Amidst this continued national discussion on the course of the U.S.-led occupation of Afghanistan, we should all do well to remember, “Moderation in temper is always a virtue; but moderation in principle is always a vice.” So spoke the immortal Thomas Paine, who, having endured the coldest, bleakest days of our 1776 Revolution, assuredly knew something of endurance.
Now, General Stanley McChrystal’s recent request of 30,000 to 40,000 additional troops for the effort in Afghanistan has renewed argument from diverse quarters about the winnability – and, indeed, the morality – of our continued occupation of that country. Nolan Avery disputed both of the above in his guest opinion that ran in Tuesday’s Aggie.
The origin of our woes in Afghanistan lies in the fact that we once upon a previous time did leave that country prematurely, and at a dismal regional cost. Afghanistan had been left to its own devices following the expulsion of the Soviet government’s Red Army, which allowed the worst elements of society the room with which to fight a terrible civil war. Then in 1996, the barbaric Taliban regime took Kabul and set up an oppressive and terrifying Islamic theocracy. It is with a sobering sense of reflection upon this past neglect that this debate should continue.
It was presidential candidate Obama who referred to the war in Afghanistan as one of necessity, and he has since reaffirmed his aim to conduct that war more forcefully. A sudden commitment, for example, to some timetable for withdrawal would entail a reversal of policy that would likely mean domestic disturbance for Pakistan. Al-Qaeda forces would ultimately be unburdened in their advances into Pakistani territory, and the success of Pakistan has rightly been called our ultimate exit strategy from South Asia.
The turmoil that would result from a reversal of American commitment to stabilization in the region would likely lead to an even greater and farther-reaching American intervention in the future, which would be coupled with an understandable suspicion of American sincerity. Our actions at this point may come to be viewed as another resignation of the region’s instability, or as a shift toward a more effective strategy for reducing that instability.
An outright rejection of the McChrystal recommendation (which is also endorsed by General David Petraeus) would unambiguously signal a weakness in American resolve and would tie the hands of recently appointed chains of command in Afghanistan. To argue for a collective drowning-out, as Avery does, of those voices that call for a sustained engagement is to invite an inappropriate victory of domestic politics over strategic judgment.
To be sure, any future military strategy for Afghanistan must be expansive enough to address that country’s unique political and social contexts. No external force has successfully pacified the whole of the country since Genghis Kahn and his Mongol Empire invaded the region in the year 1219. Many regions of the country have always been under the de facto governance of local feudal or semi-feudal leaders. This implies the social reform that will be necessary for a legitimate centralized government to take root will occur slowly. A concentrated effort at empowering local militia would diversify American political strength in regions notoriously vulnerable to insurgent influence.
On a deeper level, Avery imputes a moral unsoundness to the current U.S. efforts in Afghanistan. Whatever one’s persuasion about the ethics of our 2001 invasion of Afghanistan was, there presently exists an obligation on our part to recognize and confront the complexities that our initial invasion created. Observing our obligations is the prudent thing to do, and the prudent policy is not always peaceful.