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 Ann Tyson was published in the Washington Post, October 8, 2009
Army officers gathered at a convention in Washington this week said senior White House officials should not have rebuked Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, for saying publicly that a scaled-back war effort would not succeed.
The hallways at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center buzzed with sympathy for McChrystal, who has said the U.S.-led effort in Afghanistan risks failure without a rapid infusion of additional forces. Obama and his advisers are now debating strategy in Afghanistan, with some officials arguing against additional deployments.
"It was definitely a hand slap," one Army officer said of the statement last weekend by national security adviser James L. Jones, a retired Marine general, that military officials should pass advice to President Obama through their chain of command. The Army officer, like others attending the annual meeting of the Association of the United States Army, spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the politically sensitive issue.
A number of senior Army officers compared McChrystal to Gen. Eric K. Shinseki, the Army chief of staff who warned before the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 that it would take several hundred thousand troops to secure the country -- advice that was dismissed as "wildly off the mark" by then Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz.
"You know what happened to Shinseki," said one Army general, referring to what many officers believe was the Bush administration's punitive treatment of the general, now Obama's secretary of veteran affairs. Shinseki's assessment was vindicated when President George W. Bush increased U.S. troop levels in Iraq.
"We take the kids to war and ask them to take a bullet. So you won't stop Stan from saying what he thinks is best for the mission and the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines," said the general, who is an acquaintance of McChrystal's.
Other officers faulted the Obama and Bush administrations for failing to define the mission in Afghanistan, leaving a series of commanders to do so on their own. "McChrystal was sent to fix Afghanistan -- is that to get rid of the Taliban or al-Qaeda?" said a one-star Army general. "Without the mission being defined well, you've left it to them to decide what to do."
Several officers said such tensions arose because the military is serving a civilian leadership. "You kind of get used to it after years of service," the Army general said. "We tend to live with it."
Some officers observed that political leaders must commit the resources needed to fulfill their goals. If not, they said, the goals must change. "Gen. McChrystal has given an assessment of what the military strategy should be to achieve the political objective," said an Army officer who served in Afghanistan under McChrystal and his predecessor, Gen. David D. McKiernan, who was abruptly relieved in May by the Pentagon leadership.
"It comes down to: How much am I willing to commit, and if I can't contribute what the commander needs, do I have to change my objective? It happens time and time again with senior military commanders and civilian leaders." Policy in Afghanistan
For years, U.S. commanders in Afghanistan have said they need thousands of additional troops to combat a growing Taliban insurgency and to train the Afghan army and police forces. As the violence began to increase in the country in 2006 and 2007, the Bush administration made it clear to commanders that no significant troop increase in Afghanistan was possible given the priority placed on quelling the violence in Iraq, according to officers familiar with decisions at that time. McKiernan made a very public appeal for tens of thousands of additional forces, and that led to initial troop increases first under Bush and then Obama.
When McChrystal was selected by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates to replace McKiernan, the belief in military circles was that he would be given the resources to conduct a comprehensive counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan -- finally providing what officers had long believed was necessary to try to stem increasing violence.
The Pentagon has also pressed NATO and other international allies to supply more forces, but Army officers at the convention voiced concern that signs of division within the Obama administration over Afghanistan strategy could sap the commitment of governments struggling to maintain public support for a sustained campaign.
Several officers simply shrugged off the civilian admonishments to the military -- most recently issued by Gates, who on Monday pointedly told hundreds of Army personnel attending an opening ceremony of the convention that military advice should be candid but private.
"The public admonishments -- fine. If you made general, you've been chewed out a few times," said one senior Army general.
Officers said there was no question that McChrystal and other commanders would carry out whatever decisions Obama makes. "We will tell you what we think, but we are also soldiers, so if the president gives an order, we will execute it," the senior officer said.
This article, by Paul Harris, was published in The Observer, September 27, 2009
At his home in Richmond, Virginia, Larry Syverson spends part of every day worrying there will be an unwanted knock on the door. Syverson's son, Branden, is an American soldier serving in Afghanistan, conducting dangerous patrols in an area infested with Taliban.
"I worry every day that I might hear someone come to the door unexpected. Just last week two of his best friends were killed over there," he said.
That's why Syverson, 60, an environmental engineer, is trying to organise a protest in Richmond against the war in Afghanistan for the second weekend in October, almost eight years after the conflict began.
He is a member of Military Families Speak Out, an anti-war group made up of relatives of military personnel that is preparing to turn its attentions from the conflict in Iraq to the one in Afghanistan. He has three sons in the military who together have served five tours in Iraq as well as Branden's stint in Afghanistan.
