." Though of course, there is a distrust of Iraqis-- all Iraqis-- in this country these days that is both deep and very wide. (Hence the tight restrictions on bringing many of them except with the strongest of credentials into the US as refugees... ) But still, there is no public talk here that the US's retreat "moving forward" in Iraq will worsen the security situation of Americans either at home, or elsewhere. I think that's significant.
Indeed, there is even talk in the US of pulling out the troops even faster than the Withdrawal Agreement mandates-- which might fit in very well with the proposals reported out of Baghdad that the election they're holding next January should be accompanied by a referendum on getting rid of all the occupying US forces much faster than the WA stipulates, possibly "forthwith."
... So can someone remind me again why it is assumed that the buying-off, deal-cutting-- including with some extremely violent, hostile, and unsavory characters-- and speedy troop-exit strategy that has been working so (relatively) well in Iraq should not be tried in Afghanistan?
I really don't believe it is because the AQ/Taliban people in Afghanistan are that much worse than the AQI and other former "bad guys" in Iraq who all got rebranded and befriended as the "Sahwa".
And I certainly don't believe that it's because Afghanistan, as a country, is "more vital" to supposed US "national interests" than Iraq.
I do have a sneaky suspicion that the reason Obama feels obliged to "stand and fight" in Afghanistan is because, as a relatively honorable man, he feels obliged to make good on the promises he made in this regard during his election campaign... And he made them then because, while he had a long and consistent record of opposing the US invasion of Iraq and wanting to see a speedy US exit from there, he most likely thought he needed to "cover his rear end" with a presumably nationalist and fairly militaristic electorate by saying, "Well, we'll pull out of Iraq but step up the fight in Afghanistan."
Being honorable in terms of fulfilling campaign promises is on the face of it laudable. But letting the concerns of his own political reputation get in the way of his ability to make a cool calculation of what is really best for America's citizens (including the members of the volunteer military), and for the chronically war-stressed people of Afghanistan, is another matter altogether.
My view of the engagement in Afghanistan is that it is already a disaster and it's perched on the brink of yet worse disasters.
3. And that's not just my view. Rory Stewart argued back in November that "Afghanistan does not matter as much as Barack Obama thinks." Now, he seems to be likening Pres. Obama's Afghanistan policy to a driver headed for a cliff.
And he made this important observation on the practice whereby policymakers frequently "consult" outside experts, along the way:
“It’s like they’re coming in and saying to you, ‘I’m going to drive my car off a cliff. Should I or should I not wear a seatbelt?’ And you say, ‘I don’t think you should drive your car off the cliff.’ And they say, ‘No, no, that bit’s already been decided – the question is whether to wear a seatbelt.’ And you say, ‘Well, you might as well wear a seatbelt.’ And then they say, ‘We’ve consulted with policy expert Rory Stewart and he says ...’”
In that great FT interview, the plain-speaking and wise-ways-beyond-his-years Stewart also said:
“The [current US] policy of troop increases will look ridiculous in 30 years... They’re not going to make America safer from al-Qaeda. The theory of state-building is suspect. I’m not sure that the state they aim for is conceivable, let alone achievable. We should be pursuing a much more conventional development strategy in Afghanistan. And, if you want to combine that with a Special Forces unit that would make things uncomfortable for Osama bin Laden, then so be it.”
Except, of course, Bin Laden is far more likely to be in Pakistan these days than he is in Afghanistan, which raises another entire hornet's next of issues and concerns...
Well, as most of the reports and analysis on FP's new "AfPak channel" indicate, things really are not going well for the US in the region.
And now is, obviously, a particularly crucial time because Afghanistan is staging its national elections tomorrow. On the AfPak channel, even Kimberley Kagan, the usually ebullient cheerleader for the US military, tells us that "The Taliban are winning." (Peter Bergen apparently disagrees.)
And Gilles Dorronsoro reports from on the ground in Kunduz that, "There is no way to stop the Taliban if they want to attack polling stations and block the road. There are over 200 polling stations in Kunduz. A low turnout is to be expected from the Pashtun at least..."
