Friday, December 4, 2009

Illusory Security

Illusions of Security
President Obama has decided to escalate the war in Afghanistan. In his speech he was very clear about the purpose of that escalation: “I make this decision because I am convinced that our security is at stake in Afghanistan and Pakistan. This is the epicenter of violent extremism practiced by Al Qaeda. It is from here that we were attacked on 9/11 and it is from here that new attacks are being plotted as I speak.”
Many commentators have questioned whether the means chosen by the President are feasible: Will we be able, in a year and a half, to train an Afghan army and police force able to keep the Taliban in check? Will we be able to persuade the Afghani government to eschew corruption? Few people believe that these goals can be reached in less than 5 years--if ever.
But there is another question which is very rarely being addressed: has the President chosen the right means to enhance our security? The purpose of this escalation is to reduce the danger of further terrorist attacks by Al Qaeda. But is escalation in Afghanistan the best way of gaining greater security for ourselves and other Western nations?
There is general agreement that Osama bin Laden and his people are not in Afghanistan but in Pakistan--although the Pakistani government has recently denied that. Fighting in Afghanistan in order to reduce the power of Al Quaeda reminds one of the drunk who looks for his wallet under a streetlight. Someone asks him: 'Did you lose it here?' The drunk answers 'No, but this is where the light is.' We are trying to protect ourselves against Al Qaeda in a country where they have a very limited presence. Why fight the Taliban in Afghanistan if our enemy, Al Quaeda, is in neighboring Pakistan? The answer: Well we are not at war in Pakistan but in Afghanistan so we might just as well fight there.
This makes absolutely no sense.
The Taliban have some sort of complicated relationship to Al Qaeda. But they are not going to fly planes into buildings in the US – they do not have the capability. The Taliban in Afghanistan do not threaten the security of America. But since we can't catch Osama bin Laden and his staff, we make war against some of his friends and supporters.
That makes no sense either.
The government of Pakistan appears not at all happy with this plan to send more troops to Afghanistan. They fear that Taliban will flee from American attacks into Pakistan and thus bolster their presence where Bin Laden is now hiding out. Attacking the Taliban in Afghanistan will only strengthen them in Pakistan.
That will not make America more secure.
Osama bin Laden is hiding in Pakistan. We do not have troops there but we are regularly launching bombing attacks on militants in the border regions. A while ago, these drone attacks managed to kill an Al Quaeda leader. But, as David Bromwich wrote in the Huffington Post,
“To assassinate one major operative, Baitullah Mehsud, as Jane Mayer showed in a recent article in the New Yorker, 16 strikes were necessary, over 14 months, killing a total of as many as 538 persons, of whom 200-300 were bystanders. What comes of the reputation of policemen in a crime-ridden neighborhood when they conduct themselves like that? And what makes anyone suppose the reaction will be less extreme when the policeman comes from another country? And yet, from the president's West Point speech, one would not guess that he has reflected what our mere presence in West Asia does to increase the enchantment of violent resistance and to heat the anger that turns into terrorists people who have lost parents, children, cousins, clansmen, and friends to the Americans. The total number of Muslims killed by Americans in revenge for the attacks of September 11th now numbers more than a hundred thousand. Of those, few were members of Al Qaeda, and few harbored any intention, for good or ill, toward the United States before we crossed the ocean as an occupying power.”
In the light of these horrendous civilian casualties, why would Afghanis not regard Americans a terrorists, just like Al Quaeda,--only much more deadly. Why would they not believe that we are just out to kill Muslims? Once they came to believe that, they would surely throw their sympathies and support to Al Quaeda, making us less secure.
Increasing the number of troops in Afghanistan and increasing American and NATIO firepower will increase the number of innocent civilian victims. Surely that will not “win the hearts and minds” of people in the Middle East for us. If anything, it will gain more supporters for terrorist attacks on us. It will not enhance out safety.
The means chosen by President Obama to increase our security are bound to have the opposite effect. They will leave us more vulnerable. The sooner we leave that part of the world, the sooner can reduce the threat of terrorist attacks.