"I am extremely proud that they have chosen a military career. I just don't like the way that they are being used to fight these unnecessary wars," said Syverson.
That is a growing sentiment in America. As Barack Obama appears likely to increase America's already greatly enlarged troop commitment to the Afghan war, the war itself is becoming increasingly disliked.
The conflict used to be called America's "forgotten war". No longer. As casualties have spiked, so has hatred for the war: a solid 57% of Americans now oppose it. That has seen the anti-war movement in America prepare to turn its attentions from Iraq to Afghanistan, gearing up for an autumn campaign of marches and civil disobedience.
They hope to emulate the anti-Vietnam war protests, using highly visible public campaigns to force the hand of the White House to pull out of the country, not escalate the conflict.
The first major protest will happen next weekend, when anti-war protesters plan to arrange more than 500 empty pairs of boots on a grassy lawn right outside the White House. Each pair will represent an American soldier killed in the war.
Syverson knows that such a move is symbolic but he hopes its position so close to the centre of power will be effective, just like the old Vietnam war protesters who regularly thronged Washington's Mall in the 1960s.
"If Obama looks out of his window, he is going to see a symbol of over 500 soldiers who died in Afghanistan. He is going to know the public is waking up to this war. The honeymoon with Obama is over and the American people are not going to stand for it much longer." Syverson said.
One person who will be in Washington for the boots protest is Cindy Sheehan, perhaps the most famous single protester to emerge from the demonstrations against the Iraq war. Since her son, Casey, was killed in Iraq, Sheehan has become a bête noir to many conservatives and an outspoken rallying point for the anti-war movement. She was a one-woman force of nature who dominated the headlines when she camped outside the Texas ranch of President George W Bush.
Now she too is concentrating on opposing the war in Afghanistan. She has already kept a vigil outside Obama's summer holiday home on Martha's Vineyard and will be going to Washington next weekend. "It's unfortunate that it has taken eight years for the anti-war movement to focus on Afghanistan," she told the Observer. "We have to start to put a human face on what is happening over there."
Sheehan said that she and her fellow organisers would be gearing up for next year, which will feature midterm elections to Congress. She sees this autumn's events as being a preview of mass actions to come all the way through 2010.
"It is year of the midterm elections. I can't tell you what we are planning but it is going to be brilliant. There will be a lot of protests, a lot of civil disobedience," she said.
A broad coalition of anti-war groups is also already co-ordinating protests and demonstrations for the coming weeks, hoping to emulate the successes of the Vietnam protests in a way that the anti-Iraq war movement never pulled off. There will be vigils, memorials, teach-ins, demonstrations and marches. They will range in scale from a few individuals to events where thousands of people will be expected to turn up.
Groups involved include Military Families Speak Out, Win Without War, Code Pink, United For Peace and Justice and Iraq Veterans Against the War.
"There will be hundreds of events all across the US," said Syverson. Some other groups, like US Labor Against the War, which represents 190 unions, which have been largely silent on Afghanistan compared to Iraq, have also announced they are now planning to start opposing the Afghan war too.
The movement is certainly tapping into a growing public mood of anger and discontent. For years, Afghanistan was seen as the "good war" as opposed to Iraq's "bad war". It had supposedly been won with relatively little loss of life, deposed a reviled government and been justified by the Taliban's open support of al-Qaida.
But now, there are more US casualties each day in Afghanistan than in Iraq, and American troop numbers will have risen dramatically to 68,000 by the end of the year. Indeed, Washington and the White House are consumed by speculation over whether Obama will accept a request from General Stanley McChrystal for yet more troops to be sent to the combat zone.
On American television screens, reports from Iraq have become rare. But news from Afghanistan – nearly all of it bad – has become common. Pictures of the carnage reach into every American living room and are frequently splashed across the front pages.
Now public sentiment has shifted firmly towards wanting American troops to pull out, a reversal of the once common opinion that Afghanistan had been a conflict worth fighting. As recently as April, a majority of Americans supported the war. Now only 43% do.
It has hit Obama's personal ratings too. When it comes to Afghan policy, his approval score has dropped 18 points from 67% to 49%. A handful of soldiers are also refusing to serve in Afghanistan. In Fort Hood, Texas, Iraq war veteran Victor Agosto was sentenced last month to 30 days in jail and his rank reduced to private after refusing to deploy there. He was the second Fort Hood soldier to do so.
