This article was originally posted on The Huffington Post.
Shoot ’em, whack ’em, bomb ’em. Are we not tired of this type of approach? It’s like a perpetual sequel of The Terminator.
Let’s face it, President Obama gave a fairly strong speech. No, it wasn’t great. However, this is not because the President lacks commitment to a successful outcome in Afghanistan, it is because he too is caught in the middle of an outdated Cold-War focused US foreign policy.
The outline of why the US is increasing troops in Afghanistan has all too many shortcomings. Obama’s teleprompter posture, with little heartfelt emotion, pretty much confirmed that he knew this. I think halfway through his speech, he looked out at the audience, saw the faces of young cadets and thought, “there has to be a better way.”
Unfortunately, the realities of the Washington beltway continue to be ruled by past policies and strategies. After weeks of deliberation and addressing national interests that are more than fifty years out of date, Obama picked a strikingly similar policy to that of his predecessor George W. Bush.
The mission is still unclear, the objectives lack detail and the timetable begs us to question whether 30,000 lives are being deployed for political gain. All of these points are facets of a much larger problem in the American national security psyche.
The United States is suffering from a mindset that ignores any issues outside of what is ‘vital’ to its own national security. It continues to support authoritarian regimes and build military bases worldwide while professing to care about democracy. “Allies” that fall into line are rewarded with masses of armaments and ‘bad guys’ are paid off. Soldiers and civilians, Afghans, Pakistanis and Americans alike, are all pawns in the great supremacy game.
The problem with the continuation of this Cold-War type of approach is that the Cold-War is over. So are the days when interventionists can dismiss the affect of violent coercion on the other.
The security of people is not purely a function of force. Neither is envisioning leadership in the context of The Terminator seeking to prove he is the ultimate destruction machine.
It is imperative that we recognize the world is changing and that superpower hegemonic persuasion must change with it. Foreign policy is no longer about US (or US vs. Soviet) national interest, goals, and endgame. It is about the consequences dominant actions have on the people of the countries where we intervene.
Death and devastation must stop. Today’s policies necessitate robust engagement that leads to mutual protection, prosperity and humanity’s well being.
The Afghan insurgents have told us this. Many join the Taliban because the government is corrupt, repressive and incompetent. While the Karzai Administration and its warlord pals get rich, the rest of the country continues to live with the war and without basic necessities like food, running water and electricity — things we westerners take for granted. We also presume everyone can catch up as quickly as fingers can be snapped, but a war ridden traumatized society that suffers from an eighty percent illiteracy rate makes that impossible. Progress will only come from relationships built on trust, not continued confrontation.
To his credit, Obama did tell the Afghans — albeit in English — that America had no intention to occupy despite the presence of those thousands of bunkers on the ground. However, he failed to outline any long-term partnership in order to ensure that there will be sound benefits to the Afghan people during this military surge. Ones that respect their national priorities as well.
So far the discussion has been all about military force and what America wants. One can be sure that if asked instead of told, the US will find that the Afghans want similar things minus the all the hostilities.
Afghans do want security, an end to corruption, and a functional government so they too can build a sustainable economy to support their families and their future. Remaining impoverished and hungry are not anyone’s priority there. Further, they would prefer that neighbors stop meddling in their affairs, especially through terrorist tactics courtesy of Al Qaeda and other groups in the region. More importantly, they want people to stop waging war on their territory causing instability and great harm.
When you get down to it, no one wants to live in war-ridden society, let alone thirty years of it.
For our part, it is time to shift America’s focus away from a power that peddles so many deadly weapons to one that fosters economic growth, entrepreneurial ventures and positive creativity.
President Obama said, “we must summon all of our might and moral persuasion to meet the challenges of a new age. In the end, our security and leadership does not come solely from the strength of our arms. It derives from our people.”
Loosing one person or thousands, Afghan or American, in war by disrupting, dismantling and destroying without understanding that the suffering and anguish of people is what is truly at stake misses history’s horrific lessons of war. Traumas experienced on the front lines not only last a lifetime, they produce more violence and more terrifying terrorists and insurgents in our world.
A more visionary policy that centers on a comprehensive and robust engagement is not easy. It will not only require the restructuring of the US national security apparatus, it will take exceptional leadership, management, compromise and coordination. Time, patience, dedication and discipline are also more than necessary. All of which the United States of America seems to have forgotten it possesses. Coercion and dominance are not this country’s only proficiencies.
It is our choice. We can all sit here and pick Obama’s speech apart or put past policies, aggressive egos and partisan pettiness aside, roll up our sleeves and get to work on possibilities other than war.
In an increasingly global and interconnected world, it would behoove us all to create a much stronger foreign policy that aligns interests and serves to engage, assist and encourage people to build a life that focuses on prosperity. Thereby moving all of us out of the dark ages of senseless war.