Freedom from Blog

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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The logic of leaving, or a Libya post (sort of)

New poll on the public's support for the Afghan war in the Washington Post says that 64% of respondents say that conflict is no longer worth it.

It is somewhat remarkable what a superpower can (and can't) do (but the can first). Even without public support (31% still support the Afghan war), a superpower can field over 100,000 troops, an equivalent number of contractors, planes, drones, etc., in the vain effort to . . . build a modern state in Afghanistan? Kill all the Taliban? Not sure what the point is at this point . . . but we are expending a lot of resources over there.

What it can't do . . . well, we've been in Afghanistan almost ten years. What can't we do? Put in place a legitimate government, for starters. Stamp out a culture of corruption. Bring the undefeated to the bargaining table. And we can't defeat or even delegitimize an indigenous force that refuses, and has refused for centuries, defeat by outside forces. And we certainly can't do it when we are killing boys collecting firewood with our million-dollar weapons.

So the last few weeks, talk of intervention in Libya. And some happy talk about the "success" of the surge in Iraq, and how it has emboldened the United States. Whatever. The war to remember here is Afghanistan. Now, the two countries are very different, sure. But when the current Libyan government falls, it will have to be replaced. By what? Can the United States put in place a legitimate government by force of arms? We certainly haven't done so--not in Iraq, and not in the Longest War.

The logic of leaving is that you want to, but you can't, because leaving is losing, and no one will admit that "they" ("we") lost. The domestic political price is too high, especially if you're a Democrat. It seems that even the president's supporters think so. Not a mass movement to get out of Afghanistan, despite majority support for doing so. And remember, Obama ran as a kind of Afghan war "hawk."

So let's not get ourselves involved in another war. Because there's no end in sight in at least one of the wars that we already have.


At 2:16 PM, Blogger tenaciousmcd said...

3, as you know I am traditionally more hawkish than you are. But I'm with you 100% here. What the hell are all these war cheerleaders thinking?

It's not like we have a glowing recent history with these interventions. Exactly how many Muslim nations do we want to occupy at one time? If we want a third, can't we pick a smaller one (Bahrain?). Or one that we know something about? At least with Afghanistan we had some prior knowledge of the country and its political terrain, thanks to our presence going back to the early 1980s. We also had some secular factions to work with, at least in Kabul. But what do we know about Libya? We've been locked out for 40 years and haven't the faintest clue about its complex tribal fault lines.

So what if a lot of the hawks are just calling for a "no fly zone"? What happens if it doesn't work? How long do we keep it up? And what's plan B? The idea of occupying Libya should scare the bejesus (be-Mohammad?) out of us. We would have no legitimacy and little hope of establishing credible western-style rule with no clear political base for it. What are the odds of nation-building success in an impoverished nation dependent upon a monolithic, oil-extraction economy? Pretty damn low. What happens to the guns we funnel to insurgents, and how long until they find their way into the hands of anti-American groups? The whole thing makes me nostalgic for the good ol' days in Somalia.


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