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Questioning "Just War" in Afghanistan

By       Message Nathan Eckstrand       (Page 1 of 1 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   2 comments

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It is widely known that politicians will lie to and manipulate the public to get them to support their wars. The sad corollary to this pervasive truth is that while much of the public admits this fact, they always refuse to believe that it could be true of their current politicians. Politicians in positions of political power, it is held, have a special, trusting, relationship with the American people; their campaign literature and political advertisements have made this abundantly clear, if there is any doubt.

This line of reasoning is being repeated throughout mass culture today in the reasons given for trusting Obama's sales pitch about Afghanistan he said he wouldn't lie about it, so we can trust him. Obama's speeches about Afghanistan in West Point and Oslo depict a just war undertaken out of necessity and because there are no other options. America is in Afghanistan for its own defense, and if we were not there many Americans would die down the road. The Taliban and Al Qaeda must be defeated for the good of the country and the world. Taken by themselves, these claims fit with the standard criteria for a just war; put within their proper context, it is absurd to claim they apply to the Afghan war.

The Taliban, as has been reported to Obama by the CIA, have no interest in attacking or invading the USA; the only reason they are killing American troops now is because the troops are in Afghanistan, a problem that withdrawal would easily solve. Al Qaeda the other official enemy the war is supposed to defeat is almost nonexistent in Afghanistan (they have moved into Pakistan), meaning that our attempt to fight them by invading and occupying Afghanistan is like invading modern day Germany to fight the Nazis. To claim that we are staying in Afghanistan for the women is also dubious, as the very government that the US supports passed last March a law legalizing marital rape.

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By every measure except the one in Obama's head, the Afghan war fails to meet the just war framework. There are actually numerous facts almost unmentioned by the media that ensure that any honest appraisal of the Afghan war would deem our actions unjustifiable. To call the Afghan war just would mean sanctioning:

- The approximately 3000 civilians killed by US predator drone attacks since 2006.

- Private contractors in Afghanistan paying the Taliban US taxpayer money to not attack their convoys, which in turn funds attacks against US troops.

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- Support of a corrupt government that represses women's rights and funds the drug trade.

Obama's claim that "progress" has been made applies only to the limited interests of the military and corporate entities in Afghanistan which are of course the only interests that are supposed to matter.

A common objection to such reasoning is to say that supporting the war does not mean the facts above are justified, but rather that these facts are mistakes in the execution of the war. Perhaps the military did not set out to kill civilians as their primary goal, and perhaps the contractors would stop funding attacks against US troops if they could, but it is accepted even by the highest military officers that such things happen whenever a war is fought. Given the reasonable certainty that civilians would die in this war, a decision to invade or escalate the war and to mask the negative parts of it under a just war rationalization is a decision to justify the crimes mentioned above.

Perhaps we need to question the efficacy of retaining a "just war' loophole that politicians can use to pitch their wars to the American people. If every modern war will lead to civilian casualties and runs a high risk of human rights violations, can we keep the notion of "just war' around without inevitably justifying many horrifying and brutal actions? Given the propensity of politicians to abuse the notion of "just war' for their own purposes, maybe ridding ourselves of the idea will make it harder for them to sell us wars having nothing to do with protecting ourselves.

A military solution will not solve a political problem, which is what Afghanistan is at the core. Aggressive diplomacy needs to be used between the various factions in Afghanistan and the various countries surrounding it especially Pakistan. The US should use its influence not to impose a hegemonic order but to empower those factions whose voices are rarely heard in national debates (such as the Afghan women).

Given the amount of time Obama spent making the decision to escalate the number of troops in Afghanistan, he must have considered the option of complete withdrawal and rejected it. The fact that a majority of people in the country are supportive of this choice means that those of us opposed to the war must now work not only against the war itself, but against the mindset that led us into it in the first place.


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I am a graduate student in philosophy at Duquesne University. I study social and political philosophy, usually from the perspective of contemporary French philosophers. I have been active in protests and organizing in Virginia, Massachusetts, and (more...)

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Questioning "Just War" in Afghanistan