Afghan reality checks

From reading Robert Greenwald’s antiwar website Rethink Afghanistan, or the work of pacifist Derrick Crowe, one of RA’s house bloggers, you would think that Obama’s plan is to reenact the My Lai massacre on a regular basis and maybe drink the blood of the victims in ritualistic triumph. Crowe writes:

I held my nose and voted for President Obama last year, fully understanding he planned to send roughly 12,000 troops to Afghanistan, fully aware that he would have to be resisted, protested, cajoled and boxed in if we were to have hope of true change….
At least Crowe, unlike Michael Moore, is honest enough to acknowledge Obama’s clearly stated campaign position rather than moan about a supposed betrayal. He goes on:
After reading this [Nobel] speech, I can honestly say I regret my vote for him. No, I don’t regret it: I repent of it. [Emphasis in original.]
Oh, really now. While Crowe is rending his garments and hurling every charge in the book at the new American president, he might want to say something about the routine carnage being caused by Islamist militants in Pakistan, or read about UN statistics establishing that the majority of Afghan civilian deaths in recent months are the result of insurgent action, not U.S. or NATO action. These things by themselves do not justify a U.S. escalation, but they form the context in which Obama reached his decision. And Crowe, as someone who condemns violence in all forms and bears witness to injustice, ought to say more about it.
It’s worth reading this Christian Science Monitor piece about Greg Mortenson, author of Three Cups of Tea and Stones Into Schools, a man who’s been doing humanitarian work on the ground in Afghanistan for nearly two decades. While Mortenson had some sharp criticisms of how the White House reached its troop-surge decision, he is not anti-military per se. In fact, by his own account he’s acted as an unofficial Pentagon advisor, helping put civilian welfare and civilian infrastructure at the top of the agenda:
Mortenson says his respect for US commanders has grown immeasurably. [...] “Our military is now actually ahead of the curve, not behind it,” he says.
And then this:
Jamal Meer, a shura elder in Paktia Province in the east, says if more US soldiers are assigned, they should be concentrated on the border with Pakistan. But if “the other kind of soldiers are sent,” he says, referring to National Guard troops with expertise in civil engineering and farming, their presence as teachers would be welcomed.

Part of McChrystal’s request specifically asks for soldiers with skills beyond warfighting.

Skills beyond warfighting. This is what will make or break Obama’s Afghan strategy. And it’s one of the many complexities that Derrick Crowe’s rigid, morally one-sided analysis doesn’t account for.

2 Responses to “Afghan reality checks”

  1. dcrowe says:

    Hi David:

    Thanks for the link. I have a few thoughts in response to your critique:

    Obama's plan is to reenact the My Lai massacre on a regular basis and maybe drink the blood of the victims in ritualistic triumph

    Viking Obama, eh? That's a graphic I'll have to slap together. :) This is not at all what I think, however. Readers of yours that click through will see that the strong objections which you quote are pointed at the president's Nobel acceptance speech, where he assures the hearer explicitly that he doesn't think King or Gandhi (or, one surmises, Christ) are naive, but then goes on to implicitly tar their ideas as naive, or to denature them into some easily manipulated "love" to which we can point without changing our corporate behavior.

    While Crowe is rending his garments and hurling every charge in the book at the new American president

    I'll accept the "rending garments" caricature, but hurtling ever charge in the book? Nah.

    [H]e might want to say something about the routine carnage being caused by Islamist militants in Pakistan, or read about UN statistics establishing that the majority of Afghan civilian deaths in recent months are the result of insurgent action, not U.S. or NATO action.

    Hmmm. I regularly make this note when I mention these stats. But again, this isn't what the speech is about, and so it's not what I'm discussing in my response to the speech. However, I have zero influence over Taliban leadership, and my chief concern is to hold people accountable who act in my name. I assume my readers are well aware of the ethical problems in Taliban and AQ behavior.

    Skills beyond warfighting. This is what will make or break Obama's Afghan strategy. And it's one of the many complexities that Derrick Crowe's rigid, morally one-sided analysis doesn't account for.

    I talk about this "complexity" regularly. The post from which you quote doesn't, however, because it's responding to a speech that's not about counterinsurgency strategy or doctrine. See here, for example.

  2. David R. Adler says:

    Thank you for your response, Derrick. There are any number of awful governments or movements that you and I have no influence over that still must be opposed and condemned in the strongest terms. You say that your chief concern is to hold the U.S. accountable, but this can lead to morally lopsided analysis, as I argued. I'm glad you have elsewhere noted the UN figures showing greater Taliban responsibility for civilian deaths, but that knowledge doesn't seem to factor into your assessment of Obama as somehow offering a "paean to Mars," of glorifying war, which I still find very unfair. Indeed, your words against him are a good deal harsher than your words about the Taliban and AQ, which you cite for "ethical problems." Stealing a stapler from work is an ethical problem.

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