But sustaining a meaningful opposition movement to the war in Afghanistan is not going to be easy. Much of the wind was taken out of the anti-war movement by the election of Obama, who, it is safe to say, the majority of protesters supported in the 2008 election.
Even Sheehan admits that taking the anti-war fight to the White House under Obama is not going to be a walk in the park, despite the fact that he is presiding over a massive escalation of the war. "It was super-easy to hate George Bush. It was also easy to embrace Obama. But both emotions are irrational when the policies remain the same. We have to make it about the policy, not the person," Sheehan said.
Yet so far, the Obama administration does not appear to have much fear of the doveish wing of the broad liberal coalition that put Obama into the White House. In America's two-party system of government, the Republican party offers an alternative on Afghanistan that is more hawkish, not less. Indeed Obama, who has championed the already massive increase in US troops there, has been criticised only for seeming to hesitate in agreeing to McChrystal's latest request for yet more troops. The request was included in a confidential assessment of the situation that concluded the entire mission would most likely result in failure without more soldiers.
"This is not the time for Hamlet in the White House," said Mitt Romney, one of the likely candidates for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012.
Yet that criticism seems unfair. Though Obama is reportedly striving to reshape Afghan policy in the face of the worsening violence there and the fallout from an Afghan election widely regarded as deeply fraudulent, no one seriously expects America's troop commitment to the country to be radically cut. That means the anti-war movement too is gearing up for a long struggle and a war of attrition aiming to chip away at Obama's popularity.
It might work. After only a year in office, Obama's approval ratings have dipped across the board and the war in Afghanistan is increasingly seen as "Obama's war", not just the legacy of Bush and his neoconservative foreign policy. Indeed, Obama fought his election on a campaign promise of shifting the focus to Afghanistan away from Iraq.
"If Obama's decisions are seen as a continuation of Bush's, then Obama will lose the effect of his honeymoon period. You can already see that happening," said Mitch Hall, a history professor at Central Michigan University.
The irony of left wing, anti-war protesters campaigning against Obama is not lost on many of them, including Syverson, who voted for Obama, went to his rallies and campaigned for him.
"I feel really let down," he said. He is unlikely to be alone. But American history has shown repeatedly, especially with Vietnam, that political stripes at home often mean nothing abroad. After all, it was under the liberal Democrat presidents JFK and Lyndon Johnson that US involvement in Vietnam escalated and under conservative Republican Richard Nixon that America finally got out. Some prominent commentators have drawn other parallels with Vietnam, comparing McChrystal's troop increase request with those of General William Westmoreland, who demanded extra troops for the doomed fight in Vietnam. "In Vietnam and Afghanistan, as the situation worsened and public opinion began turning against the war, the commanding generals – Westmoreland and McChrystal – put in requests for thousands of extra troops," wrote San Francisco Chronicle columnist Joel Brinkley. Given that history, it seems perfectly possible that the deepening quagmire in Afghanistan might last for every year of Obama's time in office, even if he serves two terms.
For Syverson, though, Obama's policy on Afghanistan has already been enough to make him angrily tear off the Obama bumper sticker he had put on his car. "Hell, if I'd ever vote for him again," he said. As the anti-war protests unfold, Obama's presidency may end up being defined by how many Americans can be persuaded to take a similar view.
This article, by Christi Parson, was published in the LA Times, October 6, 2009
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said Monday that President Obama's advisors should keep their guidance private, in effect admonishing the top commander in Afghanistan for publicly advocating an approach requiring more troops even as the White House reassesses its strategy.
The comment by Gates came a day after Obama's national security advisor, James L. Jones, said that military commanders should convey their advice through the chain of command -- a reaction to Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal's public statements in support of his troop-intensive strategy for stabilizing Afghanistan.
The exchanges suggested some disarray in the Obama administration's attempts to forge a new policy on Afghanistan and underscored wide differences among top officials over the correct approach.
In May, Obama tapped McChrystal, a special forces commander, to take charge of the Afghanistan effort and institute a sweeping counterinsurgency strategy. Obama and McChrystal spoke Friday aboard Air Force One on an airport tarmac in Copenhagen, and White House officials did not detail what the two talked about.
Still, Pentagon officials dismissed suggestions Monday that the 55-year-old commander was in any professional jeopardy. Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said it would be "absurd" to think McChrystal had lost favor or standing with the administration.
Gates' comments, in an address before an Assn. of the U.S. Army meeting, came in the midst of what the Pentagon chief called a "hyper-partisan" debate over Afghanistan policy. Many Republicans and even some leading Democrats demand the president comply with commanders' troop requests.
