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 Jeremy Scahill, was published by The Nation, October 22, 2009
On Wednesday, a federal judge rejected a series of arguments by lawyers for the mercenary firm formerly known as Blackwater seeking to dismiss five high-stakes war crimes cases brought by Iraqi victims against both the company and its owner, Erik Prince. At the same time, Judge T.S. Ellis III sent the Iraqis' lawyers back to the legal drawing board to amend and refile their cases, saying that the Iraqi plaintiffs need to provide more specific details on the alleged crimes before a final decision can be made on whether or not the lawsuits will proceed.
"We were very pleased with the ruling," says Susan Burke, the lead attorney for the Iraqis. Burke, who filed the lawsuits in cooperation with the Center for Constitutional Rights, is now preparing to re-file the suits. Blackwater's spokesperson Stacy DeLuke said, "We are confident that [the plaintiffs] will not be able to meet the high standard specified in Judge Ellis's opinion."
Ellis's ruling was not necessarily a response to faulty pleadings by the Iraqis' lawyers but rather appears to be the result of a Supreme Court decision that came down after the Blackwater cases were originally filed. In a 5-4 ruling in May 2009 in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, the court reversed decades of case law and imposed much more stringent standards for plaintiffs' documentation of facts before going to trial. According to Ellis's ruling, which cites Iqbal, the Iraqis must now file complaints that meet these new standards.
Judge Ellis, a Reagan appointee with a mixed record on national security issues, rejected several of the central arguments Blackwater made in its motion to dismiss, namely the company's contention that it cannot be sued by the Iraqis under US law and that the company should not be subjected to potential punitive damages in the cases. The Iraqi victims brought their suits under the Alien Tort Statute, which allows for litigation in US courts for violations of fundamental human rights committed overseas by individuals or corporations with a US presence. Ellis said that Blackwater's argument that it cannot be sued under the ATS is "unavailing," adding that corporations and individuals can both be held responsible for crimes and torts. He said bluntly that "claims alleging direct corporate liability for war crimes" are legitimate under the statute.
Ellis also rejected Blackwater's argument that "conduct constitutes a war crime only if it is perpetrated in furtherance of a 'military objective' rather than for economic or ideological reasons." Ellis said that under Blackwater's logic "it is arguable that nobody who receives a paycheck would ever be liable for war crimes. Moreover, so narrow is the scope of [Blackwater's] standard that it would exclude murders of civilians committed by soldiers where there was no legitimate 'military objective' for committing the murders."
"What is important here is that the judge is saying that violations of war crimes can be committed by private people or corporations," says Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights. He said Ellis's ruling is "an affirmation of the precedent set by CCR thirty years ago" when it brought the first successful Alien Tort suit in 200 years "that those who engage in violations of fundamental human rights abroad can be held liable in the US." Ellis's ruling, he says, "is sympathetic to the idea that the Blackwater case is an appropriate use of the law."
But Ellis also ruled that the Iraqi plaintiffs failed to provide sufficient specific details linking Blackwater's owner Erik Prince to the alleged murders and other crimes in Iraq. In order for the case to proceed against Prince, Ellis wrote, "the complaints must state facts that would allow a trier of fact plausibly to infer that Prince intentionally killed or inflicted serious bodily harm on innocent civilians during an armed conflict and in the context of and in association with that armed conflict." The plaintiffs, Ellis ruled, "have failed to meet this burden."
In a hearing on August 28, Burke said that she has evidence that Prince ordered or directed the killings of innocent Iraqis and at that time asked Judge Ellis permission to later amend her cases if Ellis ruled that, in light of the Iqbal decision, such information was necessary for the cases to proceed. In his ruling, Ellis granted Burke's request in four of the five cases. In one case, involving the alleged murder of a bodyguard for the Iraqi vice president by a drunken Blackwater operative, Andrew Moonen, on Christmas Eve 2006 inside the Green Zone, Ellis found that there was insufficient evidence to suggest Prince "intentionally killed" the bodyguard or that his "conduct proximately caused the decedent's death."
In the four other cases, which include 18 Iraqi civilians allegedly killed by Blackwater, Ellis ruled that Burke could refile her claim with more details about Prince's alleged involvement and the role of the Blackwater corporation in the killings. Ellis found that the cases "could be amended to add factual allegations that would permit plausible inferences that Prince and Xe [Blackwater] defendants ordered killings of innocent Iraqi civilians...and that defendants' conduct proximately caused the injuries or deaths to plaintiffs."
