Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Pet Peeves On Afghanistan

With the operations in Iraq winding down and generally going to plan for our reduction of forces there, the debates on Afghanistan have continued to flare up (with the media pushing controversy more than informing at times). As with Iraq, I've developed some pet peeves during the various arguments and debates I've read or engaged in while discussing Afghanistan. On Iraq I made out a list of common utterances along these lines, with debunking and explanation as needed. There was also an actual comparison of Iraq and Vietnam given all of the popular equivocation. With Afghanistan I've never compiled anything similar, but perhaps it is overdue.

Introductory Peeve

A recent example that popped up in comments on another blog was the often used line "what would a win even be?" This is typically matched up with examples of conventional wars in the past, with surrender ceremonies and official and formal ends of hostilities declared. It both appeals to people's desire for something easier to grasp while obfuscating the whole point that we're fighting an asymmetrical war that deals more with objectives than any formality. It'd be like comparing a sports game to a to-do list... as if one should expect the same applause and definitive rules on "winning" depending on how many errands or tasks you completed and to what degree. The tactic is deliberate in its appeals to what people wish the situation is and also in its implication that it's the only viable option.

It was a perfect example of one of my pet peeves running wild throughout the rhetoric on Afghanistan for quite some time, by the media, by politicians, and of course the regular folks who made them their own. Here's some more, in a list that will surely grow over time as the Iraq one did:

1) "Why are we in Afghanistan?"

Unless you're a child who hasn't had enough time in this world to know or understand the 9/11 attacks and its ramifications, this question is likely to get one punched in the face... or at least equated intellectually to a brain damaged cow. Conspiracy theorists from the far-left to the far-right to the just plain far-gone, well they have their explanations that might complicate the answer to this question. They all generally reflect their willingness to accept any convoluted connection of disparate dots to form titanic non sequiturs that help confirm their previous biases and delusions. They all handily explain why the Jews, Illuminati, the Bush Administration, the Lizard People, the Corporations, the Military, etc etc etc are provably evil and their evil tactics are provably proven for the world to see now.

For everyone else, the reason we are there is pretty unforgettable and if you feel compelled to ask, you might want to stop to think about how dumb you can play before others will come to the conclusion you aren't playing dumb. There is a far more reasonable question one can ask without sounding oblivious and ignorant. It is also the next pet peeve:

2) Why are we still in Afghanistan?

The "still" is critical in this question (see pet peeve #1). This may initially seem to be an unfair pet peeve since people can reasonably disagree on whether or not continuing our operations there is something they agree with. The reason it is a pet peeve for me is that it implies the questioner is oblivious or playing dumb about the reasons given by the last two Presidents of the United States who laid out why we're still there on prime time national television for all to hear, and still available on the web to watch/read later. They laid out our objectives, what we hoped to accomplish in general, why we considered it vital to both our national security and national ideals. A person can certainly disagree with much or everything they said when talking to someone who agrees with most or everything they said.

Asking the question above just makes it look like the person asking never paid attention... and any confusion they may have on the question leaving them in a confused void of what is happening in the world is, in fact, self-inflicted. If called on this and they claim to be very well informed, the only realistic scenario remaining is that they're playing dumb. Either way, ignorance or playing dumb, it's annoying as hell and not a great way to intelligently argue one's point of view.

3) "Afghanistan is Obama's Vietnam"

Somehow I doubt the meme of any war where we get heavily involved being equated to Vietnam will end in my lifetime... no matter how absurd the comparison. The same thing happened with Iraq, and it helped to actually compare the various aspects of the wars to see how useless the comparison really was. I recommend clicking that comparison link and substituting the relevant details on Afghanistan in the Iraq column for starters. I'd also recommend reading this CNN comparison of Afghanistan to the Philippine-American War that shares far more relevant parallels, and also reveals why the Vietnam comparisons are generally half-assed at best.

There is also a lot of irony that tends to float around this particular pet peeve. Often in the same conversation one can catch suggestions that would actually create far more parallels to Vietnam, particularly the post-ceasefire disasters, atrocities, and national embarrassment that made sealed its legacy in our national consciousness. But this leads to the next pet peeve:

4) Selective concern for the Afghan people.