So I really do think that it's a good time to take a step back and reapply the criteria of St. Augustine of Hippo's "Just War" theory to this whole US (mis-)adventure in Afghanistan.
Everyone who's been reading JWN a while will know I'm a Quaker, and therefore deeply convinced that all wars and all violence are both (a) wrong and (b) ineffective (or actively counter-productive) for securing real, lasting improvements in the human condition.
But whether I like it or not, the dominant philosophical/ethical tools that most westerners bring to bear on the question of whether any proposed military effort is justified are those derived from St. Augustine's early fifth century (CE) works articulating a theory of "Just War."
Okay, so maybe Augustine's work was a clear deformation, in some important ways, of the original, pacifist teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. But still, Augustine was operating from some solid understanding of the intrinsically inhumane nature of warfare (based on the wars that the newly Christianized Roman Empire had recently suffered from), as well as from a thorough understanding of Christian teachings. So what he says about the justifiability of war-making still has considerable resonance and relevance today.
Including in the continuing discussions of whether the US and its NATO allies really should continue their present, nearly eight-year-old war in Afghanistan, and if so, with what actual goal in mind.
I started to articulate some of these thoughts in a comment on this thread over at Registan yesterday. But then I thought this topic is one that deserves quite a lot more attention, so I'll start to give it some here.
The first thing to understand about JW theory is that, since it is based on Jesus's teachings, it is essentially very conservative in terms of when it says that any particular war is justified.
As most readers probably already know, classical JW theory has two major parts: Jus ad Bellum, or those justice/justifiability issues around the act of launching a war, and Jus in Bello, which are the justice issues around how a war may be fought. In the modern era, most Jus in Bello issues are pretty adequately covered by the whole body of international humanitarian law, also known as the laws of war, a body of treaty-based international law that has grown up over the past 160 years.
It is in the realm of Jus ad Bellum that international law is still silent. The states that negotiated the Rome Statute for the International Criminal Court did insert into it a clause that criminalized international aggression. But they were quite unable to come to any agreement on the definition of the "Crime of Aggression", so that clause of the Treaty remains inactive pending this agreement being reached. Thus, as of now, Rome and the ICC deal only with what are, essentially, Jus in Bello issues and associated atrocities like genocide and crimes against humanity.
Since the "international community" of states has not come to any agreement on the Jus ad Bellum issues, for guidance on them we are left to look to the various faith and other philosophical traditions from around the world to provide guidance on when the launching of a war can be considered morally (as opposed to "legally") justifiable. And one of the most robust and most widely used of these traditions is still the Christian tradition of Just War.
(Interestingly, some of the US intellectuals who have done the most work exploring the implications of JW theory in modern times have been Jewish-- like Michael Walzer, or Jean Bethke Elshtain. So if they can deploy these essentially Augustinian concepts in their arguments, why can't I?)
Wikipedia has a pretty good entry on Just War theory, which lays out the seven criteria any proposed war must fulfill if it is to be considered just.
Now, I know we are not talking about launching a US/NATO war in Afghanistan at this point. But Pres. Obama has already launched a significant escalation of the war effort there, and in our country-- and in many other NATO countries-- there is now a growing debate over (a) What the actual objectives of the war effort are, and (b) What price is worth paying to gain these objectives.
So this does now sound very like a reprised Just ad Bellum discussion. And anyway, as I argued over at Registan, you should be prepared to have a Jus ad Bellum discussion at any point throughout the war, and not simply in the run-up to it.
You could think of this as an opportunity for a sort of mid-course moral-issues check-in. Now, this kind of a check-in is probably not something that it's appropriate or even feasible to ask fighting generals and their officers to engage in. But it certainly is something that the citizens of a democratic state that's waging a war should be prepared to do at any point throughout the war, since we do, actually, bear all the responsibility for the war's continuation and for any harms (or benefits) that it may inflict on humankind.
So anyway, here are the seven JW criteria, as described by Wikipedia (but numbered by me):
1. Just cause: The reason for going to war needs to be just and cannot therefore be solely for recapturing things taken or punishing people who have done wrong; innocent life must be in imminent danger and intervention must be to protect life. A contemporary view of just cause was expressed in 1993 when the US Catholic Conference said: "Force may be used only to correct a grave, public evil, i.e., aggression or massive violation of the basic human rights of whole populations."