The deaths of eight U.S. service members in an insurgent attack in a remote area over the weekend fueled the political fight. At least one prominent Republican, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, argued that the failure to send more troops would lead to additional deaths.
With public opinion turning against the war, Obama and Vice President Joe Biden will meet today with congressional leaders. The president is scheduled to chair a strategy session Wednesday with top advisors.
Gates, demanding room for the administration's deliberations, said the resulting decisions would be among the most important of Obama's presidency.
"It is important that we take our time to do all we can to get this right," Gates said in his address. "And in this process, it is imperative that all of us taking part in these deliberations, civilians and military alike, provide our best advice to the president candidly but privately."
Morrell said Gates' comments were not solely directed at McChrystal.
"He is urging all military and civilian advisors to the president to keep their counsel to him private," Morrell said. "At this stage in the deliberations about Afghanistan, no one involved should be speaking publicly about them."
In London last week, McChrystal said his strategy stood the best chance of success in Afghanistan. The general has submitted a request for up to 40,000 additional troops to support his approach to the war.
In a question-and-answer session after the speech, he rejected proposals to limit U.S. involvement to attacking extremists and pursuing Al Qaeda militants, the type of plan Biden favors.
Asked whether it would be sufficient in the future for the U.S. to limit itself to targeted strikes at militants in Afghanistan, he said: "A strategy that does not leave Afghanistan in a stable position is probably a shortsighted strategy."
On Sunday, Jones seemed to suggestthat McChrystal was talking out of turn and that military advice should "come up through the chain of command."
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, echoing comments by Jones and Gates, said the process Obama is following is "one of the most open" she has seen.
"It is unusual for all advice about military matters to be in public for a president," Clinton said in a joint appearance with Gates before students at George Washington University.
Gates, responding to a question about whether McChrystal was being "muzzled," said the U.S. and allied commander would testify before Congress, as Republicans are demanding, once Obama has made his strategy decisions.
Gates and Clinton said the U.S. objective in Afghanistan remains to "disrupt, dismantle and defeat" Al Qaeda, but the plans for achieving that goal are under review.
However, the administration is not considering plans to leave Afghanistan, Gates said.
For Obama, it is the second such assessment in only nine months. Though he has long considered Afghanistan a "war of necessity," Obama was confronted with flagging U.S. fortunes when he took office in January and launched a strategy review.
In March, he unveiled the results: a sweeping strategy seen as a victory for advocates of deeper U.S. involvement that could require larger numbers of U.S. troops working to protect the Afghan population and build trust in the country's government.
Obama replaced the former allied commander, Gen. David D. McKiernan, with McChrystal, an expert in the counterinsurgency style of warfare. He also gave wide latitude to Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of U.S. forces in the Mideast, and to his special representative for the region, Richard Holbrooke, a supporter of a large U.S. effort.
An immediate job for the revamped military strategy was to safeguard Afghanistan's August presidential election, which officials regarded as key to restoring the Afghan public's trust in the government.
Toward that end, Obama ordered 21,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan, a deployment increasing the U.S. force to more than 60,000. In addition, there are about 38,000 North Atlantic Treaty Organization-led troops.
The U.S. and NATO-led forces succeeded in keeping the presidential election free of widespread violence. Incumbent President Hamid Karzai claimed victory, but the balloting was marred by charges of rampant fraud.
As the election dispute threatened to further undermine public confidence in the government, Obama last month appeared to back off the pledge to go with deeper U.S. involvement. By late September, Obama said additional reviews were needed to fine-tune the U.S. strategy, both in the wake of the botched election and deteriorating security.
Both Clinton and Gates defended the pace of the White House assessment.
"We're trying to look at it from the ground up," Clinton said, and "further our core objectives of protecting our country."
This article, by Ron Jacobs, was published by CounterPunch, October 7, 2009
In 1967 Norman Mailer released a novel titled Why Are We In Vietnam? This exercise by Mailer is the story of a couple 18 year-old Texans off on a hunting trip with their wealthy fathers. The quartet are consumed with an overload of braggadocio and testosterone. The story of the trip, which is full of whiskey and tales of past sexual conquests, racial slurs and assumptions of American exceptionalism, is told through the eyes of one of the younger men. It is obviously meant as a psychological metaphor for why the US fought in Vietnam. Like the film The Deer Hunter and a number of other films having to do with killing America's enemies, the nature of US machismo and its curious confusion with racism and homophobia, Why Are We In Vietnam? puts forth the proposition that not only is the rugged individualism of the white-skinned pioneer essential to the myth of the US conquest of the North America continent, it is also essential to the expansion of US capitalism as well.
