flickr image by daviza
The last time I was on Laura Flanders's GRIT tv I argued that the American public opposed the occupation of Afghanistan, but another guest -- some Washington, D.C., "progressive" -- argued that this had no relevance, since the American public didn't know anything about Afghanistan.
When the RAND Corporation held a forum on Afghanistan recently on Capitol Hill, Zbigniew Brzezinski claimed that it was uncontroversial that US troops had to stay in Afghanistan. I pointed him to polls of Americans, and he replied that Americans get fatigued and don't know any better.
When I spoke to a philosophy department at a university this month, a number of the professors objected to my advocacy of majority-rule on the grounds that experts often know best.
1.-While spokepeople for the U.S. military (including television news experts) are certainly the experts at war, they are not the experts at peace. If the question is one of choosing between war and peace, or deciding whether warlike or peacelike means will best reach some desired end, then why only include one type of expert opinion?
2.-While U.S. experts on war and peace could provide two different views, there are experts, including historians, from around the world whose knowledge should be utilized. And the experts on Afghanistan ought, by any understanding, to include the Afghan people. If the US public is irrelevant because it does not know Afghanistan (and somehow this is an argument for bombing the place rather than refraining from doing so), surely the Afghan public knows something about their nation. And they want the occupation ended. How can we so easily dismiss THAT expert opinion?
4.-Too out-dated for you? The current U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, General Karl W. Eikenberry, who was responsible for building and training the Afghan security forces from 2002 to 2003, and who was top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan from 2005 to 2007, has told President Obama he opposes sending more troops. He argues for sending civilians to assist with agriculture and other useful projects that would give Afghans an alternative to violence. This is a direction supported by US activist groups that have visited Afghanistan and studied the problem, such as http://jobsforafghans.org
5.-New York Times reporter David Rohde was held hostage for seven months by the Taliban in Afghanistan, and upon release reported on what motivates Afghans to engage in violence. The reasons he provided suggested that (as with most foreign occupations in any other time or place) the occupation was motivating the violent resistance to it rather than helping to ease unrelated tensions:
"Some of the consequences of Washington's antiterrorism policies had galvanized the Taliban. Commanders fixated on the deaths of Afghan, Iraqi and Palestinian civilians in military airstrikes, as well as the American detention of Muslim prisoners who had been held for years without being charge. . . . They said large numbers of civilians had been killed in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Palestinian territories in aerial bombings. Muslim prisoners had been physically abused and sexually humiliated in Iraq. Scores of men had been detained in Cuba and Afghanistan for up to seven years without charges. To Americans, these episodes were aberrations. To my captors, they were proof that the United States was a hypocritical and duplicitous power that flouted international law. When I told them I was an innocent civilian who should be released, they responded that the United States had held and tortured Muslims in secret detention centers for years. Commanders said they themselves had been imprisoned, their families ignorant of their fate. Why, they asked, should they treat me differently?"
6. The senior U.S. civilian diplomat in Zabul province, a former Marine Corps captain with combat experience in Iraq named Matthew Hoh, not only agrees with the U.S. Ambassador that escalating the war in Afghanistan makes no sense. He resigned in September in protest of the continued occupation. He wrote in his resignation letter:
"The U.S. and NATO presence and operations in Pashtun valleys and villages, as well as Afghan army and police units that are led and composed of non-Pashtun soldiers and police, provide an occupation force against which the insurgency is justified. In both RC East and South, I have observed that the bulk of the insurgency fights not for the white banner of the Taliban, but rather against the presence of foreign soldiers and taxes imposed by an unrepresentative government in Kabul. The United States military presence in Afghanistan greatly contributes to the legitimacy and strategic message of the Pashtun insurgency. In a like manner our backing of the Afghan government in its current form continues to distance the government from the people. . . . Our support for this kind of government, coupled with a misunderstanding of the insurgency's true nature, reminds me horribly of our involvement with South Vietnam."
8. U.S. President Barack Obama's national security adviser, James Jones, says there is no guarantee that sending troops to Afghanistan would accomplish anything useful, and that they could just be "swallowed up". Is the National Security Advisor's advice worthless? What about Vice President Biden who never saw a war he didn't like? He doesn't like this one and wants to move it somewhere else (like Pakistan).
9. Mikhail Gorbachev has some experience with occupations of Afghanistan. He advises withdrawal.