Addicted to War?

Recently we took our young children for some American history in Williamsburg, Va., and Yorktown, Va., site of the final battle of the American Revolution. The Yorktown park ranger recounted how George Washington was desperate to end the Revolution; he never imagined the war would last six years. My husband and I exchanged looks. We had just seen a friend off to his second deployment with the Army Reserves; last time it was Iraq, this time Afghanistan.

Today we are involved in endless wars, and no politician seems “desperate” to end them. Instead, discussions revolve around keeping troops in Iraq beyond the mandated withdrawal date. The children were chasing butterflies and picking buttercups, and we had no inkling if anything the tour guide said registered. But the following morning our 4-year-old son told me, “Mom, sometimes we kids fight.”


“I have seen this,” I told him.

“Sometimes kids fight over toys, when we want the same toy.”

“Yes,” I answered, wondering if this was the prelude to a confession of crimes committed against his sisters, until he continued. “But grown ups fight over the earth, and they call it war. And it makes George Washington sad.” I guess he had been listening to the park guide after all. “God doesn’t want us to be warring,” he said. “God wants us to be peace-ing.”

Indeed. Ten years into the U.S. war in Afghanistan, how well are we doing with our peace-ing?

Certainly the initial goals of the U.S. invasion have been met. The Taliban are no longer the government. Al Qaeda training camps have been destroyed and key terrorists killed or captured, including Osama bin Laden in neighboring Pakistan.

The Afghan government may be riddled with what we view as corruption and nepotism, although many Afghans would call it taking care of their tribe. But it is an elected government, and it does not aid terrorist groups. Just the opposite—Afghan police and security forces every day put their lives on the line in defense of their people.

And herein lies the problem. Violence rates remain high in Afghanistan. The United Nations reported 1,462 civilian deaths in the first half of 2011, up from last year. Most are killed by antigovernment forces using landmine-like improvised explosive devices, detonated when a person steps on a pressure plate. Although “only” 80 civilians were killed by International Security Assistance Force air strikes, and Afghans understand the Taliban and insurgents are responsible for nearly 80 percent of civilian deaths, the United States does not get credit for attempts to protect civilians. Instead it is blamed, in the belief that the presence of U.S. forces in the country exacerbates the violence.

This exposes some of the key problems with counterinsurgency operations in Afghanistan and elsewhere. First, it is very difficult for centralized violence (exemplified by U.S. military organization) to meet effectively and contain highly decentralized violence. Second, one cannot argue persuasively that every life is sacred, especially those of noncombatants, while killing noncombatants. And third, restraining airpower to curb civilian deaths, however laudable, is not building peace.

Catholic peacebuilders know that peacebuilding requires participation, right relationship and reconciliation, but these are in short supply in Afghanistan. Reconci-liation efforts to reach a political settlement have apparently so far focused only on the combatants; victims of the violence, many of them women, do not have a seat at the table. Exclusion from the peace table is what leads women to despair that too often political reconciliation means men with guns excusing and paying off other men with guns for the violence they have done against women. For reconciliation to be just and for any Afghan political agreement to stick, women must have seats at the table.

Endless war is unsustainable. The global war on terror, including the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, has cost the United States $4 trillion, nearly 30 percent of the U.S. debt, yet many of those in Washington lamenting the budget deficit are unwilling to rein in military spending seriously. The U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Ryan Crocker, is right when he says, “You can’t kill your way out of an insurgency.” It is time to get peace-ing.

