This is a come-back column about pacifism. I don’t mean the knee- jerk pacifism of American liberals. On the morning after Pearl Harbor, today’s liberals would have requested a talk with the Japanese fascists to try and clear the misunderstanding. The unmistakable rise of isolationism with pacifist overtones among conservatives is what’s distressing me. It seems we never learn: Evil won’t leave us alone just because we turn our back on it. And then, there is the issue of what it does to us when we ignore evil done to others.
American public opinion is understandably tired of our military engagement in Afghanistan. The main reason is that it seems endless. When we brilliantly invaded the country in/ 2001, it was because the governing Taliban wouldn’t turn over the criminals who had attacked us on 9/11. Since then, the leader of those people, Osama Bin Laden, has been sent to his just reward in Paradise. I seems that the remnants of his organization, Al Qaida, present in Afghanistan are insignificant in numbers and in effectiveness. Moping up terrorists, the reasoning goes is like cleaning house: Getting to the first 50% of the dust takes two hours; the next 25% takes four hours; the last grain of dust would take forever if you tried. It’s reasonable to quit much before that point.
The other reason public opinion is losing heart about Afghanistan is that we never tried for real to achieve the relevant objective there. In the process of not trying, we got the target country confused with Iraq. In Iraq, the objective was squarely to replace a blood-thirsty tyranny with something resembling a representative democracy. In this, we succeeded although it did take us a long time, too much money and especially, too much blood. Afghanistan is not Iraq. If we did not make opium illegal in this country, its main resource would be dried apricots. It’s grossly illiterate. It’s steeped in tribal barbarism. It experienced something like modernization for all of 15 or twenty years total. It has had zero experience with representative institutions. There is no reason to treat Afghanistan the same way as we treated Iraq. It does not mean we should simply pack up and leave though. Here is why.
One of the things that made the quick victory over the Taliban regime especially sweet is that it was one of the most barbarous government the world had ever known. Here is a reminder: The Taliban routinely conducted massacres of minority groups according to Human Rights Watch. The Taliban government outlawed music and movies. They used artillery and dynamite charges to destroy giant statues of the Buddha revered by millions and admired by many more. They forbade male doctors from ministering to women at the same time as they forbade females from going to school. (Put two and two together. What do you get? The original project of sex-based genocide.) They executed adulterous women with a bullet to the head during the half-time of soccer games. Of course, their definition of an adulterous woman is any woman who has any sexual activity with a man to whom she is not married (married by force or otherwise). In other words, most of the women of Santa Cruz, California would qualify for summary execution under Taliban rules.
Almost all of these horrors ground to a halt as soon as the Taliban were thrown out of power by a combination of our military and of more moderate Afghan elements. There was one exception: Taliban fragments never dropped their habit of disfiguring and blinding little girls with acid to discourage them and their neighbors from attending school. (One of my sources on this practice is the dangerous, extreme right-wing publication: National Geographic.)
Our government is right now negotiating with the Taliban, we hear, as part of a process to extricate us from Afghanistan. This negotiation in itself is a giant moral defeat. We, the United States of America are working to make the world safe for those who blind little girls who would learn to read.
But, of course, you did not need me to remind you of this shame. Rather, the issue becomes: Can the US be the policeman of the world, attend to all wrongs, prevent all atrocities?
Two answers: We may not be able to do it alone. Yet, we are the example that inspires other countries where much of the population has a sense of decency. The fact is that we are far from alone in Afghanistan. Troops from almost fifty countries accompany us. Absent the American example, it’s doubtful there would be any trying to restrain Taliban barbarism.
The second answer is this: To dissuade crime, you don’t need to catch and punish criminals every time but only a fair percentage of the time. There is a world of psychological difference for a Moammar Khadafi between a situation where the Americans positively will not come and get me and the situation where they just might. Just ask Mr Assad, the dictator of Syria.
We can’ be the world’s policeman but neither can we remain the shining city on a hill if we ignore gross, repetitive evil around us.
The widespread massacres in Vietnam after we abandoned that country, the attempted self-genocide in Cambodia, latter, the successful genocide in Rwanda, did not do us any good as Americans. Or did they? What do you think?