A Just War?

This Monday it was time to discuss the Bush doctrine here in Chicago. We lengthily debated the concepts of preventive and preemptive wars, at the heart of the 2002 National Security Strategy. Preemption, which is all about self-defense, is the idea that one can choose to strike first, when an enemy attack is imminent. It is based on absolute contemporary knowledge. Preempting is about receiving or giving the first blow. Prevention consists in the first use of military force, when the enemy attack is considered as inevitable, but not imminent. In other words, prevention is an educated guess, based on the ability to detect and anticipate a future menace. One might argue that, in the age of nuclear warfare, the distinction between the two concepts becomes blurred. Weapons of mass destruction are so lethal by definition that the imminence of the threat is extremely relative. Hence the case for taking military action against Iran. In the post 09/11 context, it is not hard to see how the concept of prevention could be used as a justification for engaging in a war of discretion. Yet, this is what the Bush doctrine is all about.

Just war is another concept that has been regularly used to justify the war in Afghanistan. The intention might be just, the cause might be just, the means can be just, but can a war really be just? Firstly, it is hard to agree on all the criteria. Let’s take proportionality for example, the idea that evil produced by the war must not outweight the good it aims to achieve. How do we measure the cost benefit ratio? Does the hunt for Al Qaeda operatives justify civilian casualties? Applied to the real world, proportionality raises more questions than it actually solves. Let’s take another criterion: the high probability of success. Given the British Empire’s experience in Afghanistan, as well as the Soviet fiasco, did the United States have a real shot at achieving its goals in the “graveyard of empires”? How does one define success in Afghanistan? Again, many questions arise. Secondly, even if we agree on the many criteria, it is very unlikely that a single case will meet them all. Given all these impediments, maybe there is no such thing as a just war. And that is even before considering cultural ethics and values. What is just? Is it just to impose our own western vision of democracy? Would it not be more just to “protect and serve,” without meddling into Afghan internal affairs?

Instead of considering the moral dimension of justice, it might be better or easier at least, to look at the legal side of it. In modern (legal?) terms, “just” becomes “in accord with international law.” But international law is weakened by the lack of a credible enforcement agency and the existence of many legal loopholes. What is the purpose of international law if the very nation who harbors the United Nations can easily circumvent it? A lively debate on the relevance of international law ushered from that question alone. One student argued that a case for invading Afghanistan could be made, but there is actually no need for it. Maybe international law just does not apply to the only remaining superpower. In that case, “was it smart to invade Afghanistan?” might be a more relevant question for us.

The discussion on just war was thus followed by more realistic considerations. We looked more specifically at the American decision to overthrow the Taliban regime right after 09/11. We talked about the choice to send CIA officers into Afghanistan to coordinate the fight against the Taliban forces and the immediate consequences of working with non-state armed forces such as the Northern Alliance. Were there other options available? Was military intervention the best way to fight a criminal organization? Military, one might consider the invasion of Afghanistan a success. The Taliban regime was toppled in a matter of weeks and Al Qaeda operatives had no choice but to go into hiding. However, it was still largely improvised. Emotions were running high and, one might argue, President George W. Bush had no choice but to take drastic action. Looking at it nine years later, it is easier to see how things could have been done differently. The Bush administration made “no distinction between terrorists and those who knowingly harbor or provide aid to them.” Strong links exist between the two, but Al Qaeda and the Taliban are two different movements, with different ideologies and objectives. One might therefore argue that, no matter how oppressive the nature of the Taliban regime was, they should have been invited to the December 2001 Bonn conference. Besides, the resurgence of the Taliban in the years that followed the invasion tends to show that demonizing them was probably a mistake. Simplistic and Manichean views rarely turn out to be adequate solutions to complex issues.

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About Afghanopoly

I am an Assistant Professor of peace and conflict studies at Radboud University's Centre for International Conflict Analysis and Management (CICAM). I completed my PhD in Political Science at Northwestern University and Sciences Po under the supervision of Will Reno and Bertrand Badie. Among other things, I teach students about the politics of international intervention in Afghanistan and elsewhere. My research focuses on the political strategies that Afghan strongmen use to consolidate and legitimize their authority. I am particularly interested in how these actors manage to conduct their own forms of international relations. My field research brings me in contact with Afghan community leaders, politicians, diplomats and foreign military officers.
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21 Responses to A Just War?

