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The surge in Afghanistan: I hate to say it, but maybe a little bit common sense?

July 27, 2009

I certainly don’t consider myself pro-war. As a rule I’m vehemently against any sort of invasion or occupation of a sovereign state. You can bet that when the U.S. invaded Iraq I was one of the hundreds of thousands—or were we millions? I don’t presume to be so optimistic—that took the streets in protest, and added my own CO2 to the worldwide sigh of relief at President Obama’s announcement of troop withdrawal. But like so many of my anti-war counterparts, joy over Obama’s policy concerning Iraq was met with lamentations over his decision to not only continue the war in Afghanistan, but indeed to increase U.S. troop size and funding within the country. I recently, however, had what for me is a very rare opportunity: the chance to have dinner with a Green Beret in training who allowed me to pick his brain on America’s military policy towards the Middle East, and forced me hear a few things that my tree-hugging friends and I rarely discuss.

This young man in question had recently finished a year-long deployment in the eastern part of Afghanistan, an area notorious for continuous and brutal fighting. While my answer to his stories of civilians caught in the cross-fire and dying comrades was for troops to get out (and fast), he postulated that Obama’s suggested surge is actually logical and necessary and will, despite short-term hardships, result in long-term peace for the country. If NATO troops are already in the country, he suggested, than we might as well be in there sufficiently and get the job done, rather than simply prolong the suffering with no tangibly positive results.

Now I have difficulty believing that more military—and, by default, more fighting—is the answer to a current military quagmire. But this Green Beret’s is not alone in his support for the surge. The most recent issue of The Economist (I know—not exactly an anti-war publication) also supports Obama’s decision, and condemns Britain for under-supporting it’s troops in the country and Canada for announcing it’s imminent pull-out. The logic remains the same: if NATO decided to go into Afghanistan, and if the U.S. and it’s allies truly sees terrorism in the region as a threat, then by-golly (as the Brits say) do the job right, or don’t do it at all.

Somehow, this argument kind of makes sense to me. Am I becoming pro-war after all?

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. August 12, 2009 4:49 pm

    Very thoughtful blog entry and refreshingly unpolarized in its sentiments.

    I know both wars are excessively complicated, particularly the Afghan war. The occupying forces can’t just leave both countries just like that. It would create a vacuum of power. Right now, ironically, the U.S. and NATO military’s presence in both countries is bringing a sense of stability, and once they leave, what now? The governments that are now there are backed by the U.S. and NATO and perhaps depend on their presence to survive.

    “TROOPS OUT” just doesn’t solve anything. Neither does “WAR ON TERROR”. It’s much deeper, more complicated than a bunch of catchphrases. People’s lives are at stake here. There needs to be a third solution to both wars. And this blog may have ventured somewhere in that direction.

  2. nmboudin permalink*
    July 31, 2009 10:07 pm

    “Am I becoming pro-war after all?” You don’t seem pro-war. It just sounds like you are considering other positions than the stance you are more comfortable with. It is good to do, and though it does not necessarily change your proclivity from anti-war to hawkishness, it shows a respect for the rationale of those you may normally disagree with, a sign of maturity and intelligence.

    I have have not typically felt pro-war, but the thought of leaving the Afghans to the Taliban is something I cannot reconcile. As you recognize, the thing is on and we might as well do it right or go home. If the possibility of talking to the moderate elements of the Taliban exists, I think talking could be more productive than fighting. I am just not confident that the institutional precepts of the Taliban promotes moderation.

  3. marakardasnelson permalink*
    July 29, 2009 9:29 pm

    Well, at least we’re talking.

  4. July 28, 2009 5:10 pm

    then by-golly (as the Brits say)

    Maybe in the 1950s…

    Whether you believe the surge will work or not (it won’t) you should take a few lessons from history. Wiki British Empire and Russia in Afghanistan.

    From the very beginning the war there was set up wrong and is being fought wrong now.

    There is only one way – and I mean one way to beat the insurgents and that is with total war. And with that you will have hundreds of thousands of civilians dead.

    What needs to happen is that the NATO troops fall back and then open a dialogue while helping to rebuild that shattered nation.

    Only diplomacy and getting the Afghan people to see a new dawn, a new beginning will something change.

    Afghan security forces need the help of Pakistan and other nations near to keep the Taleban occupied while the other warlords and tribes negotiate a peace.