2. Comparative justice: While there may be rights and wrongs on all sides of a conflict, to override the presumption against the use of force, the injustice suffered by one party must significantly outweigh that suffered by the other...
. Legitimate authority: Only duly constituted public authorities may wage war.
4. Right intention: Force may be used only in a truly just cause and solely for that purpose—correcting a suffered wrong is considered a right intention, while material gain or maintaining economies is not.
5. Probability of success: Arms may not be used in a futile cause or in a case where disproportionate measures are required to achieve success;
6. Last resort: Force may be used only after all peaceful and viable alternatives have been seriously tried and exhausted or are clearly not practical...
7. Proportionality: The anticipated benefits of waging a war must be proportionate to its expected evils or harms. This principle is also known as the principle of macro-proportionality, so as to distinguish it from the jus in bello principle of proportionality.
Now, these JW criteria clearly have a lot in common with the "Powell Doctrine"
Here's how Wikipedia describes the Powell Doctrine:
The Powell Doctrine states that a list of questions all have to be answered affirmatively before military action is taken by the United States:
1. Is a vital national security interest threatened?
2. Do we have a clear attainable objective?
3. Have the risks and costs been fully and frankly analyzed?
4. Have all other non-violent policy means been fully exhausted?
5. Is there a plausible exit strategy to avoid endless entanglement?
6. Have the consequences of our action been fully considered?
7. Is the action supported by the American people?
8. Do we have genuine broad international support?
... Powell has expanded upon the Doctrine, asserting that when a nation is engaging in war, every resource and tool should be used to achieve decisive force against the enemy, minimizing US casualties and ending the conflict quickly by forcing the weaker force to capitulate.
We could call this last addendum, "Criterion #9."
So you can almost immediately see the numerous similarities between individual criteria in the two checklists. Powell-9 is similar to the first half of JW-5. Powell-4 is almost exactly the same as JW-6... And so on.
At the broad macro-level, both theories are essentially conservative regarding when they conclude that waging a war would be indicated, though the grounds on which each set of criteria is based are very different: moral/theological reasoning versus a very utilitarian form of practical reasoning.
Both, however, it seems to me, are alike based on a thorough understanding that warfare is essentially harmful and inhumane-- and also, that it is essentially unpredictable, uncertain, and "foggy".
I think that was what really piqued my strong interest in the contributions that Andrew Exum (who has followed the Israeli interrogators' long-held habit of giving himself an "Abu" name: in his case, the ironic--or something-- "Abu Muqawama") has been making on this subject in recent days.
In a comment on that Registan post Exum wrote,
It’s a matter of determining how much Afghanistan is worth to us. I do not have the answer there, but I will say that I’ll be a lot more sympathetic to critiques of the war in 18 months time — if there is no positive movement — than I am now.
So what he's doing is admitting to current incertitude on the answer but saying, in effect, "So let's fight on for another 18 months and by that time I might have an answer for you."
I find this completely immoral. Exum served as a junior officer in, I think, Afghanistan, some years back. So I'm assuming he is well acquainted with (and I hope appropriately disturbed by) the harms that warfare inflicts on everyone who is in the war-zone, whether civilian or military.
So because he can't actually right now, figure out "how much Afghanistan is worth to us", he proposes that the US and its allies should fight on there for another 18 months so he can reach clarity on the matter. (You can see my response to him there if you scroll on down a bit.)
But it's in dealing with this question of lack of cognitive clarity on whether any particular war is worth fighting (or continuing to fight) that Augustine's (and Powell's) wisdom comes in.
Augustine, like Powell, knew that every war contains its own generally huge quota of cognitive fogginess. Hence the precautionary principle that he articulated. In the Wikipedia version, JW-5 is rendered as "Probability of success: Arms may not be used in a futile cause or in a case where disproportionate measures are required to achieve success." However, I think in the Augustinian original ithere was an even stronger application of the precautionary principle... something t the effect that, "Even if the casus belli seems compelling, you shouldn't launch a war unless you have a pretty strong certainty of winning."