Ellis rejected Burke's allegation that Blackwater engaged in summary executions, saying that under the law such classification of killings "require[s] state action, and none is alleged here." Blackwater also made an argument that the cases should have been tried in Iraq--or that the Iraqis' lawyers should have exhausted that possibility before filing their cases in US courts. Ellis shot down that argument and pointed out that Blackwater's own lawyers admitted that under the Paul Bremer-era Order 17 in Iraq, Blackwater would have immunity for its crimes under Iraqi law. Ellis also rejected Blackwater's claim that punitive damages are not allowed in these types of cases. As Ellis wrote, Blackwater's lawyers "offer no support" for this argument "in the case law or from recognized international treatises."
One of the central thrusts of the Iraqis' suits against Blackwater is that Erik Prince is the head of an organized crime syndicate as defined by the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. RICO is a federal statute permitting private parties to seek redress from criminal enterprises who damage their property. Burke and CCR decided to sue Prince and his companies directly rather than his individual employees because they say Prince "wholly owns and controls this enterprise." They allege that Prince directed murders of Iraqi civilians from Blackwater's headquarters in Virginia and North Carolina. Ellis dismissed the claims that the Iraqis have standing under the RICO Act, but ruled that they can file an amended complaint that "Prince ordered or directed the killings allegedly committed in Iraq from within the United States, and that such conduct proximately caused the damage allegedly suffered by the RICO plaintiffs." In one of the cases, Ellis ruled that the four-year statute of limitations had expired for a RICO claim.
On August 3, lawyers for the Iraqis submitted two sworn declarations from former Blackwater employees alleging that Prince may have murdered or facilitated the murder of individuals who were cooperating with federal authorities investigating the company. One former employee alleged that Prince "views himself as a Christian crusader tasked with eliminating Muslims and the Islamic faith from the globe," and that Prince's companies "encouraged and rewarded the destruction of Iraqi life." What role, if any, these allegations will play in the amended complaints is unclear, but Burke insists she has evidence to back up all of her allegations.
Burke's case is also bolstered by the evidence the US government will present in its criminal case against Blackwater forces. On September 7, federal prosecutors in Washington, DC, submitted papers in the criminal case against five Blackwater operatives for their alleged role in the 2007 Nisour Square shooting in Baghdad that killed seventeen Iraqi civilians and wounded more than twenty others. Burke is representing many of these families in her civil case. Blackwater forces "fired at innocent Iraqis not because they actually believed that they were in imminent danger of serious bodily injury and actually believed that they had no alternative to the use of deadly force, but rather that they fired at innocent Iraqi civilians because of their hostility toward Iraqis and their grave indifference to the harm that their actions would cause," the acting US Attorney in DC, Channing Phillips, alleges in court papers submitted by Kenneth C. Kohl, the lead prosecutor on this case. "[T]he defendants specifically intended to kill or seriously injure the Iraqi civilians that they fired upon at [Nisour] Square." The government also alleges that one Blackwater operative "wanted to kill as many Iraqis as he could as 'payback for 9/11,' and he repeatedly boasted about the number of Iraqis he had shot," while "several of the defendants had harbored a deep hostility toward Iraqi civilians which they demonstrated in words and deeds."
In its motion to dismiss, Blackwater also argued that to allow the company to be sued for alleged crimes in a war zone would violate the rights of the president of the United States under the "political question doctrine" to not have a "second-guessing of the battlefield decisions of the U.S. government." Ellis rejected that outright and noted: "The United States has appeared as an interested party and argues that if defendants committed the alleged conduct, they were not acting as employees of the United States when they did so. Moreover, the government states that its contracts with defendants 'provided for multiple layers of [Xe defendants'] management to oversee the day-to-day operations' of its employees and that the employees were under the direct supervision of Xe defendants' management when the alleged conduct occurred."
Judge Ellis's ruling only relates to the charges that Blackwater and Prince violated federal laws and not to the additional allegations that they also violated state laws. Even if Judge Ellis ultimately rejects all of the federal arguments made by Burke and CCR, which is a big if, the cases can still proceed under "common law," as has happened in other torture and war crimes cases. Ellis has not yet ruled on those charges
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.