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With Malice Toward None: How Abraham Lincoln Can Help America Prevail in Afghanistan

Cody Pomeranz

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By Cody Pomeranz ’11, Co-Editor-in-Chief

“With malice toward none, with charity towards all,” President Abraham Lincoln told a fractured nation reeling from brutal discord. After the bloodiest conflict in America’s history, the future of the defeated South remained uncertain. However, Lincoln would sagaciously make clear in his second inaugural address to the country that retribution was not his intent. In fact, the President lobbied for reintegration of southern ex-combatants. With the exception of southern military leaders, no punishment would be issued nor discrimination implemented. It was an astonishing proposal of unity to a country so recently embattled by a bitter civil war. But Lincoln’s words were the precise remedy for the nation, and almost a century and a half later, they may very well help stifle another conflict almost 7,000 miles away.

After over nine years in Afghanistan, progress appears frustratingly stagnant. U.S. President Barack Obama faces corrupt and uncooperative leaders abroad and a disillusioned populace at home. IED attacks and roadside bombs are rampant as violence levels continue to rise. Undoubtedly, success in Afghanistan will require Pakistani cooperation. Currently, Pakistan remains entangled in a double game between the U.S. and the Afghan Taliban, using American money and military information to aid the insurgency. And if there is any chance at emerging with some form of victory, Pakistan is the top priority. However, there is potential progress in the same reintegration policies advocated by Lincoln. In fact, a form of this same strategy is directly responsible for the significant decrease in violence in Iraq in 2007. As General David Petraeus and General Ray Odierno implemented their widely touted surge in Iraq, the frequency of attacks dropped to unforeseen levels. However, while the surge of American troops was indeed vital to salvage a horribly mismanaged war, it cannot alone be credited with Iraq’s progress. Serendipitously, the time of the surge coincided with the Sunni Awakening movement, which saw almost 100,000 Sunni combatants switch allegiances to the American cause to fight against “Al-Qaeda-in-Iraq.” While the Pentagon did pay the newly converted militants, their motivation to join forces with the U.S. Army was the result of a greater trust in American control of the Iraqi government than the Shiite-led bureaucracy. The movement that began in the Anbar Province in 2005 put pressure on AQII to win back public support. The tide had shifted. Iraq and the Awakening soldiers still face substantial violence and discord, but the progress made in Iraq thus far could not have been achieved without such reintegration

While the situation in Afghanistan certainly differs from that in Iraq, this principle strategy can still be applied. President Obama already ordered the deployment of 30,000 more troops last December in a surge attempt of his own. However, the surge will be futile without a similar awakening, or at least a productive counterinsurgency plan. This past spring’s surge in Marjah already resulted in some analogous success as several combatants laid down their arms. Of course, there are those recalcitrant warriors so beholden to a distorted view of Islam that their allegiance is irreversible. But it is naïve to think that all Afghan Taliban fighters are aligned with such religious extremism. In fact, much of the discontent among these village fighters is with the pervasive corruption

in the Afghan government. Nevertheless, this reintegration will only flourish with an effective counterinsurgency plan. If Afghanistan can stand as a stable, accountable government that protects and provides for its people, a place where these combatants will find employment and liberty without the fear of retaliation, then the Taliban cause becomes futile. Mullah Omar’s militia is in fact wildly unpopular in the region. These fighters must be provided with a legitimate alternative.

Granted, this strategy is far easier said than done. But progress has already been made in improving Afghan society. In 2001, one million children attended school in Afghanistan, all of them boys. Now, seven million children are enrolled, one third of them girls. The once shoddily run and seriously under-resourced Afghan Police Force has grown to over a hundred thousand strong. Eight of ten Afghans now have access to healthcare and President Hamid Karzai’s internationally funded National Council for Peace, Reconciliation, and Reintegration has set an auspicious tone. However, the Petraeus strategy of “winning the hearts and minds” is the right strategy only to the extent that America is willing to commit to it. This commitment begins with challenging a corrupt leader in Hamid Karzai to empower his provincial governors and begin to appeal to the needs of his constituency outside of his palace in Kabul. It begins with continued augmentation of the Afghan Police Force and a stringent crackdown on drug trafficking. Ultimately, at the heart of an effective counterinsurgency strategy is protecting the Afghan people. Counterterrorism alone results in a perpetual cycle of war; the kind of war of attrition that Osama bin Laden said he wanted to lure the United States into in 1990s. America is engaged in a conflict that will not be won by championing the largest death toll of insurgents, but galvanizing the support of the majority of Afghans who aren’t armed with AK-47s, and ultimately creating an environment where those who fight along Taliban lines have a stronger incentive to abandon the insurgency.

The problems America faces in the Afghanistan War are many, and counterinsurgency is certainly not the only solution required. As aforementioned, Pakistan remains frustratingly engaged in a double game with the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and the United States, with no incentive to change its behavior. Public support for the war has dwindled to a minority back home. There remains a fierce debate among the American people and within the American government about whether this war is necessary, whether the sacrifice is far greater than the reward of victory. But one thing is certain: victory

will not come easily or within the next couple of years. But if the United States is truly serious about and committed to this war, counterinsurgency is a key to success. In the words of our friend Mr. Lincoln, “Am I not destroying my enemies when I make friends of them?”

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With Malice Toward None: How Abraham Lincoln Can Help America Prevail in Afghanistan