This precautionary principle is, actually, rather similar to a combination of Powell-5 and Powell-9, with Powell-3 thrown in as an extra precaution, as well.
The justification for the precautionary principle here is that because war is by nature both (a) inhumane and (b) foggy regarding its course and its outcomes, then if you start a war where you have no clear and rationally understood chance of success, you risk getting drawn into a lengthy entanglement in which both your side and the other will, of necessity, be inflicting harm on other human persons... At which point the "compellingly just" nature of the casus belli for which you originally went to war itself become considerably muddied.
So Andrew Exum is currently unclear "how much Afghanistan is worth to us." (By the way, I join Registan's Joshua Foust in applauding Exum's frankness on this point.)
But given this lack of clarity, I think the only moral-- as well realistic-- thing to do is to apply the precautionary principle, rather than to advocate, as Exum does, that a further 18 months of fighting can make the answer clearer for him.
In my comment there, I described this as "reconnaissance by fire."
So at a policy level, what would application of the precautionary principle to the situation the US military faces in Afghanistan actually mean?
It would mean, first and foremost, that our president needs to start now exploring ways to move "forward" in Afghanistan in the same way we're doing it in Iraq, that is by getting out.
Yes, that exists as an option. Many, many other powers in the world would be happy to help a wise US president figure out how to do it.
All the other veto-wielding members of the Security Council's P-5 have strong stakes in Afghanistan-- two of them as fellow NATO members whose governments have a great fear of getting dragged down there; and two of them as neighbors or near neighbors of Afghanistan whose respective stakes in the stability of Afghanistan are, remember, exponentially stronger than the US's.
Most of the other neighbors of Afghanistan have similarly large stakes and would also be happy to help the US figure out how to withdraw.
And probably a large majority of the Afghan people would be happy to find a better way to rebuild their country than under the control of the hyper-armed and too often trigger-happy forces of NATO's culturally very distant countries.
So what are we Americans afraid of? What keeps us there? The fear of Al-Qaeda reconstituting its safe haven there if we leave? Really?
There are so many other ways to make sure that doesn't happen. Bring in JW-6.
This article was posted to e-Arianna, May 20, 2009
KABUL — Deteriorating security is harming children in Afghanistan, where an explosion of deadly attacks have targeted schools and impeded access to vital health care, the UN children's agency said Wednesday.
In the first four months of this year, UNICEF recorded 73 incidents involving schools, including burnings, explosions, threats and attacks, which left 27 people dead.
This compared to 53 incidents for the same period in 2008 that resulted in three deaths, and 65 cases the previous year with 10 dead.
These attacks and incidents like mysterious gas poisonings that sickened scores of girls near Kabul recently, create fear and stop parents sending their children to school, UNICEF South Asia director Dan Toole said.
"We can't lose the progress we have made on education, such a huge improvement, such a difference for the future of Afghanistan," he told AFP.
"We have had attacks on villages, on schools by both anti-government elements as well as by coalition forces and international troops that have hit civilians," Toole said.
Hundreds of schools have closed in the south -- the main battlefield between the Taliban and Western-backed Afghan troops -- and most of the country's polio cases are in the same region where lack of security hampers vaccination drives.
Fighting linked to the growing Taliban-led insurgency has put much of the area out of bounds to international aid agencies, with UNICEF having offices in only two provinces in the dangerous south.
There have nonetheless been "huge improvements" in the conditions facing Afghan children since the fall of the Islamist Taliban regime in late 2001 following the US-led invasion, Toole said during a visit to Kabul.
"Many fewer children die now than they did in 2001, millions of children are in school now who weren't in 2001," he said.
"Gigantic efforts" are still required to cut Afghanistan's low rate of child survival and the high rate of women dying in child birth -- both among the most extreme in the world, he said.
Afghanistan has the world's third-highest mortality rate for children, with 257 of 1,000 dying before they turn five, according to UNICEF figures.
It also has the world's second-highest maternal mortality rate with around one in eight women dying because of childbirth with most cases preventable, according to UN figures.