  1. Valkyrie says:

    While I will add more, later, once I’ve taken the time to think through the rest of the questions posed above, I just wanted to pose a question of my own (perhaps someone can clarify this for me).

    First, I’d like to refer to this link to the State Department website:

    http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/6185.htm

    How is “demonizing” the Taliban a mistake, when they’ve clearly showed themselves to be psychopathic in nature? It was brought up in class that not all Taliban were the same, and that there were “moderate” Taliban.

    What is “moderate” compared to the oppressive abuses of women under Taliban rule? I mean, what’s “moderate” psychopathy?

    The behaviors go far beyond religious, philosophical or ideological differences from Western norms; they appear downright psychopathic.

    Perhaps when it is made clear what moderation means, in reference to the Taliban, one might better understand why demonizing them was a bad idea.

    Should they have been invited to the Bonn conference in much the same way as the United Nations tolerates the presence of nations with horrible human rights records AS UN members? Perhaps. It certainly makes the civilized international community look fair by allowing these actors to participate, much as it looks fair to have both defense and prosecution allowed to have a say in a legal court (I do believe Libya was on the United Nations Human Rights Council in the past, which is quite laughable in light of Libya’s actual record on human rights).

    Clearly, though, the Taliban earned the negative reviews they received from the civilized international community based on their past actions (it is not as if there was no precedent on their part that justified the outrage felt towards them).

    Could some parts of the onion have been peeled away from the most extreme core, had they been invited to participate, thereby serving to divide the Taliban, ideologically, much the way major Western political parties are divided amongst themselves on the finer points of ideological beliefs? Perhaps, but there would still be a serious problem with the core.

    I do not disagree that alienation of the organized Taliban, as a whole, created problems, but I’m arguing that they certainly did a smashing job of alienating themselves from the civilized international community. When looking at this horrible treatment of women under Taliban rule, I have a real problem with understanding how a “moderate” Taliban could be any less scary. Either individual human rights are the norm under international law, or they are not.

    What can be agreed upon is that the US made diplomatic and tactical errors, despite the initial military success of routing the Taliban from Afghanistan, because clearly, they regrouped, reloaded, and then returned!

  2. Capt AF says:

    Very fascinating and relevant discussion. As I understand, the class comes from a very diverse cultural background? I would love to participate more in the discusion in the hope of drawing real conclusions about whether or not myself and fellow soldiers should be there, but since I do not sit in your class I would like to know how you have defined your terms?
    Everyone uses terms like the “evil produced by the war must not outweight the good it aims to achieve” and “demonizing” etc. Is there a relatively strong agreement that there is a knowable “good” and a knowable “evil” in the world? Basically I am wondering if most people even believe in a “standard” for judging these terms that can be applied to all people? From the various accusations of the errors of the Bush administration to the attrocities of the Taliban I imagine that the class believes that a standard must exist, but I just wanted to make sure. We may not agree on what that standard is, but if we can’t even admit its existence I don’t see any reason in continuing the debate.

  3. kredox says:

    I think different people have very wide range of opinions of what is “good” and “bad”. Some people think it is bad to tax rich people more just because they are rich, some people think it is good to have three wives….there are a lot of subjects people in America disagree on, but one subject is certain. No one think that what happened at 9/11 is good. All races and people of different religious associations agree that what Al Qa’ida did is “evil” no matter how and why they did it. In my opinion it is “evil” to kill civilians. It is one thing when two military groups kill each other during wartime, it is still bad and there is no good explanation behind it, but killing people on the street who are not fighting, who have no weapon it is a crime. Of course you can argue that Taliban is not Al Qa’ida and they are just extremist group who are fighting for power, but their ideology is wrong, they suppress people, they brainwash people in terms of religion to get what they want. I think most people would agree with me that any extremity is in general “bad” for people. And there is a notion of “good” and “bad” universally. Of course “good” and “bad” ranges from society to society and there is no clear cut boundaries but we as people generally agree about extreme acts as being bad.

