Members of congress are threatening to vote against the War Supplemental because of the cash for clunkers provision or the IMF line of credit. However, it is the issue at the core of the bill, funding the escalation of the war in Afghanistan, that really justifies its defeat.
What the Military Does
The United States Military is the finest fighting force that has ever existed. Service members are trained to defeat any enemy with lighting fast and overwhelming force. Theirs is not work of nuance and diplomacy. They are trained to hate the enemy. The enemy in this case is indistinguishable from a civilian.
We hear a lot about the need for the military to provide security in Afghanistan so that the government can function, institutions can take root, and the country can develop. When I think about the military providing security in an area, I assume they set up a perimeter and make sure anyone coming in and out goes through check points where they can be screened for weapons. Something like a more thorough version of what happens when we go through airport security.
There are checkpoints to be sure, but what ‘securing’ an area actually means is sending marines on door to door raids of an area, often in the dead of night. You don’t knock on doors, the vets told me, you kick them in, storm the building, drag people out of bed – often tying their hands and even hooding them until you are confident you know where every person in the building is. Then you look for weapons and explosives which usually aren’t there. If anyone resists, you beat and arrest them. Your orders are to detain, and sometimes to kill anyone who looks suspicious.
There is an assumption that security brings stability, but this kind of security only fans the flames of the insurgency.
What the Military Does Not Do
Afghanistan is a political problem, and it requires a political solution. A broad regional agreement must be made between the various groups within Afghanistan, and all of its neighboring countries. That is work that calls for a massive increase in diplomatic boots on the ground, not military ones.
What We Owe Men and Women in Uniform
A deal has been broken in American between those who volunteer for military service and their government. We don’t send our troops into harm’s way unless it is vital to the defense of our country, the mission is clear and winnable, and everything else has been tried. President Bush perceived the US military as a hammer, and to him every problem looked like a nail. Democrats came to power in Congress in ’06 and the White House in ’08 largely as the result of disgust with the way the wars were started and carried out.
President Obama’s escalation of the war in Afghanistan comes without a plan, without an exit strategy, and without allowing time for the completion of his own reviews of the war in Afghanistan. It is deeply flawed and amounts to learning from the mistakes of the Bush administration by ordering a bigger hammer. More of the same isn’t change.
Voting for the war supplemental shows a basic lack of respect for the men and women who volunteer to put themselves in harms way for the defense of our nation. We need to stay engaged in Afghanistan, but we need a radically different strategy that emphasizes quality of life for the Afghan people, regional diplomacy, and for God’s sake, a reduction of boots on the ground. We need a strategy that will work.
Congress should block the war supplemental. Doing so will force everyone back to the table to rethink Afghanistan. Once we can finally consider alternative approaches like the Focus and Exit strategy, we can extricate ourselves from this quagmire, do right by the Afghan people, and finally leave behind misadventures of the Bush Administration and develop a national security policy for the 21st century.