Obama’s Concern for Afghan Civilians

Picking up where Black Pumpkin left off, I’d like to comment on Obama’s focus on curbing civilian casualties in Afghanistan. I think it admirable that he wants our troops to try to limit the number of deaths of innocent people. Here’s what McClatchy reported:

Instead of calling in air support or firing into civilian homes where Taliban fighters have sought refuge, commanders will be instructed to reach out to tribal elders or undertake other efforts to dislodge the fighters.

This is the right thing to do for two reasons: 1) There is no way to fight a counter-insurgency without winning the support of the civilian population. 2) It is the ethical choice to make. Without trying to sound hopelessly naive, I think that policies like this one, if enacted properly, can help our standing in the world. They can show the people of Afghanistan that we are concerned for their welfare. And yet I can already envision the reaction of the hawks on the right to the new policy: they’ll be foaming at the mouth calling this a limp-wristed and unnecessary course of action. I couldn’t disagree more. Winning the hearts and minds of the people is just as important as “defeating” the enemy.

Even though I agree with Obama’s specific policy, I still do not agree with the war. Without being too corny, I’d like to point out that we need butter, not guns in Afghanistan. The best way to get rid of the Taliban is to help the Afghan economy. People there need a stable way to support themselves without having to sell opium. One of the main reasons that joining the Taliban or Al-Qaeda looks like a viable option for many young Afghani men is that the economy there is broken. The country is broken. The AP reports that the latest U.S. offensive is necessary just to get polling locations open in the southern areas so that an election can take place. If Afghanistan had a better economy and government, this military intervention would not be necessary because the Taliban would not have been able to take control. The unfortunate situation is partially our fault. In the ’80s, the U.S. government was comfortable supporting insurgents against the Soviets, no matter how religiously zealous these anti-communist fighters were. Now the chickens, as they say, are coming home to roost.

What is an utter shame in this situation is that the U.S. is still in Afghanistan in the first place. If we had to go to war (which I still strongly opposed, even in 2001), we should have committed to a comprehensive solution whereby we sent in enough troops and provided the Afghan people with money to help bolster their economy and help rebuild their government and their infrastructure. Unfortunately, because Bush 43 wanted to invade Iraq as some sort of sick vendetta, we’ve had a “back burner” war that has been a disaster up until this point.

I just hope Obama can lead us in a different direction. This new policy is a glint of light in the darkness. What lies at the end of the tunnel still remains to be seen.

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