  4. Capt AF says:

    Good points kredox. I agree with you that there are a wide variety of opinions out there on what constitute “good” and “bad” laws, decisions, behaviors, etc. But let me ask you this: do the strength of your feelings or the percentage of agreement to your opinion of “good” and “bad” change the nature of those terms even a little? I think what the moderator was talking about previously is very important; we must first differiante the moral topics from the value topics. I would imagine that most people are of the opinion that the decision to go to war is a moral one, and that the percentage of taxes that people pay falls into a value category along with their preference for ham or cheeseburgers. True, the colonists objected to the amount of taxes they were paying King George in 1775, but the moral issue for which they made the decision to go to war was the supression of freedom with regards to many issues including taxation without representation. So if we can frame this discussion (I hate the word “debate” as it implies argument. I prefer to see this as a joint search for truth…hopefully no one is just trying to win an argument, but instead that we are all trying to find the right answers) in terms of morals and values I think we can make some progress. As you stated, everyone generally agrees about certain extreme acts. Would you agree that then that those extreme acts are of a moral nature, and that that nature is supra-logical, supra-emotional, and supra-popularity? What I mean by that is, we could logically explain why the brutal killing of a 5 year old girl is wrong, we would feel great horror and disgust witnessing such an event, and certainly a majority of the world’s citizens would condem the act in an opinion poll; HOWEVER, even if each of the above reactions were reversed wouldn’t the act still be morally wrong? Don’t logic and emotion only lead us to understand moral realities? Do they have any power to influence their nature? If we have found some agreement here how would you classify some of the aspects of the Taliban rule (morally vs value-founded): the enforcement of sharia law, capital punishment, sanctuary to Al-Queada, etc. In the same light, how would you classify the American decisions to go to war and their conduct in the war?
    Finally I want to caution you against the popular cultural cliche of “extremes are always bad.” Can’t people be extremely good? Wasn’t it extreme for someone like Mother Theresa to leave the comforts of western civilization and give her entire life serving the destitute of India? I think that neither the intensity of one’s “faith” nor the degree to which they pursue it make them “bad” or “good” people. It is the nature of the act or belief that we judge. Thoughts?

  5. Capt AF says:

    BTW: I personally think that the term “religious extremism” can be very misleading and ineffectual in framing a discussion such as this. Say that you have a Muslim who believes very passionately that Allah wants him to pray 5 times a day, give to the poor, say the Shahanda, make the Hadj, and fast during Ramadan; does it follow that if he believes those things any more passionately that he will begin blowing up children in playgrounds? I don’t think so.

    • Afghanopoly says:

      We can consider as “moderate” those Taliban who would be willing to stop the fight and negotiate a power-sharing agreement. By definition, they would be ready to accept the implementation of a new regime, both acceptable to the international community and the other power brokers. Such a regime would probably not meet our criteria of a “good” government, but would be likely to bring more stability to Afghanistan. At the end of the day that is what U.S forces are trying to achieve, in order to make sure that Afghanistan does no longer harbor terrorist networks. The 2002 National Security Strategy states that “The events of September 11, 2001, taught us that weak states, like Afghanistan, can pose a great danger to our national interests as strong states.” When discussing these issues, one should always keep in mind that the primary objective of the post 09/11 intervention was to fight terrorism and not to bring democracy and human rights to Afghanistan.
      Also, the whole idea of talking to the Taliban is to peel away those “moderates” who would be willing to negotiate, as Valkyrie rightly pointed out. The international community and the Afghan government will probably never get the hardcore Taliban ideologues to negotiate anyway, but this is not what is at stake here. The Taliban was a very oppressive regime, even more so for women. There is no debate about that. However, it does not mean that all Taliban are psychopaths. People joined the Taliban for various sociological, political, and economic reasons. It does not make it “right”. But it does not qualify these men as psychopaths. It does not even mean that they all upheld the Taliban’s ideology.

  6. Valkyrie says:

    Afghanopoly wrote:

    “We can consider as ‘moderate’ those Taliban who would be willing to stop the fight and negotiate a power-sharing agreement.”

    Aha. So, in other words, what we are really talking about is those who may not necessarily be hardcore beholden to an ideology as much as to their own survival (read: more opportunistic than loyal to one side or another). I think I was very confused at the choice of wording, at first, so I appreciate the clarification.

    In regards to the issue of importing democracy, it sounds like a great idea (at least in theory), because the Democratic Peace is very real. Under democratic governance, conflicts tend to consist, not of widespread violence, but of smaller (hence more controllable) occasional issues of civil unrest (think the 1960’s, for example) and of the constant political bickering amongst organized and legitimately accepted political parties (think mid-terms and all of the negative campaign ads currently airing).

