Foreign Policy Blogs

Three's Company-Afghanistan Style

Here are three Afghan-related pieces I read recently that I want to comment on:

1., Tom Broun

Tom Broun, a US military officer assigned to NATO, discusses the implications of the ongoing ‘Why Afghanistan Matters’ contest being hosted on Twitter, Facebook, and Youtube on a guest post for  Broun analyzes the media coverage of the Afghanistan war in NATO countries and is critical of its lack of attention until recently.  Here he states that…

a number of the involved publics concerned have been relatively insulated by their governments on the true nature of the conflict in Afghanistan.  While they’ve been told that life can go on as normal, or that their militaries are involved in some sort of humanitarian mission, or that there’s a war going on, media reports about casualties keep rolling in.  Some ask what they’ve gotten their troops into.  I believe a lack of discussion on the entire issue is most responsible for the steady downward trend in public support in a number of countries.  Meanwhile, however, the insurgents have a free voice in telling their side of the story.  Frankly, there is a vacuum in the media landscape, and the video contest and other initiatives are a recognition that we don’t need to cede that ground to the insurgents.

Broun is correct in acknowledging the usefulness and possibilities for engagement that this contest and its chosen mediums could bring.  The contest engages the general public and can bring people to feel closer to the efforts being made by our soldiers fighting thousands of miles away.  It also provides a venue for people to hopefully constructively voice their criticisms about the mission.

2. Democracy Arsenal, Michael Cohen

In this blogpost, Mr. Cohen rips apart NYTimes columnist Thomas Friedman’s recent editorial which takes a moralistic view that the US needs to help Afghanistan for humanitarian reasons, and using a story about little girls to make his point.  Cohen derides this type of reasoning, believing it hypocritical (since there are needy children all around the world, including here in America) and weak logic for why the US should maintain the fight.

Though, I indeed sympathize with Cohen’s realist logic, I feel that Friedman must be defended.  Just like Paul Berman articulated in his brilliant ‘Terror and Liberalism‘, the freedoms and universal rights of all Afghans, especially women and children, are worth fighting for and indeed are a serious aspect as to why the US remains in the country.  Though being led strictly on moral and liberal influences will get one in trouble in international relations, a measured dose has been useful in successfully spreading such ideals for the last several decades.  An Afghanistan with any bright future will be one were women have greater individual rights and all have a greater opportunities to succeed.  Bringing morals into warfare and politics is a dangerous game, but the US/NATO are on the right side in this fight and they should not be ashamed to proclaim this aloud (for instance on Youtube or Twitter).

3. Foreign Policy, Stephen Walt

Speaking of realists, Mr. Walt has a somewhat provocative take on recent report that the Obama administration is planning on reworking the Afghan prison system.  Like a good IR realist, Walt is legitimately concerned that this is yet another sign of ‘mission creep’ and does not really focus on what the real mission of the Afghan war is…making sure Al Qaeda and like-minded groups can’t attack the US homeland or interests.  While, I basically agree with Walt’s assessment that this new prison plan is indeed ‘mission creep’, I have to believe that it is an inevitable action considering the surge of troops and their latest moves into Taliban-controlled territories.  I mean where are you going to put the newly captured, which there will surely be hundreds if not thousands?  There is also the serious issue of separating the hardened terrorists and militants from the more everyday criminals.

One last point about Walt’s piece:  He states…’we bungled the subsequent reconstruction effort by going into Iraq, thereby enabling the Taliban to make a comeback.’  This careless, simple, anti-Bush administration remark is just thrown in as a fact.  Surely the Bush administration failed in many ways to stop the return of the Taliban, and there is no doubt Iraq was the central aspect of their foreign policy, but this does not fully account for the Taliban’s resurgence and current day’s Afghanistan instability.  It is indeed probable that the US/NATO/Afghan government would be in a similar predicament if Saddam Hussein was still in power in Baghdad.  Comments like this from respected scholars like Walt are not helpful to the debate.