Freethought San Marcos: A column
by LAMAR W. HANKINS
The removal of Gen. McChrystal as commander of the failed Afghan War policy creates an opportunity for the President and his cabinet to reconsider our approach to Afghanistan. The President has told us that our purpose is not to conquer that country, but to help it become a functioning society according to our standards. However, this has repeatedly proven to be a faulty way to deal with the rest of the world. Rather than impose our vision on Afghanistan, we should try an approach that will allow the people of Afghanistan to determine their own fate. And I’m not talking about promoting farcical elections in a dysfunctional political system.
McClatchy news reported earlier this month that “a number of U.S. and allied military, intelligence and diplomatic officials have been warning for months that the American strategy in Afghanistan is failing.” U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry, a former three-star general, “said in a cable that was leaked as the administration was crafting its strategy that he opposed deploying additional troops, the cornerstone of the current strategy, because Afghan President Hamid Karzai wasn’t a reliable partner.”
Even Charles Krauthammer doesn’t believe the counter-insurgency strategy will work well in Afghanistan: “…two major factors distinguish the Afghan from the Iraqi surge. First is the alarming weakness and ineptness — to say nothing of the corruption — of the Afghan central government. One of the reasons the U.S. offensive in Marja has faltered is that there is no Afghan ‘government in a box’ to provide authority for territory that the U.S. military clears.”
A recent Washington Post poll reveals that a majority of Americans oppose the Afghan War. The cost–$6.7 billion a month–now exceeds that of the Iraq War. The recently-ousted US commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, admitted just before his ouster that “Nobody is winning.” Military officials are preparing the public for minimal success for the upcoming Kandahar offensive. The supposedly exemplary operation in Marja that began three months ago has failed to affect the Taliban’s influence or presence there.
The problem in Afghanistan has centered on the Taliban, the warlords, and now the corrupt government of President Karzai. What the Afghans need is the ability to defend themselves. Many Afghans own old Russian guns. Why not supply to all Afghanis who can use a gun a weapon appropriate to their circumstance so they can ward off members of the Taliban, the warlords, and corrupt government functionaries that threaten their lives and the lives of their families?
Such a proposal is in keeping with our own values embodied in the Second Amendment to the Constitution and with the values of most Afghans, who would welcome the ability to defend themselves with modern weapons. If we supply them with sufficient ammunition to last for a lengthy period, say a year, Afghans themselves can resolve their own problems without the need for US soldiers and Marines, the CIA, and contracted American mercenaries. It is their right to defend themselves and create the kind of society they want.
The people responsible for 9/11 have long since left Afghanistan. If new al Queda fighters reappear, Afghans will have the ability to run them off or kill them in defense of their own interests. If the government continues to be corrupt, Afghans can deal with that problem. If members of the Taliban again try to impose their will on the people, the people will have the ability to stop them.
Such a proposal requires appropriate weapons, ammunition, and training in the use of the weapons. The Afghans have a very long history of dealing with their own problems, but they have not always had the means to keep from becoming victims of others’ ideas about how they should live. This plan would give them the opportunity to fashion a new society according to their own principles and values, the same opportunity that we as Americans had in the late 1700s.
I don’t make this proposal lightly. I have been opposed to war since before I could vote. I was a conscientious objector during the Vietnam era and worked for a social service agency for two years of alternate service in lieu of participating in that war. But being a conscientious objector does not require that one be a pacifist and I am not one. I am opposed to war in which one state invades another country and engages in the indiscriminate and inevitable killing of civilians–the very essence of what I understand as the nature of war. I am opposed to killing the soldiers of another country, as well, when those soldiers have no intention of harming others, though I support multi-national humanitarian missions to prevent genocide and similar atrocities.
Since the government of Afghanistan is hopelessly corrupt, let’s empower the people to defend themselves against all foes, foreign and domestic, who mean them harm. This proposal will require a different strategy by our military–one probably not taught at West Point. But with a little thinking and a different orientation, I’m confident that our greatest military minds will be able to figure out how to accomplish such a plan in a way that will not put our own fighters in harm’s way. Perhaps the plan can be implemented by concentrating our troops in one region of Afghanistan at a time, supplying the weapons and the ammunition, training the people, and then leaving for another region until we have given all able-bodied Afghans the ability to defend themselves. I’m confident that our military can figure out how to implement such a proposal and carry it out effectively. Even though I don’t believe in American exceptionalism, I believe our military is exceptionally good at its job.
Our quarrel is not with the Afghan people. The least that we can do is enable them to defend themselves against their corrupt government, warlords, the Taliban, and any remnants of al Queda that venture back into Afghanistan. It is not our right to tell Afghans how to live, but we can make sure that they have an even chance to live because they can defend themselves against those who would do them harm. No Afghani would be compelled to accept an appropriate American-supplied weapon, but all should have that choice. It is the same choice that I have if someone decides to harm me or my family or my neighbor.
I term this a radical proposal in the best sense of that word. It gets to the root of the problem–not all Afghanis have had the ability to defend themselves properly, and there is no viable government that can or will defend them. As a result, they have been the objects of wide-ranging abuse. For Afghanis who choose not to participate in their own homeland defense, we should offer asylum or arrange for asylum through our allies or others, if that’s what they want. We owe them that for making such a mess of their country.
It is time for our Pentagon planners to find new ways to let others fight their own battles. There is no good reason to keep Americans in harm’s way any longer than is necessary to implement such a plan. By this time next year, there need be no American service personnel left in Afghanistan. Some of the billions of dollars used to make war could be used to fund those groups and villages in Afghanistan that want to build schools, water projects, roads, small farms and other agricultural operations, mining enterprises, and the like. In the not-too-distant future, the enormous drain on American resources could end, and we could focus on our own pressing needs at home.
I know that there are potential problems with this idea to arm the people of Afghanistan to enable them to defend themselves. It is possible that their guns will be confiscated and used for purposes not to our liking. Too many may be afraid to fight back and the effort will be for naught. But I can’t imagine a worse scenario than the one that has unfolded for over nine years in that bedraggled country. America must leave Afghanistan to let the Afghans sort out their future. Our empire will never include that country–and should never include it. It is time to admit that, help repair the damage we have done, and move on.
© Freethought San Marcos, Lamar W. Hankins