If one explores this idea in the context of recent history both on Wall Street and in Washington's current overseas adventures, it become clearer why very few folks in Imperial Washington – though not in the rest of the country -- want to get out of Iraq or Afghanistan. The projection of military power overseas becomes compensation for the shrinking economic power of Wall Street. Liberal and right wing believers whose stock in the church of capital has fallen can still feel good about themselves as long as their mission continues overseas against the Muslim and peasant hordes. As for the heretics within, let the loudmouth preachers of right wing radio condemn those citizens to the mercies of the angry white men and Sarah Palin--their Joan of Arc. Once the heretics have been burned at the stake of right wing rhetoric, the armies of the right will end their Tea Parties, pick up their weapons and take back the White House, installing a white person back in the Presidential bedrooms. Once done, that black man who's in those bedrooms right now would no longer be a threat, having been emasculated just like a Scottsboro Boy..
So, while Mr. Obama (that black man) ponders whether or not he should continue the US projection of power into Afghanistan begun by his predecessor, Texan George Bush, or pull out, one wonders if Obama is part of the hunting party on par with the plantation's generals or is he just the guy who must retrieve and dress the kill? .
If he accepts General McChrystal's call for more troops and the consequent increase in bloodshed, does Obama then become a trusted equal to the generals or the Pentagon's Stepin' Fetchit? If he rejects this and future calls to escalate this fruitless war, will he be sent back into the kitchen to wait for the bell telling him to bring out the next course or will it represent a defeat for the current crop of General Custers?.
Then again, there's the Biden option. This proposal would repackage the war in Afghanistan under its original wrapping as part of the "war on terror." This repackaging would require a bit of convoluted convincing since national security adviser Ret. General James Jones told the media that "fewer than 100 Al-Qaida (the bogeymen of Islamic terror) are operating in Afghanistan." Of course, the hawks in DC counter this statement with the argument that it is precisely because there are US troops in Afghanistan that Al Qaida's strength has diminished. However, the fault in this line of reasoning can be found in the supposition of its supporters that the Taliban must be defeated to keep Al Qaida on the run. Why? Because at the same time that Al Qaida's activities in Afghanistan have diminished, the strength of Taliban and other resistance forces have grown. In other words, even though Al Qaida forces have almost ended operations in Afghanistan, the resistance to western occupation has grown..
Then there’s the question of Pakistan. In recent weeks, US officials have begun to suggest the existence of a Taliban formation in the Baluchistan province of Pakistan. Furthermore, US Ambassador Anne W. Patterson and a junior US diplomat – Deputy Head of Mission Gerald Feierstein in Pakistan -- have threatened US air strikes on the city of Quetta where this grouping—called the Quetta shira by western media—are supposed to be quartered. These threats have been met by calls for the expulsion of these diplomats in at least one Pakistani media outlets. If US troop numbers are increased in Afghanistan, the staging of a ground invasion into Waziristan or Baluchistan or air strikes not carried out by drones launched in Nevada becomes that much easier. If changing the situation in Pakistan is a dominant reason for the current debate over mission and troop numbers in Afghanistan and the battle in Afghanistan is considered just part of that equation, then there is little doubt that US troops will remain in that country for the foreseeable future. Furthermore, the likelihood of their numbers increasing becomes even greater. On Monday Obama said withdrawal from Afghanistan wasn’t an option.
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 press reslease, written by Zachary Miles Baddorf, was published on the Iraq Veterans Against the War website, October 1, 2009
Philadelphia – Iraq Veterans Against the War believes an escalation of the war in Afghanistan will only serve to exacerbate the plight of the Afghan people, destabilize the region, and further the breakdown of our military.
IVAW, which includes veterans who served in Afghanistan, opposes President Barack Obama’s planned expansion of the occupation and calls for the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of all occupying forces in Afghanistan and reparations for the Afghan people.
“We’re entering our seventh year of war in Afghanistan,” said Jose Vasquez, IVAW’s executive director. “Casualties among the Afghan people are rising while U.S. and Coalition forces are facing their deadliest year since the invasion. This war dehumanizes the Afghan people and denies them their right to self-determination. We have members who serve in Iraq and in Afghanistan and we believe it’s time for them all to come home.”
