Afghanistan: Hearts and Minds and Blood and Anger

War is not politics, it is violence – murder – on an enormous scale. It does not lead to democracy, security, or good governance, it leads to anger, humiliation, and above all else, more violence.

I am the Afghanistan Blogging Fellow for The Seminal and Brave New Foundation. You can read my work on The Seminal or at Rethink Afghanistan. The views expressed below are my own.

Our troops in Afghanistan have some questions about the strategy in Afghanistan. Spencer Ackerman reports:

Some considered the war a distraction from broader national security challenges like Iran or China. Others thought that its costs — nearly ten years, $321 billion, 1243 U.S. deaths and counting — are too high, playing into Osama bin Laden’s “Bleed To Bankruptcy” strategy. Still others thought that it doesn’t make sense for President Obama simultaneously triple U.S. troop levels and announce that they’re going to start coming down, however slowly, in July 2011. At least one person was convinced, despite the evidence, that firing Gen. Stanley McChrystal meant the strategy was due for an overhaul, something I chalked up to the will to believe.

But if there was a common denominator to their critiques, it’s this: None understood how their day-to-day jobs actually contributed to a successful outcome. One person actually asked me if I could explain how it’s all supposed to knit together.

I’m wondering the same thing. It’s never been clear to me exactly how a massive foreign military occupation translates to a stable, secure and democratic society in Afghanistan. How does one lead to the other, how do we get from A to B?

Take a look at this incident from Bagram air base:

U.S. troops fired warning shots to disperse a protest in eastern Afghanistan over the arrest of a religious leader suspected of a rocket attack, NATO said Tuesday.

The alliance said no civilian injuries were reported from the protest Monday, but Gen. Faqir Ahmad, the deputy police chief of Parwan province, said one civilian was killed by shots fired from an unknown source.

NATO said about 300 people surrounded a patrol and attacked vehicles with rocks and iron bars outside the massive coalition air base at Bagram, in Parwan province.

Or this at a NATO base in Badghis province:

Two Spanish police and an interpreter were killed when an Afghan policeman they were training turned on them before he was shot dead, officials said, as protests against the killing turned violent on Wednesday.

The incident appeared to be the latest in a string of recent attacks by “rogue” police and soldiers, underlining the pressure as NATO-led troops try to train Afghan forces rapidly to allow the handover of security responsibility to begin from mid-2011.

And here’s video of the “protests” in Badghis, although “riot” might be more appropriate:

These angry and violent demonstrations raise the same questions our troops were asking – how does our war connect to our objective?

How many more troops, for how many years, will it take to make the men in that video loyal to the Karzai mafia? How many more bombs and rockets do we have to drop on women and children to convince them that democracy is the way to go? Which one of the KFC’s or Burger Kings in our gargantuan airbases is going to convince these Afghans not to sympathize with the Taliban?

The special forces operatives kicking in some random Afghan’s door at 3 in the morning – how are they solving the endemic corruption? The bombers, gunships, and drones pounding Afghan villages – how do these contribute to a sense of hope and security for Afghan citizens?

I could go on forever with these questions. Our strategy just has nothing at all to do with what we hope to accomplish in Afghanistan. I hate to boil this down to a cliche, but war is not the answer.

Seamus O’Sullivan writes:

A cross section of Afghans interviewed from six provinces perceive a gap between the virtues of democratization as idealized by western experts and Afghan government bureaucrats and its “manifestations,” which are widely seen as having been “externally imposed” during nine years of military occupation, said researcher Anna Larson earlier this week. Despite its promises, the purported democratization of the nation has not produced peace, prosperity, or equal treatment under the rule of law, according to the study. Western notions of individual freedom are often seen as without limitations, which creates conflicts in a culture that places a high value on loyalty to extended family and community, Larson said.

We are not going to bomb Afghanistan into a democracy. We’re not going to make it a peaceful country with a violent military occupation. That’s just not how it works.

Put yourself in the shoes of an Afghan. If a member of your family was killed by a NATO bomb, or a special forces night raid, or even an errant bullet from a distant battlefield – how do you think you would react? Would you submit to the crooked mafia dons in Karzai’s presidential palace? Would you relent and volunteer for the Afghan police or army? Would you shun the local Taliban resistance who’ve vowed revenge against the NATO occupiers? Would you register to vote?

Or more likely, would you be one of those furious and humiliated Afghans mobbing the gates of the nearest NATO base, hurling stones and bricks and setting fires?

War is not politics, it is violence – murder – on an enormous scale. It does not lead to democracy, security, or good governance, it leads to anger, humiliation, and above all else, more violence.

Let’s go back to Ackerman’s report:

What they wanted to hear was a sure path — any path — to winning it. Or even just a clear definition of success. If the goal is stabilizing Afghanistan, what does that have to do with defeating al-Qaeda? If this is a war against al-Qaeda and al-Qaeda is in the untouchable areas of tribal Pakistan, where the troops can’t go, why not just draw down to a few bases in the east in order to drop bombs and launch missiles? Even if we can’t just do that, what will Afghans consider “stable,” anyway? Is all of this vagueness just a cover so we can decide at a certain point that we can withdraw in a face-saving way, declaring victory as it suits us to cover up a no-win situation? If so, why not just do that now?

That’s a damn good idea, let’s do it now. Get our troopers out of there, they’re quite aware of the fact that the jobs they’re doing have nothing to do with our objectives in Afghanistan – whether that’s on the low end of stopping Al-Qa’eda or the high end of creating a stable and secure Afghan democracy. We have to stop lying to them, and stop lying to ourselves.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to stop Al-Qa’eda and there’s nothing wrong with wanting to develop Afghanistan. What’s wrong here is our policy of war and occupation. It’s time to end it, for our sake, for the troops’ sake, and for the sake of the Afghans themselves.

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