This morning on NPR, Steve Inskeep was interviewing Cokie Roberts. They were discussing the President’s decision to send more troops – and many more civilian aid workers – to Afghanistan. Yesterday, on the morning news shows, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates made the rounds explaining the policy. At one point in this morning’s show, Inskeep asked Roberts to comment on the "irony" of the President having made the decision to send more troops one week before traveling to Oslo to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.
I fail to see the irony. The U.S. did not disturb the peace in Afghanistan. What existed in Afghanistan under the Taliban before – and what would come to pass should the resurgent Taliban take control again – can be described in many ways but peaceful is not one of them. Their brutal regime had all the humaneness of the Middle Ages, without the beautiful artistic inspirations. And, as the willing host of Al-Qaeda, the Taliban were complicit in the greatest attack on America’s domestic peace since the Civil War.
When NATO, at long last, went into Bosnia to end the murderous regime of Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, it was the not the NATO troops who occasioned the war. It was NATO troops that ended the war, a war perpetrated by the Serb nationalist forces on the Muslim population of Bosnia. Sometimes, to end a war you need to send troops. Sometimes troops bring peace.
Similarly, in the wake of World War II, the U.S. military kept a large presence in Western Europe to forestall any land grabs by the Soviet Union. On one side of the Iron Curtain, on our side, nations rebuilt themselves in peace. On the other side, a long, often vicious war upon the civil rights of the citizenry was perpetrated by the Soviet puppet regimes. If Mr. Inskeep had a choice where to live, Frankfurt or Warsaw, which would he have chosen?
There is no "irony" in the Nobel-winning President having made the decision to commit more forces to beat back the Taliban, to establish sufficiently secure conditions on the ground for the aid workers to begin the task of providing options other than jihad to the Afghani population. Inskeep and Roberts are shapers of opinion, important shapers of opinion, and they should mind their words more carefully. You can disagree with the President’s decision for many reasons, but he could not have been more clear in his speech at West Point last week that our involvement in Afghanistan is not the kind of typical Great Power invasion that was rightly seen as a threat to peace. Sometimes, where there is no peace, it takes an outside military force to impose it. That was true in Bosnia. It may be true in Afghanistan – we can only hope. The President should not shy away from the topic in his speech in Oslo on Thursday.
We all pray for a time when the ways of peacefulness will not need to be renewed every day or defended by force of arms. That time we Christians normally call the Second Coming. We aren’t there yet and in the meantime, in a world filled with mean actors, sometimes we must send in the troops.