There’s a flipping great article in this week’s New York Times. It’s about whether the War in Afghanistan can be justified.
But instead of taking a should/must approach, it argues the war is bad because it can’t and won’t be won.
This takes me back to a time before I gave up opinions. Circa 2001. In the wake of 9/11, the US kicked off the war in Afghanistan. I quietly expressed the idea that it was a war they couldn’t win. I thought the idea of going around changing regimes, uprooting nests of terrorists, although arguably desirable, was just a slippery uphill slope.
Shortly after, with the Taliban deposed and the Afghans riotously shaving their beards and listening to techno, I decided I must have been wrong. Maybe my Vietnam example didn’t apply.
So when the US announced it was invading Iraq I decided that was a top-notch idea. I loudly supported backing up those weapons inspectors with the application of international law by the US. Yeah! (By now, you’re starting to think it’s a good idea I gave up having opinions.)
I have always viewed with suspicion the analogy about the man with the hammer. Apparently, to him, every problem looks like a nail, and he goes round bashing things with his hammer. Dumb, right? He has a headache? Bang bang! Ow. His windows are dirty? Bang bang! Smash. The analogy seems silly.
But it honestly looks to me like this is how the USA (and, much of the rest of the west) has acted:
There is a problem with certain people getting angry at the West and wanting to hurt it. We need to change these people’s actions. We need power over these people. Hmmm. Wait, we are powerful! We have an enormous army! Let’s use it !!
Seems obvious now that the concept of war on abstract concepts has had its day. You don’t fight terror using killing machines. You don’t eradicate terrorists by killing people. You need to win hearts and minds, not shoot them. For every angry man you kill, a dozen sons, daughters, neighbours, nieces and nephews are made angry.
So the slow passing of time has backed my initial impression. I’ve abandoned my brief flush of support for getting into Iraq.
There’s a problem out there, but we can’t solve it through applying military power. We may not be able to solve it at all. It might not be possible to create a perfectly safe world. Taking the US out of Iraq doesn’t seem to have caused collapse there. It’s probably time to get them out of Afghanistan too.