Say you were wrong about Afghanistan, Mr. President
It’s time, Mr. President, to say you were wrong about Afghanistan.
Since your campaign for president, you’ve been supportive of the war. You proposed additional troops, “so that we’re not just air-raiding villages and killing civilians, which is causing enormous problems,” as you said in 2007 at a campaign stop in New Hampshire.
At the time, Republicans demanded an apology for saying our troops were “just” killing civilians. It turns out, as we know now in gruesome detail from the WikiLeaks release of classified military documents, that you were more right than the Republicans were.
But despite your wisdom about civilian casualties, you seem to be looking right past the forest to spot the trees. You seem to have missed the lessons that the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, should have taught us.
Immediately after Sept. 11, many people tried to emphasize these lessons. Professors held teach-ins at universities. Religious leaders, research papers, even television shows extolled the wisdom of avoiding anger, pride and vengeance so that we wouldn’t miss the real point.
We cannot kill all the terrorists. We will never cow them into submission, we will never destroy all their communication streams, we will never disrupt all their recruitment and training efforts. We cannot defeat terrorism — whether perpetrated by Islamic extremists, white pride radicals or armed separatists — by shooting people and bombing things. It has never worked, and it will never work.
You’re an intelligent and learned man, Mr. President, so I would have thought you got that lesson. It seems that isn’t the case.
Most of the information revealed in the WikiLeaks papers isn’t really surprising or new. Those of us who have been strenuous critics of the war in Afghanistan suspected all of it long ago.
Our government has lied to us, withheld information, made terrible judgment calls and done atrocious things, supposedly in the name of doing good. We get it. That’s what war is. People lie and do horrible things, and they tell themselves it’s for good reasons. Sadly, it never works out that way.
So it’s time for you to end this thing, Mr. President. Go before the American people and tell them you were wrong, we were wrong, the whole idea is wrong. We cannot stop these hateful terrorists — these people who kill and kill to get their way — by killing and killing to get our way.
Say that you were seduced by the idea that we could break the Taliban and restore peace and stability to a country that badly needs it. Say these were worthy goals, because they are. Then say that we DID break the Taliban, because we did. Now, only Afghans can rebuild their country. With international support, they can try to become a functioning democracy.
Then explain that ending this war will not make us less secure, because our security is already endangered. Our security will be endangered as long as billions of people in the world don’t have access to clean water, proper nutrition and an education. Our lives will be threatened as long as some people in the world don’t have the right to choose their leaders and determine the course of their government. We will not be safe until everyone has the same opportunities to rise up out of abject poverty and oppression that Americans have had.
Explain that killing people isn’t going to stop people from killing people. As a strategy, that has failed humanity miserably. Historically, it has backfired, and the world is less safe. The only means to ending terrorism is education, opportunity and a combination of police and intelligence efforts. We can stop specific acts of violence with vigilance and arrests, but we will only overcome their idea with a better idea.
The world didn’t stop pro-communist radicals by bombing towns. A better idea won. The IRA wasn’t defeated by sending in secret commandos. Political inclusion and accommodation of a different opinion brought peace.
I used to think the aftermath of Sept. 11 was a teachable moment completely wasted. It was a chance to show that our country actually is the shining light it claims to be. Instead, we snuffed out the light and set off in the dark with guns firing. Shame on us.
Now I see there’s still a chance to teach. You can use the WikiLeaks papers to explain that our war in Afghanistan is wrong because of what it does to us. It turns us into them. Governments lie to their people and commit atrocities — pointless atrocities, because they make things worse rather than serving the good.
Say you were wrong about Afghanistan, Mr. President. Tell Americans that instead of acting like the enemy, we’ll finally hold ourselves to a higher standard. Only then will we have a fighting chance against terrorism.
(Originally posted on my personal blog.)
Tags: Obama , Afghanistan , War , Terrorism , WikiLeaks
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.