I read an interesting Spiked column on the current “offensive” in Afghanistan. The author makes several valid points. He all but says that if the war is fought, not to achieve victory, but to attain some altruistic “hearts and minds” goal, then it is pointless to even wage the war.
As the NATO forces prepared to launch their latest doomed offensive to defeat an invisible enemy while winning over hostile hearts and minds, a British lieutenant colonel was quoted as saying, somewhat tactlessly, ‘We are going into the heart of darkness’.
Tactlessly? “The heart of darkness” (a reference to Joseph Conrad’s novel, Heart of Darkness) is ultimately not what Mick Hume alludes to, “an occupation without purpose, a dangerous military offensive without goals, a war without causes but plenty of casualties.” Rather, it is to the enveloping, logical darkness of acting from selfless, altruistic motives. In war, as well as in peace, as a nation’s policy or as a personal one, the object of selflessness and altruism is to sacrifice a value for a non-value, to elevate mediocrity as a means of razing shrines. (See Ellsworth Toohey’s speech on the means and ends of altruism wedded to collectivism in Ayn Rand’s novel, The Fountainhead, for clarification on that issue.)* It is to seek no gain, not even a national security one. In this instance, it is to elevate ourselves in the eyes of semi-literate brutes and world opinion.
If waging the war is a legitimate action (as defeating Nazi Germany and Imperialist Japan was), why is a “Just War” (one that conforms to the “Just War” theory) centrally linked with befriending an enemy population not deemed to be legitimate, unless it’s waged from altruistic motives? How can one win the “hearts and minds” of a population that is still morally, culturally, and epistemologically in the Dark Ages? And even if the population is somehow “befriended,” what is the likely longevity of such an accomplishment? What is to stop it from reverting to type, that is, from regressing to its pre-befriended, culturally stagnant state?
One of the major flaws of especially American strategy in Afghanistan is evading the fact that it is not so much the Taliban our military is fighting, but Islam itself. Even if we managed to wipe out the Taliban and al-Quaeda, Islam would remain in the culture. Islam is at its core anti-Western, anti-reason, anti-all pro-life values. For example, what guarantee did we ever have that Iraq would not revert back to some form of Islamic law or a corrupt regime? Well, look at the government there. We expended lives and treasure there — thousands of lives and billions of dollars — for what? So that charlatans, non-entities, and mediocrities can vie for power?
Yes — and democratically, too. We believe in “democracy” — not individual rights — and if the Iraqis vote themselves a mongrel, semi-secular, semi-religious government, who are we to judge? After all, it was the “will of the people.”
Would the same thing happen in Afghanistan? Of course. The only alternative, according to “Just War” strategists, is permanent occupation to ensure “stability.” Favorably explicating General Stanley McChrystal’s current military policy and comparing it with the British experience, Max Boot, of the Council on Foreign Relations, concludes:
What Gen. McChrystal realizes, in effect, is that we need to create our own Robert Warburtons. If his experiment succeeds, future commanders can build on the precedent to provide the kind of cultural and linguistic skills that we will need to win the long war against Islamic extremists.
What are McChrystal’s objectives? His Harvard thinking shows through here:
“The biggest thing is in convincing the Afghan people,” General McChrystal said in Istanbul, where he joined Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates to brief NATO allies just before the offensive began.
“This is all a war of perceptions,” General McChrystal said. “This is not a physical war in terms of how many people you kill or how much ground you capture, how many bridges you blow up. This is all in the minds of the participants.”
In short, our forces in Afghanistan are commanded by a degree-carrying Kantian. It’s all in your head, you know, what you think “victory” is. War, according to this policy, should be nothing more than armed social work to convert the Patagonians, or the Iraqis, or Afghanis to bring them “stability” and to ourselves self-sacrificing brownie points.
However, what is in the minds of the Taliban? The kind of victory erased from the mind of General Stanley McChrystal.
Can we blame President Barack Obama for his lukewarm “war strategy,” if it can be called a strategy at all? Yes. Although he is more focused on waging war against American liberties, not against any foreign threat, his Afghanistan policy, in fact, is simply an application and extension of his assault on American liberties, which he does not value and has demonstrated he is willing to sacrifice. Pundits have come close to the truth when they refer to Obama’s Mideast and Afghanistan policies as “Bush II.” I would call it a policy “aggressive appeasement,” one which now straddles two administrations.
Former president George W. Bush, the hand-holder of Saudi kings and host to regular Ramadan dinners at the White House, set the moral tone of this ten-year war of attrition after 9/11. Islam, he insisted, is a “religion of peace.” Obama is of the same mind. Read his Cairo speech. Obama is faced with a threat that did not exist in Bush’s time, or at least it is a threat that has grown since then, which is Iran’s nuclear-weapons program, which Obama refuses to act on or to permit Israel to eliminate. Obama, like George Bush and his father, former president George H. W. Bush, believes in sacrifice to attain sacrificial ends. Sacrifice of values is the touchstone of moral purity and worth.
I raise this issue because our current Afghanistan strategy is bound to fail, regardless of whatever military gains we might make. To ensure that the Taliban and al-Quaeda don’t resurge and become another force that could threaten the West, the U.S. would need to apply a “cleansing” policy to the country, similar to the de-Nazification program in Germany and General MacArthur’s de-militarism policy in Japan (to eradicate all sources of Nihon gunkoku shugi), so forcefully described by John Lewis in his lectures and book, Nothing Less Than Victory. Essentially, the country would need to be “de-Islamicized.”
Can we credibly expect that to happen, even if our policymakers acknowledged the inherent bellicosity of the Islamic creed? No. More progress would be made if we attempted to eradicate Voodooism from Haiti. We “respect” Islam. We go out of our way to not offend Islamic sensibilities — not only in the field, but right here at home.
Instead, our policy advocates “containment” of a nuclear-armed Iran and the pacification of hostile populations with candy and American-built dams and hospitals. Of a war-fighting policy of avoiding civilian casualties at the expense of the lives of American troops.
Would we have won WWII if we had treated Nazi ideology and doctrine, and Japanese militarism, as just examples of “diversity in political and cultural thought,” immune from moral judgment? No. The West, and especially the U.S., has got to stop looking at Islam as simply a religion to “respect,” and treat it as the political-theocratic menace it is. Islam, by its doctrinaire nature, is implacable. It cannot be “peaceful” and bellicose at the same time. It must be so thoroughly discredited it would never show its head again. If that leaves Muslims the world-over disillusioned or angry, so be it. Why should we care what they think or even think of us?
Our military forces should be allowed to destroy the Taliban in Afghanistan regardless of their location, proximity to civilians, or any other “extenuating” circumstance. Our forces should be regularly reminded that Islamic “extremists” do not reciprocate such “gentlemanly” rules of war. They should be reminded of 9/11, when nearly 3,000 American and other civilians perished on our own soil, with more to come, if we do not destroy states that sponsor terrorism.
Short of that, the U.S. should just abandon Afghanistan and Pakistan and leave them to their tribal feuds and internal squabbles, but act militarily, if we are threatened, with overwhelming force. Winning the “hearts and minds” of those two countries is a lose-lose proposition, which it is intended to be. That cannot be over-emphasized. That is altruism in war, regardless of Colin Powell’s, General McChrystal’s, or Obama’s assurances. The “shrine” of America can be razed by bleeding it to death in a “war of appeasement” — for the appeasement of zeroes.
Unless that is grasped and acknowledged, in the long run, no amount of victory in Afghanistan is going to matter.
*The Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand. 1943. New York: Plume-Penguin Centennial Edition, 2005, pp. 663-670. The speech can be found in Chapter XI, Part XIV, Howard Roark.