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7 years 4 months ago
Wow! out of the mouth of babes, wisdom!   It's no wonder that Jesus reminded us to be as little children.
C Walter Mattingly
7 years 4 months ago
Professor Love makes many worthy points in her article. Yet there are errors and hyperbole existing here that if not set into context could result in snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
For a credible general rebuttal of Prof. Love's line of argument, there is a timely article from the man former president Bill Clinton characterized as "brilliant," Charles Krauthammer's "The 9/11 'Overreaction' Nonsense," 9/9/11. Briefly, he points out that during the golden years of the Eisenhower administration, with 5% annual growth, defense was 60% of the federal budget, whereas today it is 20%. Obviously defense expenditures are not the heart of the federal budget explosion (entitlement outlay explosions are). He also places the cost of the war at $1.3 trillion. less than this year's Obama deficit or a tenth of our deficit, not $4 trillion; I'm speculating that the higher number includes the interest payment on spending money we don't have as part of the calculation. Apply say 8% compound interest to our costs on the civil war over the last century and a half, and I would guess we would be flattened by the resulting numbers. Do that with the Great Society programs, and we'd all have heart palpitations. Krauthammer makes salient counterpoints, and it would be an interesting exercise for Prof. Love's class to compare and contrast that article with her commentary here.
A few issues Krauthammer does not cover, such as a central motif of the article, "Endless war," which she applies to Afghanistan and, more tenatively, Iraq. The problem is her measure of endless.  Compared to say the Korean War, the length of the war in Afghanistan is barely an adolescent. It has been well over a half century now, and not only is the war continuing, but our allies have had a ship sunk and an island heavily shelled in just the last year. We still have tens of thousands of troops there, and even more in Germany. Unfortunately, a decade, rather than "endless," may be a relatively short period of time. But the war in Afghanistan was never presented to the public by the previous administration asbrief, but rather as a part of a long, "twilight" srtuggle and as such was entered into virtually unanimoulsy by both houses.
Could 9/11 have been avoided if President Clinton had not so gutted CIA undercover gumshoes on the ground by 30%? Possibly, but doubtful. By following more closely Ms Love and others' recommendation to beef up homeland security? Possibly, but doubtful, even if such immense expenditures could have passed house and senate and put into action. We'll never know.
The immense benefits, both of conducting insurgent warfare and the changed status of women and children in Afghanistan since 9/11, shouldn't be underemphasized. Prof. Love may properly critique that women are not yet involved in Afghan politics, but only a few years ago, there were virtually no females in schools; now there are 2.5 million, also women entrepreneurs, journalists, and even police officers. That is rapid progress in barely a decade. As she notes, insurgencies are won in the hearts and minds of the people, not by the gun. That is straight from the book on counterinsurgency authored by General Petraeus, who engineered the most brilliant and seemingly impossible recovery from a terrible situation in Iraq by precisely executing such a strategy. While Bush's first two years of warfare in Iraq were handled almost as badly as Lincoln's, the change to Petraeus and Gates was almost as successful as Lincoln's switch to Grant. 
As Ms. Love notes, counterinsurgency cannot be won by conventional means and is very expensive. Yet we ignore it at our peril, and must adapt. An example of such tactical adaptation we have gained can be illustrated by the tactics of the terrorist organization Hamas when it launches missiles against Israeli citizens. It does so from mobile rocket launchers which it sets up next to the house where there are sleeping children. Its hope is to cause bodily and psychological harm to Israeli citizens and escape before it can be targeted by Israeli return fire. Hamas then hopes and prays that that return fire will strike the house of the sleeping child and kill him, creating a great propaganda victory for Hamas in the anger directed at Israel. That general idea, to blend in and cause the death and anger of the civilian population aimed at their target country, is repeated many ways.
With the development of the drone, however, it is now becoming possible to so quickly determine and respond with immense accuracy to the launchers of the missiles and kill the terrorist without harming the child. That and related stealth technologies have not only eviscerated Al Qaeda, but enabled the US to portray Bin Laden as an elderly man in a seedy hotel room with his wives and collection of porno films for all the nations of the world to see as he really is. 
So President Obama, supported by republican and the democrats' desire to greatly accelerate the war in Afghanistan by aping the Bush/Gates/Petraeus surge, has resulted in uneven but real progress.  
The valid point of Prof. Love's article, that ultimately terrorism will not be defeated by guns but by the minds and hearts of the people able to democratically express themselves, was the premise of the Bush doctrine in the first instance. It was the hope of those who strategized against Iraq's Butcher of Bagdhad that the vision of an Iraqi people democratically electing their own government would inspire the Arab Spring, the people rising effectively against their authoritarian governments, leading to more fruitful and prosperous countries. That is why Bush supported the Palestinian elections against Israeli objections that Hamas would surely win, because he believed democracy would eventually lead to a better outcome for all concerned. The Arab Spring has sprung. That's the first part.
Where it will lead, however, is still to be determined.

Craig McKee
7 years 4 months ago
"Endless war is unsustainable. The global war on terror, including the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, has cost the United States $4 trillion, nearly 30 percent of the U.S. debt, yet many of those in Washington lamenting the budget deficit are unwilling to rein in military spending seriously."

And the numbers just keep mounting:

Yet narry a word from the President last week in his Jobs Act pep rally or the GOP hopefuls in their debates about ending America's THREE wars as a means of stabilizing the American economy.

And they expect thinking voters to take ANY of them seriously?
joseph o'leary
7 years 4 months ago
Hmmm. I think what our esteemed professor said is that we haven't done that well in bringing peace to Afghanistan, and that Afghan women need to be part of the peace-building process in order to bring a true peace to the country, not more or less military activity.

But isn't that imposing a contemporary Western cultural expectation (even if fair and just) on a tradition-bound society? Is this not what drives people in the Third World to fight America (the country)? Or conservative bloggers to malign America (the magazine?)


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