Wednesday, December 02, 2009I haven't spent much time thinking about Afghanistan, but apparently it's time I started. Everyone is probably aware that Obama has authorized an escalation in an effort to pacify the country. Whatever nice-sounding words you want to use, this is an attempt to 1) crush taliban resistance and 2) stabilize the Karzai regime. Ultimately, I have grave reservations that either element is possible.
I'm not remotely familiar with the specifics of Afghani politics or the current military operations, so I will not pretend to speak with any authority. But I will say this - Afghanistan is some of the most difficult campaigning country on earth. It took Alexander the Great two years to conquer the place, and he did so as much through political means (marrying into the local aristocracy) as through armed power. And now that Obama has defined our mission as central to U.S. security, how is the 2011 deadline believable? If we are, as I suspect we will be, in precisely the same situation in three years as we are today, will Obama be able to realistically pull out just before an election year? I understand that the fundamental concern isn't really Afghanistan, but Pakistan, but does escalating in the former truly improve stability in the latter?
What concerns me most is that the U.S. appears trapped in a cycle of gradually expanding military commitments in an open-ended drive for security. There's a line from somewhere, I can't quite remember where (David Kennedy, I believe), that absolute security for one nation can only come at the price of absolute insecurity for everyone else - in short, through empire. We are trying to fashion stable, friendly regimes in what we perceive to be economically, politically, or strategically important regions. How does this differ from creating an imperium? How do we persuade other nations that our motives are honest? How do we even convince ourselves of it?
I am no pacifist. I accept that the use of force is sometimes necessary. However, a democracy's military actions must be defensive, and any country's military and diplomatic posture must be sustainable, i.e. appropriate to its political will and financial resources. What we are doing right now is neither. These wars are only being waged because we are refusing to pay for them through taxes and drafts. The public doesn't really want to fight these conflicts, but is willing to go along if the price is invisible. Surely one day the price will have to be paid.
I fear that this is all going to end very badly.