Point: Black insists on withdrawal from Afghanistan

Allison Lazarus

By Merle Black, History Department Chair

“Should We Stay Or Should We Go?”

While my understanding of our dilemma in Afghanistan does not come close to matching the expertise of those advising the President, my responsibility as an American citizen is to be informed and to arrive at a judgment about whether we are engaged in a war that is just and necessary.  Does the situation in Afghanistan directly threaten our nation’s security?  If not, we should leave.

Afghanistan poses no imminent threat to the United States.  Our presence is a holdover from the Al Qaeda attacks of September 11, 2001.  Unfortunately, our stay in Afghanistan has morphed into a half-hearted and ineffective attempt at nation building.  In the months immediately after 9/11, Al Qaeda’s terrorist training and planning operations in Afghanistan were dismantled and destroyed through the armed might of the United States and its coalition forces.  No one knows the whereabouts of Osama Bin Laden—most likely he lives like an animal, hiding in caves across the border in Pakistan.  Today, Bin Laden is not orchestrating a global terrorist operation against the United States.  The primary destabilizing forces today in Afghanistan are not Bin Laden and Al Qaeda, but rather, the Taliban, Afghan warlords, the drug trade, a corrupt government, and, ironically, the United States and its coalition forces.

Geopolitical thinkers, including Samuel Huntington’s disciples, who are advocates of his “clash of civilizations” paradigm, and those who share the paranoid disposition of Dick Cheney, argue, much as the Pentagon’s Cold War warriors did when the enemy was the Soviet Union, that we are locked in a titanic global Manichean struggle against the forces of Islamic extremism.  The danger that derives from this kind of thinking is that the United States might be drawn, as it was during the Cold War, into costly and unnecessary proxy wars across the far corners of the globe.  The causes of global destabilization are many and varied and not subject to reduction or a distillation into the bogeyman of Islamic jihadism.  The Bush administration saw links between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein that simply did not exist.  The forces aligned against the United States have not joined forces in a grand covenant—our enemy is not monolithic.  Today, there are credible terrorist threats against America’s global empire, but foreign policy experts would be hard pressed to identify its command center, rather its network is diffuse and shadowy—this dragon possesses no head.

Afghanistan could well become Obama’s Vietnam.  The Bush and Obama administrations have been unable to define what is meant by victory in Afghanistan.  Even if “victory” in Afghanistan were possible, that would not stop future attacks by Al Qaeda and other extremist Islamic groups elsewhere.  International terrorism will not be defeated in Afghanistan because it is not this war’s battlefield.  Karzai’s Afghanistan is a failed state.   The President in his speech two weeks ago announced that thirty-seven thousand additional troops would be sent to Afghanistan and that their withdrawal would begin within twelve to eighteen months after their arrival.  History tells us that Great Britain at the beginning of the 20th century and the Soviet Union toward the century’s end were unable, despite their empires’ expenditure of ill afforded blood and treasure, to stabilize Afghanistan.   By modern American standards, Afghanistan is primitive, tribal, misogynist, and undemocratic.  Our beefed up presence in Afghanistan will not reverse a thousand years of history.  Our ambition is exceeded only by our naiveté.

My suspicion is that our force increase in Afghanistan has more to do with our concerns about the accelerating destabilization of Afghanistan’s neighbor, Pakistan.  Our presence in Afghanistan does provide a convenient launching site for what could become a military venture into Pakistan if its civilian government were to fall into the hands of militant Islamic extremists.  The danger of a faceoff between a nuclear armed Pakistan and a nuclear armed India is a doomsday scenario.  If we believe it is our nation’s responsibility to play the role of a south Asian, regional police cop, then we should define our mission as such.

Finally, I want to shift my argument from the particular situation in Afghanistan to general principles.  That our country has rung up an unprecedented debt through fighting two wars over the last eight plus years while cutting taxes is, in my judgment, morally reprehensible.  When our nation is at war, our President and Congress should demand a shared sacrifice across the full spectrum of the American citizenry.  The Bush administration spent billions on two wars and drove our country into a debt that threatens the health of our economy into the next generation and beyond.  And now, because of our economy’s deep and lingering recession, Obama dare not raise taxes.  When our country is at war, its citizens should fund the war.  Second, I believe that when our nation is at war the government should institute a military draft.  This war, like all our nation’s wars, constitutes a grave obligation that needs to be shared by all Americans, no matter their race, religion, or economic/class status.  My belief is that, if the American people were asked to pay for wars up front in taxes and by participating in a military service lottery, we would be far more cautious and deliberative about embarking down the path leading to war.  Our citizens would make the effort to become better informed about the issues at stake; the President and the Congress would hear from the people; political apathy would yield to political activism; and wars would be fought only when the enemy constitutes a clear and present danger to the United States.

The resources the United States is expending on the war in Afghanistan are needed at home.  The situation in Afghanistan poses no imminent threat to the United States.  Should we stay in Afghanistan?  No—after eight long years, we should come home.