    It is then that there will be peace. Other than that body bags will keep coming home and for no other reason as to wanting to fight.

  5. Chris permalink
    July 28, 2009 11:33 am

    So a few more civillian deaths will justify the peace and stability, is that what you are saying is common sense? What is peace and stability to a dead Afghan child. The surge in Iraq killed thousands of civillians – what common sense do you mean by that? Will you offer up your children to the families who have lost theirs? Do you have extra arms or legs for those children, women and men who get caught in the crossfire?

    And your source, as credible as they may be on military ideas, only knows one way to bring about peace – burry your opposition.

    Common sense, the kind that comes from common people, says stop killing people!

  6. corsullivan permalink*
    July 28, 2009 10:04 am

    Common sense is always to be welcomed, and I think you’re doing the right thing by listening to arguments that challenge your own instincts. It would be nice if more people were equally open-minded.

    With that said, I would endorse all the “tough questions” Renee and Shauna have been asking. Let me add a couple more. Is a surge of foreign troops in Afghanistan really going to bring about a “long-term peace”, in a country where such a thing has seldom if ever existed? And is chasing Koran-thumping militants around the mountains of Afghanistan really an effective way of preventing terrorism in the West? Perhaps we would be better off (1) trying to reach an understanding with at least some of those militants, and/or (2) concentrating on defensive measures in our own countries.

    I think the benefits of staying in Afghanistan are likely to be relatively small for Canada and other Western countries. Fortunately, the costs of sticking around for a few more years are also small in the grand historical scheme of things, so I’m not inclined to get too excited over the issue.

  7. marakardasnelson permalink*
    July 27, 2009 11:19 pm

    Thank you both for your thoughts.

    Renee, I would love to read the suggested works and discuss this with you in more detail. Admittedly I haven’t researched enough into the history of Afghanistan or NATO’s involvement there and this is certainly something I think is worthwhile. Great comments, guys, let’s continue this more soon.

  8. reneethewriter permalink
    July 27, 2009 6:54 pm

    Thank you for this excellent article.

    First, our thoughts with your friend, and if he expects more tours of duty, then godspeed.

    Second, thank you for sharing this with us and for taking the time to put forward a different point of view than one you might ordinarily hold.

    I am in awe of those who go “over there” on our behalf.

    And that awe does not take away from my insistence, as documented on these pages, that we Canadians ask tough questions about our mission, its purpose, the nature of “nation-building” and its uncomfortable closeness to “empire building.”

    As to the line of reasoning that the U.S. Marine troop surge is short term, as stated previously, i can only point to what i think are some of the best, “mainstream,” sites on US military policy, McClatchy’s “Nukes and Spooks” blog, The Nation’ s Dreyfuss report and Tom’s Dispatches.

    Again and again, during the Iraq war, these were the sites that asked the tough questions that certainly The Economist and the NYT (ala Judith Miller) not only shied away from, but derided. Sorry. I’m guessing you know all of this and more.

    I am currently reading the decidedly anti war but very well researched, Bleeding Afghanistan/Kohatkar/Ingalls; there is also conservative but independent minded Gwynne Dwyer (The Mess They Made) and then, the great cranky trumpeter, the Gabriel of the ‘middle east,” Robert Fisk. I would very much appreciate, if you’ve time, to hear your responses/thoughts on these latter.

    Shauna’s questions of course are pertinent. I hope readers of this site will continue the discussion/debate, one of the few online places where we can share questions, concerns and differing visions of what it means to intervene in another country. R

  9. July 27, 2009 4:26 pm

    I think you have raised a critical question. Having supported a project working with women in Afghanistan for four years, I struggle with our military role daily. I think it is too easy to say – pull our troops out – without considering the ramifications of what it means to lose Afghanistan to the Taliban.

    But who is articulating the alternatives? What is our plan beyond simply saying troops out by 2011?

    Given the extent of our involvement (in both people and money), we should expect much more from our political leadership on Afghanistan. We need our government to articulate our strategy for our continued involvement in Afghanistan, we need to hear how we are going to meet our commitments to the Afghan people when our soldiers leave and we also need our government to engage Canadians in an open dialogue on why being in Afghanistan is important. In the absence of this, we can’t hope to have any Canadian support for a continued presence in the country.

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