While IVAW was formed to call for an end to the war in Iraq, the anti-war organization’s membership, which includes more than 1,600 active-duty military members and veterans in 48 states, passed a resolution to declare their opposition to the war in Afghanistan.
The resolution states “there is no battlefield solution to terrorism, and any escalation of the war in Afghanistan will only serve to exacerbate the plight of the Afghan people, destabilize the region, and further the breakdown of our military.”
IVAW member Donna Perdue said she believes the war in Afghanistan is threatening our national security.
“The war becomes larger and more destructive, the number of necessary American forces will further increase, and the cycle will continue to rage on,” said Perdue. “This cycle will continue to strain the struggling economy and the already over-taxed military. It’s imperative that the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan end.”
IVAW is a national organization of veterans and active-duty service members who have served since September 11, 2001 – including those who took part in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. IVAW also is dedicated to fighting for adequate physical and mental healthcare, full benefits, and other support for returning veterans.
This article, by Robert Dreyfuss, was posted to The Nation, September 14, 2009
The hawks, neoconservatives, and Israeli hardliners are squealing, but the US and Iran are set to talk. The talks will begin October 1, among Iran and the P5 + 1, the permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany.
Mohammed ElBaradei, the outgoing head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), was ebullient, even as he urged Iran to "engage substantively with the agency," saying:
"Addressing the concerns of the international community about Iran's future intentions is primarily a matter of confidence-building, which can only be achieved through dialogue. I therefore welcome the offer of the US to initiate a dialogue with Iran, without preconditions and on the basis of mutual respect."
That's exactly the right tone and message, and it underscores that President Obama is doing precisely what he campaigned on, namely, to open a dialogue with Iran. It's an effort that began with his comments on Iran during his inaugural address, his videotaped Nowruz message to Iran last winter, a pair of quiet messages to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's Leader, and Obama's careful and balanced response to the post-election crisis over the summer. Once started, the talks aren't likely to have a swift conclusion, but the very fact that they're taking place will make it impossible for hawks to argue successfully either for harsh, "crippling" sanctions on Iran or for a military attack.
That didn't stop Bibi Netanyahu, for one, from trying. Speaking to Israel's foreign affairs and defense committee today, the Israeli leader said:
"I believe that now is the time to start harsh sanctions against Iran -- if not now then when? These harsh sanctions can be effective. I believe that the international community can act effectively. The Iranian regime is weak, the Iranian people would not rally around the regime if they felt for the first time that there was a danger to their regime -- and this would be a new situation."
Netanyahu's belief in sanctions, harsh measures, and regime change was echoed by John Hannah, the former top aide to Vice President Cheney, who wrote an op-ed criticizing Obama for taking regime change off the table in dealing with Iran. Hannah utterly ignored the fact that eight years of anti-Iran, pro-regime change bombast from the Bush-Cheney administration did nothing but strengthen Iran's hawks, while Obama's softer, dialogue-centered approach to Iran helped boost the power of the reformists and their allies in Iranian politics. Indeed, it was precisely Obama's less belligerent tone that confused the Iranian hardliners, emboldened the liberals, reformists and pragmatists in Iran, and therefore did more to create the conditions for "regime change" than anything that Bush, Cheney, and Hannah did.
Nevertheless, here's Hannah:
"It is ironic, of course, that just as the Obama administration seemed prepared to write off regime change forever, the Iranian people have made it a distinct possibility. It would be tragic indeed if the United States took steps to bolster the staying power of Iran's dictatorship at precisely the moment when so many Iranians appear prepared to risk everything to be rid of it. It would also seem strategically shortsighted to risk throwing this regime a lifeline."
Hannah adds that whatever happens in the talks, Obama had better be careful not to undermine the possibility that the regime might collapse. "However engagement now unfolds, Obama should do nothing to undermine this historic opportunity."
Other, less temperate hawks have forthrightly condemned Iran's offer to negotiate. The Weekly Standard ridiculed Iran's five-page statement on opening negotiations:
"The Iranian response is a bad joke. It makes a complete mockery of the situation."
And the churlish Washington Post, in an editorial written before the US agreed to start talks with Iran, huffed that Iran's offer to talk was a "non-response" and complained that so far Obama has had no results:
"President Obama's offer of direct diplomacy evidently has produced no change in the stance taken by Iran during the George W. Bush administration, when Tehran proposed discussing everything from stability in the Balkans to the development of Latin America with the United States and its allies -- but refused to consider even a temporary shutdown of its centrifuges."
