Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Arguments about Afghanistan

If you’re anything like me, you’re probably sick to death of all this war business. I know this is something I should be very interested in and keep myself informed about, but I just hate the whole situation.

And though I hate when people put their heads in the sand, I find myself doing just that (don’t they say you hate in other people what you hate in yourself?).

In an effort not to be a complete imbecile, I have started making the effort to at least get a bearing on the Afghanistan situation. I just read a great article by Johann Hari that I think is a good place to jump in.
Obama has to decide now whether to side with the American people and the Afghan people calling for a rapid reduction in US force, or with a small military clique demanding a ramping-up of the conflict. The populations of both countries are in close agreement. The latest Washington Post poll shows that 51 per cent of Americans say the war is "not worth fighting" and that ending the foreign occupation will "reduce terrorism". Only 27 per cent disagree. At the other end of the gun-barrel, 77 per cent of Afghans in the latest BBC poll say the on-going US air strikes are "unacceptable", and the US troops should only remain if they are going to provide reconstruction assistance rather than bombs.

But there is another side: General Stanley McCrystal says that if he is given another 40,000 troops – on top of the current increase which has pushed military levels above anything in the Bush years – he will "finally win" by "breaking the back" of the Taliban and al-Qa'ida.

How should Obama – and us, the watching world – figure out who is right? We have to start from a hard-headed acknowledgement. Every option from here entails a risk – to Afghan civilians, and to Americans and Europeans. It is not possible to achieve absolute safety. We can only try to figure out what would bring the least risk, and pursue it.
His article goes on to question the three main arguments for escalating the war in Afghanistan – 1)We need to deprive al-Qa'ida of military bases in Afghanistan, or they will use them to plot attacks against us, and we will face 9/11 redux. 2) By staying, we are significantly improving Afghan human rights, especially for women. 3) If we withdraw, it will be a great victory for al-Qa'ida. Re-energised, they will surge out across the world.

His answers are pretty interesting and I definitely recommend checking out the whole article. There are some interesting facts I didn’t know that I think will come in handy (like US aerial attacks on the Afghan-Pakistan border have killed 14 al-Qa'ida leaders, at the expense of more than 700 civilian lives – that’s a hit rate of 2 per cent on 98 per cent collateral).

Ever since I've read the book The Haj I've wanted to learn more about the Middle East. Now I realize putting it off is just silly. (I’m definitely taking Middle Eastern Civilization next year.)

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