03 December 2009

Combat fatigue


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The title of Martin Kelley's blog post, "That tired old quagmire playbook," says it for me, too. There's a reason that people here can't conceal their puzzlement over U.S. plans for Afghanistan. As the Afghan war museum located fifteen minutes' walk from us testifies, it's a lethal place to exercise imperial designs. I cannot imagine how the USA will come out feeling that our personnel, our money, and our credibility will have been well-spent.

Fatigue in itself is no proof that a course of action isn't the best. But the sales job for that action must take into account, not just our eight years of fighting in Afghanistan, but the sad experiences of Afghanistan's previous invaders as well. Here are some other factors that I've not seen adequately addressed:
  • Once again, violence is being applied to a violent situation with the claimed objective of reducing violence--although I suspect we Americans are to understand that this hoped-for reduction is in violence specifically against us!

  • The 30,000 soldiers being allocated by the USA isn't likely to be the sum total of USA involvement--even armed involvement. How many Blackwater-like armed contractors with contractual impunity will also be part of our benevolent presence? How many dollars will be poured into camps and bases? How many ethical corners will be cut again this time to get those camps up and running quickly?

  • Who are our local partners? General Eikenberry says, "I want to emphasize that we have a very comprehensive approach and a long-term friendship and partnership with Afghanistan." With whom in Afghanistan?--and in view of the country's fragmented social structure and weak government, this is a crucial question. Is it true, as Greg Mortenson asserts in this Kristof column, that grassroots consultation was practically nil?
    "To me, what was most concerning is that there was never any consultation with the Afghan shura, the tribal elders," said Greg Mortenson, whose extraordinary work building schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan was chronicled in Three Cups of Tea and his new book, From Stones to Schools. "It was all decided on the basis of congressmen and generals speaking up, with nobody consulting Afghan elders. One of the elders' messages is we don't need firepower, we need brainpower. They want schools, health facilities, but not necessarily more physical troops."
    We are supposedly mounting a counter-insurgency operation, but who are the insurgents, with whom are we identifying in countering them, and why is the rest of the world (including next-door Pakistan!) so reluctant to commit proportional resources?

  • Likewise, in view of the claim that these troops will increase our security, where was the consultation with grassroots Americans? From most Americans, President Obama called for one sacrifice and one sacrifice only--patience. But other important sacrifices are implied in a war that will lead to more deaths and more "collateral damage" and more deficits. Kristof claims, "America’s military spending in Afghanistan alone next year will now exceed the entire official military budget of every other country in the world." How often will our own politicians use those very expenditures, those very deficits to trump spending needed for actual security for poor and vulnerable people? European politicians argue that the recession limits what they can do in Afghanistan. In contrast, our leaders seem to think that, when times are tight, the Pentagon and its current domino theory get top priority.

  • As a Christian and as an American who loves our nation's traditional distrust of militarism, I see a terrible pattern. Without a change in political and spiritual direction, we can see an unending chain of occasions for counter-insurgent interventions. As long as someone is mad at us, mad at our 800+ overseas facilities and bases, mad at our allies, able to get their hands on some guns or explosives, and able to recruit other angry people, the permanent war can continue, and the Pentagon intellectuals can keep telling us that only they are competent to diagnose the local situation and prescribe the correct (lethal) medicine.

    (Not that the prescriptions ever look very competent, consisting as they do of jerry-rigged arrangements of overextended military forces supplemented by contractors, constant badgering of client politicians in every regional country, huge foreign-aid allotments with insulting strings attached, begging for allied forces, and ever-increasing levels of indebtedness to investors in other countries with whom we also have complicated relationships, such as China.)
I have no doubt that these military leaders are genuine patriots. Furthermore, career military people are not at all starry-eyed about war. But there is no apparent capacity to envision and promote a world where the flow of people, trade, information, ideas, and honest debate--along with a robust police and audit function--is so constant that lethal force becomes an anachronism. So we must envision it for them. And we must work toward the spiritual dimension of that vision--a capacity to see our world from a Godly perspective, and at long last putting real creativity and real resources into the Biblical commandment to love our enemies.

Lions shall keep company with lambs, and evangelists with peace activists.

Righteous links:

"Missionaries who ignore or express skepticism about witches but without any clearly adequate view of what is going on simply foster patterns of split-level Christianity...." Robert J. Priest, "Witches and the problem of evil."

Lausanne World Pulse: "Reaching an Online Generation."

A Russian Baptist commentary on the Russian Orthodox Church and the "the most intensive dialogue ever with Protestants."

Slate reviews a biography of Rick Warren.

Yet another "Top 100" rating: Foreign Policy's first annual list of the top 100 global thinkers. The comments are entertaining if not instructive. And there's a minor-key sidebar, too.

Anticipating Copenhagen: "What planet are you from?"

Rick Estrin in Argentina--with a great guitar solo by Daniel Raffo.

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