And the Post again brought up the importance of getting "tough" with Iran and pushing for sanctions, a la Netanyahu, even though neither Russia nor China will have anything to do with more sanctions. (The Europeans don't really want more sanctions either, though they say they do. And Venezuela has offered to export whatever gasoline Iran needs if, in fact, the United States tries to impose a cut-off of refined petroleum products imported by Iran.)
We can only hope, now, that the United States and the rest of the P5 + 1 will table an offer to Iran to allow Tehran to maintain its uranium enrichment program, on its own soil, combined with a system of stronger international inspections. That's the end game: not regime change, not Big Bad Wolf threats of military action, not Hillary Clinton-style "crippling sanctions," not an Iran without uranium enrichment -- but an Iran that is ushered into the age of peaceful use of nuclear energy, including enrichment, in exchange for a comprehensive settlement.
This article, by Kimberly Kagan, was posted to the Af-Pak Channel, August 10, 2009
The war in Afghanistan has not been going well, and it is no surprise that Americans are frustrated. Many observers can rightly point to signs of progress: the functionality of specific Afghan government ministries and programs, the slow growth of the Afghan National Army, the building of major infrastructure such as roads and dams, and agricultural improvements. These accomplishments, however, have not created the conditions that the United States has aimed to achieve: an Afghan state with a competent government considered legitimate by its people and capable of defending them, such that Afghanistan can no longer function as a safe haven for Islamist terrorist groups. Indeed, as Gen. Stanley McChrystal, commander of coalition forces, recently suggested, the situation shows signs of deteriorating: Afghan enemy groups remain highly capable, have gained momentum, and have expanded their areas of operations. Violence against coalition forces is rising. So the question is: Why haven't we been winning in Afghanistan?
Although I served on McChrystal's assessment team, I do not know how he would answer this question, nor could I speculate about his recommendations for the strategy going forward. But after much research, as well as two visits to Afghanistan this year, I personally think that the military operations themselves are failing because there has been no coherent theaterwide counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan. Despite U.S. President Barack Obama's newly announced "Af-Pak" strategy, the U.S. and coalition campaign this summer is a continuation of the poorly designed operations from 2008. And the sheer inertia of military operations means that it will be hard to turn this supertanker around for the better part of this year. But turn it around we must, starting with correcting the following flaws in the strategy that McChrystal and his team inherited from their predecessors. 1. Fighting in the wrong places NATO forces are widely dispersed throughout Afghanistan, even in the Pashtun areas in the south and east, rather than concentrated on one or two priorities. A possible exception is Helmand, the only province in which two brigades are deployed -- the British force and the recently arrived U.S. Marine expeditionary brigade. In contrast, during the surge in Iraq, the United States concentrated about half of its forces in Baghdad and its suburbs. Baghdad was the center of gravity of the fight. If we controlled it, we'd win; if the enemy controlled it, we'd lose. So five brigade combat teams -- roughly 25,000 troops with their enablers -- protected the city of 8 million people. Four more teams protected Baghdad's southern approaches, and at least one, sometimes two, additional teams protected the city's northern suburbs.
There is no simple equivalent to Baghdad in Afghanistan. Instead, most of the population -- and the insurgency -- is dispersed in rural areas. Nevertheless, some areas, such as Kandahar city and the districts around it, are more important -- to the enemy, to the Afghan government, and to us -- than others. And yet, there are almost no counterinsurgents whatsoever in all but two of the districts around Kandahar, and none in the city itself, just a scant footprint from the Afghanistan national security forces. Worse still, the ratio of counterinsurgents to the population in those two districts is approximately 1 to 44, close to the minimum requirement. A good evaluation of our priorities in Afghanistan would yield a significantly different, and more effective, distribution of coalition forces. This is undoubtedly why McChrystal recently told reporters that he will be concentrating forces around Kandahar city. 2. Fighting in the wrong ways Another problem is that NATO forces have briefed counterinsurgency doctrine better than they have practiced it. Almost all NATO units in Pashtun areas claim that they are protecting the population by engaging in a sequence of military operations known as "shape-clear-hold-build." But these forces move through the sequence too rapidly. Based on recent experiences in Iraq, shaping an area requires 30 to 45 days, clearing it requires three to six months, and holding it takes longer than that. With very few exceptions, NATO forces in Afghanistan have never operated on such timelines. They condense shaping and clearing operations into a few weeks, and then they transition prematurely into what they perceive as a hold phase. As a result, NATO forces rarely gain permanent control over areas -- or if they do, those areas are so small as to have little effect on the insurgency or the population. The enemy simply dissipates and then returns.
