That Other, “Good” War
Afghanistan is becoming Iraq. If trends continue, eventually the American public may come to view it in much the same way they now view Iraq: an ill-advised, poorly planned blunder, borne of American hubris and the delusion that overthrowing governments, even illegitimate ones, is a justifiable exericise of American military power with acceptable and manageable consequences. What's clear now is that in both cases, we are learning at the expense of other peoples' lives those terrible consequences we would never have risked if the victims were Americans.
Oh, I know, we want desperately to believe that Afghanistan is different from Iraq, and in many ways, it is. The New York Times has called the Afghanistan adventure the "good" war, the necessary one, compared to the unilateral war of choice against Iraq. The Taliban were harboring/cooperating with Osama Bin Laden and al Qaeda, the folks that attacked us on 9/11. And the Taliban are/were brutal, repressive, and intolerant of alternative political views and religious beliefs, let alone women's rights; they were the antithesis of modern civilization. Something had to be done, and striking back militarily to topple the Taliban regime seemed fully justified. At least that's what we said, and our anger over 9/11 and belief in our invincibility allowed us to believe it.
For months, news reports have warned us of the deteriorating conditions in Afghanistan. The Taliban are regaining territories they lost at the beginning of the invasion and now appear to be regrouping in safe havens in Northern Pakistan, with the apparent acquiescence of our Pakistani allies. Anthony Cordesman in a NYT op-ed, One War We Can Still Win, recounts the growing problem on the military side, but also recommends major US economic aid to improve services to the Afghanis.
This means the United States needs to make major increases in its economic aid, as do its NATO allies. These increases need to be made immediately if new projects and meaningful actions are to begin in the field by the end of winter, when the Islamists typically launch new offensives.
At least such programs are cheap by the standards of aid to Iraq. The projects needed are simple ones that Afghans can largely carry out themselves. People need roads and water, and to a lesser degree schools and medical services. They need emergency aid to meet local needs and win hearts and minds.
The United States has grossly underfinanced such economic aid efforts and left far too much of the country without visible aid activity. State Department plans call for a $2.3 billion program, but unless at least $1.1 billion comes immediately, aid will lag far behind need next year.
While Cordesman remains hopeful it is not too late to save Afghanistan, the fact is that we and our NATO allies are now engaged in a bloody civil war, induced to use the same brutal, often indiscriminate military force on the ill-defined "insurgents" that we use against equally misdefined Iraqi "insurgents," and justifying this because the Taliban, like al Qaeda, are even more ruthless. Yet most of the victims of the violence from both sides are the hapless Afghani people.
Consider this AP story (h/t to reader angie for spotting this one), Karzai: NATO bombs, terrorists kill kids:
KABUL, Afghanistan – With his lips quivering and voice breaking, a tearful President Hamid Karzai on Sunday lamented that Afghan children are being killed by NATO and U.S. bombs and by terrorists from Pakistan — a portrait of helplessness in the face of spiraling chaos.
In a heartfelt speech that brought audience members to tears, Karzai said the cruelty imposed on his people "is too much" and that Afghanistan cannot stop "the coalition from killing our children." "We can't prevent the terrorists from coming from Pakistan, and we can't prevent the coalition from bombing the terrorists, and our children are dying because of this," he said.
The president, who turned tearful after relating stories of children maimed by bombings, took long pauses between sentences and at one point covered both eyes with a white handkerchief. A single tear rolled down his right cheek and bounced off his suit lapel. "Cruelty at the highest level," he said, his lower lip quivering. "The cruelty is too much."
The taped speech was shown later on state TV, though that broadcast and other news shows did not show Karzai crying.
"I think what he was trying to say is that our country — 30 years of war has made us so weak that we don't have the institutions to control these types of things," [a Karzai aide] said. […]
Afghanistan has seen more than 100 suicide attacks this year, a record number, and close to 4,000 people have died in insurgency-related violence. On Sunday, insurgents ambushed NATO troops in southern Zabul province with a roadside bomb and gunfire, wounding two soldiers, said Capt. Andre Salloum, a spokesman for NATO's troops in the south.
A day earlier, a roadside bomb exploded next to an Afghan army vehicle in eastern Paktia province, killing all six soldiers on board, police said Sunday.
Karzai's tears are a man's tears. Grown men and women weep in the face of horrors like this. Have George Bush and Dick Cheney ever wept for the Afghani children? Or for the Iraqis, Pakistanis, Lebanese and Israelis who are dying for the same misguided policies?
President Bush and Vice President Cheney and their neocon cheerleaders told us theirs was the only way to confront rogue regimes and the threat of terrorism. But all they've done is unleashed death. Hundreds of thousands of deaths. And they deliberately chose to cause those deaths there, so they wouldn't occur here, a policy whose morality is likely not apparent to the Afghanis.
How much longer will the media listen to Bush, to the Cheneys, McCains and Liebermans, and to the whole cabal of neocons who talked the country into these morally outrageous disasters, and yet clamor for more and more and still more? When will they finally say what the American people are saying, "Enough!"