    In reality, however, this process needs a solid foundation upon which to be built, as imposing it top-down just clearly doesn’t seem to work (and certainly not in the short-term).

    So, if the goal of working with so-called “moderate” Taliban is to identify those who could be peeled away from the core, then yes, leaving no wiggle room to thin the ranks of the opposition seems rather counter-productive from a tactical standpoint. Both knowing the enemy and dividing the ranks are time-tested strategies when it comes to warfare (I’m no military expert at all, but I do believe these tactics come from Sun-Tzu, if I am correct).

    Finally, I am coming to understand that some may have joined for survival reasons (one tends to do best when part of a more powerful group, at least if the goal is survival), although this is an aspect that human psychology that always troubles me greatly (that some may have to resort to that). The better strategy at Bonn, from a tactical standpoint, would have been to…well…for better or for worse, it is certainly better to have groups present during negotiations IF members are there who may actually be willing to negotiate in the first place. The hardcore extremists (the rotten core), though, are just horrible and hopeless.

    Thank you for the clarification. Or merci beaucoup (mais mon francais est absolutment horrible, je pense). LOL

    P.S. Regarding Captain AF’s point about the use of the term “extremism”…

    Isn’t it interesting how we often automatically assume that it is a negative? Indeed, Mother Theresa was extreme, yet not in a bad way at all. Thanks for pointing that out to everyone.

  7. The Jackal says:

    Where do I begin??? First, the Taliban should not have been brought to the Bonn conference. This conference convened 3 months after 9/11 so, no way would any so called “moderate Taliban” be allowed at this; to me it is ridicules to think so, what would the international implications be and what benefit would come from this? I guess I need to be explained what a “moderate Taliban” is. Would this “moderate Taliban” believe in Sharia law, not educating women and not allowing them to leave the home? If they joined for survival I’m sure they had a chance to seek refuge and not raise arms. Fact, the Taliban supported and harbored Al-Qaeda, and as the 2002 National Security Strategy states “America will hold to account nations that are comprised by terror, including those who harbor terrorists”. Based on that it was very clear that the Taliban was to be viewed the same as Al-Qaeda and of course they want to negotiate now.

    With that said “good” is something you like and “bad” is something you don’t. It boils down to perception and we can say that our perceptions do not prescribe to the philosophy of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. Therefore, the question of what moral codes and ethics do you assign yourself to, should be thought about. Outside of religion what system of ethics works best in society? Is it virtue ethics, consequentialism or deontology, also what about Utilitarianism and Kantianism? It’s not easy to make a decision for ourselves at times let alone others, but in our organizations such as government, we can elect people who will make decisions for the greater majority. Should our Republic system be instituted and can it work? I guess it could happen in theory, but there is a lot of work and commitment that needs to be made by the UN, foreign interest and most importantly all of the Afghan people not just the military class.

    As far as a “just war” there has to be some type of agreement in the international community and a base of guidelines or so called “rules” to hold accountability, otherwise any nation could do whatever it would want.
    Personally I feel a good rule in life is….. you can do whatever you want as long as you don’t infringe upon someone else, but if you do then you will pay the price. If that means war then so be it!

  8. As has been said before me, I don’t think that whether a war is just or not, or legal or not, is the right question to ask, as a war can never be just.

    It may be a good thing for a leader of country to claim in order to try to get the weight of the entire population behind the decision of the administration to go to war, but whether a war is just or not, is never the reason to get into the war. That is the discussion after the decision to go to war has been taken (based on other concerns, such as security concerns or economic concerns). The idea is to find the strength of morality to bolster where the strength of arms might falter.

    A just war is a specious argument that tries to imply that the entity on the other side is evil, or deserves it. Even in our moral Manichean universe, where good and evil are clear, it is unreasonable to expect the entire population of the other side to be implicated in the evilness. Clearly there are babies in that population who would not have yet been indoctrinated and who do not deserve to die. Unjust collateral damage to the war that is just. Yet, there is the use of drones that helps the militarily superior protect its soldiers while carpet bombing the enemy on the ground. Yet, the N-bomb during WWII was used because it was a just reaction to the bombing of the Pearl Harbor.

    Amartya Sen argues this point beautifully in his books the Idea of Justice and the Argumentative Indian when he says that justness of an action does not emanate entirely from its cause, but also from its consequences. It goes back to the cost benefit analysis of the war (cost to whom, benefit to whom), which is such a subjective exercise, that it is best to not attempt that in an academic setting .

