AVAILABLE FOR REPRINT. Copy and use freely. Please help PeaceVoice by notifying us when you use this piece: PeaceVoiceDirector@gmail.com
“The challenge of helping Afghanistan while also serving U.S. security goals includes four aspects: first, U.S. fear of more terrorist attacks mounted from the region; second, fear that other powers, such as Russia or Iran, could assume undue influence; third, the potential use of the territory as a route to move resources such as oil and natural gas; and fourth, U.S. unwillingness to admit that the application of power may not part of the solution at all.
This last fear may be the deepest one, deeper even than our fear of terrorism….”
Author: Winslow Myers, on the Board of Beyond War and the author of the recently published book, â€œLiving Beyond War: A Citizenâ€™s Guide”
Published in: Huntington News Network (home page: http://www.huntingtonnews.net/) in West Virginia, at the MuncieFreePress.com (http://www.munciefreepress.com/) from Indiana, at the Joplin Independent (http://www.joplinindependent.com/) in Joplin, Missouri, and in The PeaceWorker in Oregon (http://www.oregonpeaceworks.org/site/index.php)
Date: October 3 and 4, and November, 2009
For the full article:
Moving Beyond War in Afghanistan
by Winslow Myers
The challenge of helping Afghanistan while also serving U.S. security goals includes four aspects: first, U.S. fear of more terrorist attacks mounted from the region; second, fear that other powers, such as Russia or Iran, could assume undue influence; third, the potential use of the territory as a route to move resources such as oil and natural gas; and fourth, U.S. unwillingness to admit that the application of power may not part of the solution at all.
This last fear may be the deepest one, deeper even than our fear of terrorism. The simplifications of â€œmy country, right or wrongâ€ put pressure on our officials to be consistent in the direction of more military force. The minute Mr. Obama asks his generals what number of troops â€œsuccessâ€ will require, he has boxed himself in to a certain line of action. The generals give him a number, and the president becomes less able to challenge the unexamined assumption that Afghanistan is a military problem.
The reason we are, with obvious variations, repeating the Vietnam pattern in Afghanistan is not that we havenâ€™t learned the tactical lessons. It is that we canâ€™t accept that we are not in charge of the world, and we are not comfortable with questioning our own motives at the deepest level. What constitutes victory, if the mere presence of the American military, however well intentioned, creates a perception of occupation and the pushback that always results? Who anointed us, who have so many challenges at home, to fix the world? If we are so willing in 2009 to repeat what failed in 1969, where will the next place be that we slip into yet another ambiguous regional war?
American soldiers know they are over there because of 9/11 and Al Quaeda, but are they also there to destroy the Taliban? To police the drug trade? To build a nation? To create Western-style political institutions in a tribal context? Are they are being set up to fail, to preserve the tenuous sense that the U.S. government is doing something constructive to reduce further terrorist attacks?
Conversely, the need to win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people is clearly understood by many in the American military who are giving life and limb to create enclaves of security in the region. General Stanley McChrystal on October 1: â€œWe donâ€™t win by destroying the Taliban. We donâ€™t win by body count. We donâ€™t win by the number of successful military raids or attacks, we win when the people decide we win.â€ This is an extraordinary statementâ€”a military leader essentially admitting that war itself is negligible part of the answer compared to hearts and minds.
Defeat in Vietnam was painful for the United States after the loss of 55,000 soldiers, but the military alternatives had run out. Rather than spinning out a similar future in Afghanistan, it is surely better to accept the need for a change of policy, even if Obama did campaign on the idea that an Afghanistan was a necessary war. In the case of Al Quaeda, the alternative is good intelligence and police work, in greater cooperation with other countries, including Pakistan if possible. The heroin trade in Afghanistan will not yield to our armies, but it might yield to the possibility that farming less deadly produce can also result in a decent livingâ€”and to addressing as best we can the challenge of drug demand in our own country.
We need models that are motivated by compassion and good will rather than just fear of terrorism. One such model is Greg Mortensonâ€™s Central Asia Institute, a non-profit, non-governmental organization that builds schools, mostly for girls, in remote areas of the Af-Pak region. What is it about this particular American that the Afghans trust, such that his projects have the enthusiastic support of the villages he serves?
The United States can replicate this model of directly meeting human needs at a tiny fraction of the expense of wagingwar. Instead of trying to control everything, including the Afghan government itself, we could ask local people what their needs are and try to provide them in such a way that their sense of us as occupiers is minimized. In the long term, because the means are congruent with the ends, this model will lessen support for extremism, increase national cohesion and stability, and keep other regional players at bay. It could accomplish everything we presently think we need to do militarily, and it could do it without the hellish destruction that the Afghans have endured for so long.
Winslow Myers serves on the Board of Beyond War and is the author of the recently published book, â€œLiving Beyond War: A Citizenâ€™s Guide.â€