Why We Can’t Win In Afghanistan by Randy Woodley

(Note: I am interrupting my own series on Strange Religion: American Dualism because of the urgency of this situation. Life interrupts perceived reality. A recent ABC News – Washington Post poll (http://www.voanews.com/english/news/Americans-Believe-Afghan-War-Not-Worth-Costs-New-Poll-Finds–142296305.html) shows that 60 percent of U.S. citizens believe the war in Afghanistan is not worth its costs. These cost are both monetary and counted in the loss of human life. Although the slaying of Afghan innocents are not wholesale actions, and some good is being done in Afghanistan, there are way too many of these “incidents” for us to ignore them. The most recent massacre of 16 innocent civilians, including 9 children asleep in their beds, reminds us once again (after the death squads, urinating on dead bodies, “video game” kills, body part collectors, drone strikes, etc.), that the many incidents of murders of civilians by members of our own troops are not isolated and they will continue. We must now face the worst of what we have become, and how we appear to the Afghan people. We are part helpers/part monsters. It is time for both sides to heal. Bin Laden is dead. Al Qaeda is disrupted. Unless the plan for the “war on terror” is to be perpetual, it is time to bring our troops home).

I consider myself a peacemaker and a patriot. I come from a long line of warriors and military servicemen. But, along with other Americans in my generation, the idea of blind patriotism died for me during the Vietnam War. Then, after my conversion to Jesus in 1975, I found he had much more to say about making peace than making war. I now understand peacemaking to be the first, the wisest and the most critical act of courage, patriotism and a non-negotiable of my Christian faith. With all that said, I can say without hesitation that I consider the continuation of a war in Afghanistan to be pure foolishness. It is a war that we cannot win.

What qualifies me to make such a statement? Certainly the history of our involvement in the Middle East is complicated since our Government has been covertly active in the politics of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Israel, etc. for many decades. We have sided with both “progressive” and “fundamentalist” despotic régimes in this ancient part of the world.

As a person of Native American heritage, I have made it a point to become a student of the 500 plus years of history between Native Americans and Euro-Americans. My ancestors suffered genocide, displacement, assimilation to colonialism and now the inhumanity of modernism at the hands of Euro-Americans and in particular, at the hands of the United States Government. One needs only to see the other (often untold) side of history, such as from a Native American viewpoint, to understand how imperialism works. The principals of conquest and exploitation still held by the United States, cannot gain anything but a demoralizing loss in Afghanistan. Here are just a few of the reasons:

No One Size Fits All

The United States likes to poise itself as “the good guys against the bad.” History shows that we look for broad sweeping approaches to complex problems. These simplistic story lines “sell” to the American people. This is how the American Myth is made and perpetuated. The same thing happened with my ancestors when Native Americans were considered to be the terrorists. Generally, the process went like this: The Government first dehumanizes the enemy through propaganda, pushed the envelope so it can spin retaliation and then finally finds a few chiefs, who will sign a document that betrayed the majority of others, pretending like the whole group is represented. This happened in spite of the fact that though they knew our own systems never allowed any one chief or individual to speak for everyone. It’s much the same in the remote areas of Afghanistan. Even if the chiefs speak for their tribes, they will be forced into a unilateralism that employs few local strategies. The truth is that negotiation there is extremely complex and no one size fits all. There are many Afghanistans.

Lack of Indigenization

Afghani ideas of governance are not the same as American ideas of democracy. In fact, democracy is a “by-word” to people in the region. The tribes and the central government of Afghanistan are not even settled on their relationship to each other (read Taliban), much less with the tenuous role that Pakistan must play. These indigenous ideas mean very little to the United States. Cultural concerns over how indigenous ideas develop and whether or not the cultures are worth preserving are not on the U.S. radar. If you don’t believe this just recall the lack of cultural appreciation exhibited by the United States in allowing the looting of Ancient Iraqi cultural treasures from their National Museum. The people of the region understand that if we care nothing for their culture—we care nothing for their people.

Inability to Train True Leaders for the Long Haul

Because of our intransigence we have a terrible record of finding and influencing honest indigenous leaders who will give themselves in the way that they choose, for the best of the ideas we espouse. Instead, part and parcel of siding with America most often means that leaders trained by the U.S. become betrayers to their own people and culture. This process just increases the likelihood of continued instability. In time, another group must rise-up to take back their country from foreign ideology and influence.

Renewed Patriotism

I do love America and I have traveled most of it. I love the land. I love the people. And, I love the Government when it acts in the best of true democratic ideas. Most often this has happened when the Government made room for the people to carry out those altruistic ideas that both soldiers and activists have died to protect and preserve.

Unfortunately, we have acted in the same ways in Afghanistan that we have throughout our history. Anyone can see that we cannot win in Afghanistan no matter how long we stay. Even if our Government is determined that we must continue to intervene in Afghanistan, no matter how hard we try, might, will never make right. Minimally, the end result of our intervention will be a continued unstable region, including the escalation of Pakistani involvement, massive suffering of innocent Afghan civilians and the heartbreaking loss of life to U.S. soldiers. And, the terrorist will live to fight another day.

So what should we do to gain influence in the region and fight the influence of the Taliban? Instead of increasing our military for conflict, let’s transcend them into an army of builders. Equip them in providing culturally sensitive opportunities for education, human rights, women’s rights; creating medical facilities, micro-economic development, agronomists for morphine instead of heroin, peace-makers, etc. This is the kind of army we should be equipping. Sure, it sounds starry-eyed and simplistic but this is the only kind of army that can win in Afghanistan. The old strategies will not work. Perhaps if we tried a more Christian approach, we might even find Jesus in Afghanistan. I know he is there…

(I had originally blogged this on April 12, 2009 under another site and title. The original title was changed by the site administrator).

  • Alan

    There’s more truth in this post than in a speech from the Secretary of Defense. Not only do we dehumanize the enemy, we’ve de-enemied the enemy. We’ve defanged war. This Afghan war is invisible and bloodless, uncovered by the media except in the most abstract of terms (“#winning”) as if it were a jaunt in the park or a picnic of unabated “progress”. We can’t even claim to be in Afghanistan for purposes of self-defense. Are we fighting for freedom in Afghanistan? Freedom for who? America? American interests? Whose interests are those? Freedom is an ideal. Who determines the definition of freedom, and what legitimacy does that definition have? Who are we fighting and defending, and what does that achieve for us? Does it make us free to be in Afghanistan, or does it makes us less free?


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