I tend to shy away from politics and policy. Sure I’ve discussed taxes, privacy, and healthcare a few times, but I don’t normally whine about government too much because (a) it’s unproductive, and (b) living a ‘multiple flag’ lifestyle means that governments have little impact on me.
Last night, though, President Obama spoke to America’s emerging military leaders at my alma mater about his ‘new’ Afghanistan policy, and I think it’s worth having a discussion with some honest, clear thinking.
Conventional wars are fought against a tangible enemy; his forces are vanquished, his resources are plundered, and his ground is seized. To the victor goes the spoils, and in the case of World War II, for example, that meant global economic dominance for the United States.
Today, though, the enemy is ‘terror’, an abstract noun. It’s like waging war on music– there is no tangible measure of victory and no defined enemy… and after 8-years, there have been no clearly-stated objectives– What is the mission? Who, specifically, are we fighting? Why are we fighting? How do we define success in the engagement?
These are basic military principles that comprise every operational plan. In this case, all we have heard since 2001 are generic platitudes about freedom and security, and a false premise about WMDs in Iraq.
Last night, Obama outlined some clear objectives for Afghanistan… although it remains unstated what ‘victory’ in Afghanistan has to do with security for individual Americans and the larger war on terror.
The first objective is to deny al Qaeda a safe haven in Afghanistan. That may be fine and dandy, but to expect that al Qaeda would not be able to find safe haven in Pakistan, Iran, Tajikistan, or Western China is simply nonsense.
The second objective is to reverse the Taliban’s momentum and deny it the ability to overthrow the government. The first part is a tactical operation, and that requires the appropriate military resources.
General McChrystal, the commander in Afghanistan, requested 45,000 troops to accomplish this mission. Obama is giving him 30,000, despite saying that “our security is at stake in Afghanistan.”
This is truly mystifying– a war should either be fully fought, or not fought at all.
Fully-resourced conflicts with clearly defined objectives (World War II, Persian Gulf I) are winnable. Political wars with unclear objectives (Korea, Vietnam, Mexico in 1846) are quagmires.
Further to this objective, denying the Taliban the ability to overthrow Afghanistan’s government is simply impossible in the long-run. The country has a long history of coups, and while the Taliban as a military force can be neutralized, its ideology, like democracy in the west, is culturally ingrained.
Democracy, by definition, cannot be force-fed. George W. Bush believed that God’s will is for humankind to live in a democracy. Well, there are a hell of a lot of Taliban who think that God’s will is for humankind to live in a misogynist theocracy… and you can’t settle this debate at gunpoint.
Overall, even if these objectives are accomplished and both Iraq and Afghanistan become beacons of democracy, expelling terrorist/fundamentalist aggressors from their borders, the question remains– has the US ‘won’?
No. This is impossible without clear objectives and a defined enemy.
“Terrorism,” like crime, is a general, unorganized threat. Rooting out all the criminals in town, for instance, would require a house-to-house inquisition, and a lot of innocents being thrown in jail. Even then, you still wouldn’t catch everyone.
Similarly, there are legions of people who wish to harm the US. It is just as impossible to eradicate this ideology as it is to expunge the criminal instinct.
At the end of the day, Americans will simply have to live with the grim reality that there will always be groups of people in the world with an intent to harm… and there always have been.
Americans were just as ‘threatened’ by terrorists 25-years ago as today, but they didn’t feel the need to engage in an endless war back then… and yet, somehow, most people managed to live through the day.
Today, though, because a bunch of knuckleheads from Saudi Arabia hijacked four airplanes (as the story goes…), the US government has spent $1 trillion to ‘protect’ Americans from men in caves.
Even if we assume away that Iraq and Afghanistan can become stable without US presence, these men in caves will not go away… thus the greater threat to US security still remains.
This effectively leaves two choices.
First, the US can continue to wage an endless global military operation, country to country, house to house, rooting out ‘terrorists’ wherever they may be deemed to exist.
The second: force Americans to live with the reality that there are bad men out there, be they criminals, terrorists, corrupt financiers, or politicians. Then, end a string of woefully poor decisions that have landed the country in an absolute mess.
That string of bad decision-making has pervaded for decades across administrations, and it applies to just about everything in government– monetary policy, education, healthcare, energy, or anything else.
The only choice is for the government to walk away from these empty ventures– bring the troops home, close down our 170+ foreign bases, shut down needless departments/agencies, repeal the income tax, end the Fed…
… which brings me back to why I rarely discuss these issues here: the list of government errors is enormous, and nothing will ever happen to fix them.
That’s why I focus on what individuals can do– look overseas, set up multiple flags, generate real wealth, consider second citizenship, take back privacy, etc.
(in this case, for example, if you’re sick of war, you can spend time in a place like Costa Rica which has no military.)
I’d like to hear your thoughts about the war and the things you’d like to hear more about; I’m always open to discussion.