"If we weren't fighting them there... we would be fighting them on our own shores."
Have you heard that one?
To be truthful, we haven't been hearing as much of that particular
sentiment since the focus of the war has shifted from Iraq
But the underlying belief remains the
same. Certainly it must; otherwise, what
are we doing there? We did invade before we knew of vast mineral wealth there, did we not?
The unspoken belief must be that we are fighting in Afghanistan because there are "insurgents" there who must be contained as they would, if left to their own devices, do us wrong. They are bad guys. That must make us the good guys in this rustic world.
Writing this response to this inchoate belief came to me
while reading the excellent article by Dean Hartwell
that gave responses to statements one tends to hear from a certain segment of
the political spectrum. The "If we
weren't fighting them there..." statement seems to me to be a fair
argument to address.
Let's begin with our military's current emphasis, in our
adventure, on counterinsurgency, or what the military, which loves acronyms, calls COIN. Much of what we are attempting to accomplish
in Afghanistan these days, recently under General Stanley McChrystal and now
under his erstwhile boss, General David Petraeus, boils down to this: While engendering as little collateral damage
(meaning killed and bloodied innocents, and maybe demolished structures, and other
such vexations) as possible, we good guys endeavor to extinguish the
violent activities of those we call insurgents.
I have no first-hand knowledge of the origins
of this body of insurgents, but neither have I seen evidence that a large
percentage, or much of any percentage, in fact, of these people have come to
Afghanistan from countries other than Afghanistan. In other words, most of these people are
violently resisting and attacking a military from another country that is without
their consent occupying their soil. And
we call them insurgents.
Perhaps we Americans are not so soft that, were a foreign military to occupy our shores without our consent (and it is difficult to imagine a condition of consent), we too would rise up and perform whatever violent activities we could devise to drive that invader from our shores. Were we to do that I doubt we would consider ourselves insurgents. More likely we would consider ourselves patriots. Wasn't there something back in our history books about our once being in a situation similar to that of the insurgents in Afghanistan, when those of us resisting occupation adopted guerrilla tactics to evade and expel the despised invaders?
But what about al Qaeda? Weren't they the bad guys once? Maybe they are fueling the insurgency.
Probably al Qaeda comprises a portion of the insurgents, and they do indeed mean us harm. That gives us a bit of more complication in our black hat/white hat movie. We have on one hand an organization sworn to do us grievous harm, and on the other citizens enraged at our invasion of their country. But we won't let that little bit of complexity complicate our plan. We are the strongest country in the world, the one and only superpower, and no backwards third-world mix of bedraggled guerrillas can prevail against our might.
But does the way we are pursuing our amalgam of enemies make much sense? Does al Qaeda in any way distinguish itself from the other unbranded guerrillas defending their country? Do the guerrillas themselves distinguish themselves from non-fighters? Of course not. And here we are, playing the part of the British in the Revolutionary War as we march--now propel our heavily armored hummers and tanks--through towns and villages and pastures, as subtle as an aircraft carrier among sailboats, seeking our guerrilla quarry and dismayed when they don't reveal themselves like targets in a practice field.
I recently read that there are about two hundred active members of al Qaeda on this planet. As we motor and tank our way through the countryside of Afghanistan seeking insurgents or al Qaeda or whomever, sometimes finding worthy targets and maybe avoiding the same fate while regrettably leaving a few mangled civilians as well in our demolished and fume-filled wake, should we really be surprised, first, that we will never know if or when we kill the last living member of al Qaeda, and, second, that we are ever breeding more and more so-called insurgents with every passing day and every shot and violated civilian?
Of course, we have methods other than shouldering our
armored way through provincial crowds to gather our information about who is insurgent,
or who al Qaeda. For a long time it was
interrogation of the captured, but now of course it is torture.
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