What's more, coalition and Afghan forces are excessively focused on securing supply lines and reducing the threat of improvised explosive devices through tactical efforts rather than by countering the insurgency. Consequently, many forces -- especially Afghan forces -- are distributed along the ring road, the main corridor that circles the country. Static positions such as these waste troops. Of course, our forces must be able to maneuver along strategic corridors, but the best way to do that is by securing populated areas and maneuvering off the ring road to defeat the enemy in its sanctuaries and support zones.
In other areas, combat forces are trying to do the right things but, again, in the wrong places. As the Iraq experience demonstrated, successful counterinsurgency often entails distributing forces from larger to smaller bases in order to live among the population. But in some remote areas of Afghanistan's eastern theater, such as Nuristan, where the enemy has little operational or strategic effect, combat forces have overextended themselves. They have moved off large forward operating bases, pushed into strategically insignificant areas, and established small combat outposts that can barely sustain themselves: The units there are too tiny to do anything but protect their outpost. A better approach is to concentrate forces for counterinsurgency operations and run greater risks in places of lesser importance. 3. Fighting with the wrong assumptions
What too often determines where coalition forces conduct their shape-clear-hold-build operations is the prospect for conducting development projects -- not population security. This tends to favor the important over the urgent, the possible over the necessary. For example, major combat operations in the British area of Helmand have been conducted in order to permit development. The Kajaki dam and the agricultural development zone near Lashkar Gah have driven the concentration of forces within the province and, indeed, within the southern region generally. In eastern Afghanistan, U.S. forces have conducted operations to build roads, such as the Khost-Gardez Pass road. These projects are important for long-term development, but they are only sometimes important for achieving our military objectives and should not be allowed to dictate the disposition of scarce military resources.
Moreover, military and civilian efforts in Afghanistan make the wrong assumptions about development. Too often they emphasize the value of a development project as a model -- as a demonstration of Afghan government competence and Western goodwill. Completing a specific dam, for example, shows the population that the Afghan government can provide services in general; clearing a specific village shows that the Afghan national security forces can secure the population in principle. But if the model is not replicated widely and rapidly, it's simply a demonstration of what might be accomplished. Demonstration effects will not defeat the insurgency. Either a venue is secure and has an operating government, or it does not. A good counterinsurgency plan succeeds by generating synergies among good, localized projects -- not by identifying a thousand points of light and hoping that they constitute an electrical grid. 4. Fighting successfully -- or failing? Metrics are important in any war, and based on recent reports, the Obama administration is preparing a new set of indicators to measure whether the fight in Afghanistan is succeeding. As important as identifying good metrics is rejecting bad ones. Violence against coalition forces, for example, is an unreliable indicator of success or failure. For one thing, as we saw in Iraq, violence against friendly forces can increase at the start of a counteroffensive to regain control of areas that the enemy holds. No violence, in turn, might mean that an area is completely controlled by the enemy. The metrics of success are not simply statistics, and they cannot be determined independently of a campaign plan, which sets out a hierarchy of tasks and objectives. 5. Can we win?
Some answer simply and sharply in the negative: They claim that Afghanistan has never been centrally ruled (which is wrong) and that it has been the "graveyard of empires" (which is true in only a specific handful of cases). Failure is not at all inevitable. The war in Afghanistan has suffered almost from the start from a lack of resources, especially the time and attention of senior policymakers. The United States prioritized the war in Iraq from 2007 until 2009, for strategically sound reasons. Some of this parsimony also comes from flawed theories of counterinsurgency: U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, for example, misreads the Soviet experience in Afghanistan, which has consistently led him to argue incorrectly against expanding the size of the force there, claiming that it increases the risks of failure.
We can win in Afghanistan, but only if we restructure the campaign and resource it properly. Adding more resources to the military effort as it has been conducted over the past few years, without fundamentally changing its conception, design, and execution, would achieve little. This was also the case in Iraq before the surge, and the change in strategy and campaign plan that followed was as important to success as the additional resources. This explains why McChrystal might adopt a different campaign design -- perhaps requiring additional military resources -- when he submits his formal assessment to the U.S. secretary of defense and NATO secretary-general sometime after the Afghan elections.
The fact that we have not been doing the right things for the past few years in Afghanistan is actually good news at this moment. A sound, properly resourced counterinsurgency has not failed in Afghanistan; it has never even been tried. So there is good reason to think that such a new strategy can succeed now. But we have to hurry, for as is often the case in these kinds of war, if you aren't winning, you're losing.
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.