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Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Christopher Roach, "The Afghanistan fallacy," Taki's Magazine, June 1, 2008.

[This article begins with an idea that appears to be common enough in Canada, but is even moreso in the US: Iraq is the wrong war; the right war is in Afghanistan. Taki's Magazine is a philosophical publication of the American libertarian right. There is, as far as I can tell, no equivalent movement in Canada. Red Tories are not libertarians. Paradoxically, Canadians tend to be more universally interventionist than Americans. However, the American libertarian right is important to us, because they oppose both wars: Iraq and Afghanistan. -jlt]

George Bush’s response to 9/11, while bold and superficially effective, comes from the same thinking as the Johnson-era War on Poverty. It aims ambitiously to attack the root causes of terrorism. The seeds of American failure are found in the strategy itself. International terrorism has features in common with other permanent afflictions, such as poverty and crime, insofar as in all of these cases the symptoms can be more effectively treated than the root causes. In the case of terrorism, the way to do this is to develop an overall strategy of defense.

America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan both involve fractious societies, weak governments installed by force from without, rampant criminality, persistent insurgencies, and the spectre of unknown costs from a U.S. withdrawal. The chief reason we are told to stay on both battlefields--in particular Afghanistan--is that they may become natural havens for terrorists without U.S.-imposed order. Yet the dominant rhetoric of critics is that Iraq is the “bad war,” a distraction at best... a major injustice to the Iraqis at worst. These critics--including Barack Obama--describe Afghanistan in essence as the good war. Our counterinsurgency efforts there are widely held to be necessary to prevent the reemergence of terror camps and to avenge the 9/11 attacks. For Democrats in particular, strenuous expressions of support for the Afghanistan War also serve to deflect their post-Vietnam reputation as naive pacifists incapable of marshaling force to defend national interests.

Both wars, however, rest upon the same, mistaken strategic assumption: the idea that we must create and support new democratic states in the chaotic regions where Islamic terrorists train and live and battle insurgents until native forces can take over the fight. Any serious proposal to increase the focus on Afghanistan must explain why our strategy there will succeed where the nearly identical Iraq strategy has so far succeeded only in moving the United States position sideways. By this I mean that Americans have alternately fought Saddam, his loyalists, the Sunnis, and now dissident Iraqi Shia factions opposing the Iranian-friendly Shia regime that the U.S. also happens to support. Violence ebbs and flows, but no real light at the end of the tunnel appears in either case, because the structural factors for disorder remain the same. The existence or not of democracy is a relatively minor factor in fueling the persistent violence in these societies. Indeed, the relatively greater primitivism and poverty of Afghanistan suggest any nation-building cum counter-insurgency efforts there face greater intrinsic challenges.


[Roach sees the war in Afghanistan as "morally justified" but not "strategically justified." He believes that "terrorists," like the 911 raiders, were "trained" in Afghanistan. The following alternative strategy should probably be debated line by line. -jlt]

A defensive counter-terrorism strategy would focus on matching America’s comparative advantages to al Qaeda’s weaknesses. The happy example of Switzerland--not blessed, like we are, by two enormous oceans on either side--shows that defensive neutrality, or something like it, is possible in the modern era and brings with it a great number of economic and other advantages. In the counter-terrorism context, such a strategy would focus on securing U.S. borders, restricting immigration from unfriendly regions, enhancing the resources of domestic law enforcement, and undertaking the occasional punitive raid; however, such a strategy would not counsel the U.S. to get bogged down in nation-building, whether for strategic or humanitarian reasons.

[His idea that "Tactical excellence... cannot overcome the lack of strategic realism among our top leaders" may be a caveat more applicable to climate change than to the war in Afghanistan, which is really being fought in Pakistan by Pakistanis over "training" the advanced levels of which were accomplished in Germany and the US. There are fundamental differences between American libertarian conservatives and Canadians whose opposition to the Afghanistan originates in the traditional internationalist left. The difference is not, as Roach would have it, that we disagree about whether or not our country should survive, or the US should survive. It is about what are the essential features of our respective countries. -jlt]

Read the whole article in Taki's Magazine =>
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