This one comes up quite a bit during conversations with folks who make it clear that their endgame revolves around domestic concerns... and often sadly more over a political agenda as opposed to actual humanitarian concerns. These conversations can be absurdly contradictory and unfortunately all too common. One part of the conversation will be dominated by the plight of the Afghan people as they deal with our military activities, with every heart string pulling anecdotal and accusations of cold blooded intentions whipped out to make the case. Yet, almost without fail, when the plight of abandoned people, and the historical basis (including Afghanistan) for the concern of massive humanitarian crises that make the current problems seem tame in comparison... "fuck 'em" is the gist of the response, in so many words, directly or subtly.

This sudden abandonment of concern is usually accompanied by ideological arguments about war in general, interventionalism, the cold calculus of prioritizing our domestic policy goals over some foreign peoples, or even directly admitting they don't give a damn what happens as long as its not on our hands. The plight they were so concerned about before, or which they'll conveniently lean on later in the conversation, is revealed as a dishonest ruse... or at least a fantastic example of cognitive dissonance.

Sometimes this happens over the course of several conversations or extended periods of time, but in the end their concern over the plight of the Afghan people is still just a handy dishonest emotive ploy. Used selectively when they think it helps their case, and abandoned entirely when it doesn't. It may be the most revulsion inducing pet peeve I have on the subject. There are plenty of ways to argue that our strategies or even our direct involvement is not helping the Afghan people and suggesting other alternatives to avoid humanitarian crises in our absence. The sheer dishonesty and repugnance of the selective caring approach isn't the way.

5) Atheist Flip-Floppery

In the aftermath of 9/11 one of the most popular atheist books out there was Sam Harris' "The End of Faith." It was a brutal thrashing of religion that was inspired by the attacks and set out to show why religion set the stage for militant fundamentalists to build their armies upon and had become a threat to humanity in the nuclear age. If any demographic of America would be hellbent on ensuring that the Taliban, the theocratic loons who enabled al Qaeda's twisted militancy, never again come to power... well militant atheists you'd think would top the list. Unfortunately you'd often be wrong: Atheists for Theocracy! Wait... what?

I realize that atheists tend to gravitate towards political ideologies that tend to fully accept their view of religious liberty and strict separation from government involvement. This seems to lead to a disproportionate number who affiliate with far-left groups and far-right libertarian factions within their single issue comfort area... and also a tendency to adopt other policy stances of the group... which for both is generally anti-war, anti-interventionalism, etc. As a political independent whose ideology is fairly unusual, to say the least, I may share this pet peeve with very few political moderates and independents. I'm listing it anyways because this is my pet peeve list. I hope other anti-war atheists out there might consider why I might be a bit frustrated with their disinterest in ensuring that a theocracy responsible for one of the most heinous attacks on a country based on religious liberty ideals they embrace (even if imperfectly implemented) is a worthwhile goal... if not for us in the long run, for their inevitable direct victims in Afghanistan more immediately. Just a thought.

6) "This is just a continuation of the Great Game."

Another oddball one, but it's a pet peeve I've run into more times than I can remember. If you're unfamiliar with the game in question, wiki has a pretty decent summary. The gist of the summary is that the British Empire and the Russians fought multiple wars in Afghanistan to aid their interests in South Asia. The comparison to our efforts today falls almost as flat as the Vietnam meme, however. The motivation comparisons fall flat on pretty much every level, from entirely different geopolitical goals to our modern domination of air and sea both for trade routes and militarily. The military scenarios if not entirely outdated are completely different, and most have to rely on the more recent proxy war which kills the analogy right there.

The desires of the Afghans themselves while notoriously fractured and fractious are often dishonestly over-simplified down as if they are currently just repelling outside invaders again. In spite of enemy propaganda and the dishonest arguments of some anti-war activists who will throw anything to see if it will stick, the Taliban government and its forces were routed almost entirely by Afghan fighters and boots on the ground. The US assistance was intentionally a small footprint and providing air superiority for the Afghan fighters. The Taliban certainly want people to believe we're just a new breed of foreign crusaders hellbent on exploiting Afghanistan for our imperialist goals in the region. The facts of their removal, mainly at the hands of Afghans, reveal how much they were despised by the people they oppressed and terrorized during their rule.

The situation of course is far more complicated than any summary can explain. The ethnic and fractured nature of Afghanistan's social divisions do certainly complicate our objectives and that of a unified Afghan government. There are reasonable arguments to be made about our strategy and goals without yet another useless comparison to failed wars of the past with little to negligible connection to the problems we currently face beyond geography.

To be continued...

That's a decent start for a list, especially given the references. Given the litany of pet peeves I have on the subject, and in the blogging format, I'll leave it off here for now and add updates in future blog posts.

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