  9. zenpundit says:

    “Let’s take another criterion: the high probability of success. Given the British Empire’s experience in Afghanistan, as well as the Soviet fiasco, did the United States have a real shot at achieving its goals in the “graveyard of empires”? How does one define success in Afghanistan? ”

    The available declassified documentary evidence is that in 2001, the Bush administration had minimal goals for success in Afghanistan – removing the Taliban from power, setting up a new government – and viewed the country as a potential bottomless sinkhole into which little money should be thrown. In retrospect, this judgment, which largely emanated from OSD under Rumsfeld, appears to have been correct.

    The current strategy in Afghanistan is a very modified version of “pop-centric COIN” as implemented in Iraq during the “surge” in Iraq in 2007, was not on the radar of war planners in 2001-2002. The primary intellectual strategic influences at the time were VADM Art Cebrowski’s Network-centric warfare ( Cebrowski, an adviser to Rumsfeld, headed The Office of Force Transformation) along with EBO (Effects based operations). Use of CIA paramilitaries and military SOF were boosted by Wolfowitz. The geopolitical ideas of longtime Pentagon gray eminence Fritz Kraemer, in terms of hoped for diplomatic outcomes for the Afghan intervention, were probably still influential with Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and Cheney.

  10. Valkyrie says:

    EE wrote:

    “…I don’t think that whether a war is just or not, or legal or not, is the right question to ask, as a war can never be just.”

    Perhaps the better question, for you, would be whether a war is necessary, or not?

    Just a quick point, because your views are clear on the issue of collateral damage.

    And on the issue of collateral damage, this is a problem in the way wars have typically been conducted (lots of eggs being broken in the process, and a large mess left in the aftermath, including civilian casualties). The possible solution would be cleaner and more high-tech, highly targeted attacks on the true perps that we are after, thereby minimizing civilian casualties at the hands of the intervening force (clearly, any hostages taken by the perps cannot be controlled in such situations). The cleaner and more precise the act of eliminating a clear target (read: high-level commanders), the lesser the civilian casualties. Was this not a reason for having men dressed to blend in with the Afghans riding around looking for enemy targets?

    I know part of it was the issue of the terrain, but at the same time, it is far more precise to be on the ground, as opposed to just dropping bombs from above (errors can clearly occur, as when Clinton issued the command that resulted in the destruction of an aspirin factory, of all places).

  11. Durkheim says:

    In the Bhagavad Gita, the debate between Krishna and Arjuna about going to war deals with the ethics of responsibility, that one must understand the consequences of one’s decisions and actions and respond to these, and the ethics of intention, that one’s ideology contains its own justification for acting in certain ways despite the consequences. It is clear that the ethics of intention drove the U.S. decision to invade Afghanistan, as evidenced by the Bush Doctrine of preemption.
    The U.S. has a history of ignoring the consequences of their actions and committing utter follies: “Refusal to draw conclusions from the evidence, addiction to the counter-productive” as defined by Barbara Tuchman. America has yet again committed another folly when declaring war in Afghanistan (and Iraq) just two decades after the Soviet Union committed the same folly in the same place (then again, the U.S. was unwilling to learn from the French experience prior to invading Vietnam so it is not much of a surprise that they repeated the same mistake in Afghanistan and Iraq). Not once did they look to analyze the history of (failed) foreign invasions in Afghanistan or take note of the nations’ history and culture in order to understand enemy motivations. Laziness and ignorance blinded the U.S. from realizing that Western force is ineffective in foreign lands like Afghanistan and to allow other nations to fight their own civil wars without a Western superpower interfering and making matters worse.
    Just as in Vietnam, America neglected to understand the nature of the enemy it was fighting against. In Vietnam, America was fighting a war against communism but the enemy was fighting to reunite the Communist north with its non-communist southern half. In Afghanistan, the U.S. is fighting a secular counterinsurgency while the enemy is fighting a jihad. How does a country expect to succeed in foreign lands when it doesn’t understand the enemy? America is stuck in Afghanistan just as they were in Vietnam.

  12. The Jackal says:

    America did not create a “folly” by going to war in Afghanistan, as far as with Iraq it was just too soon. Nation building was not in the plan; America’s military is not built for that. They just crush their enemy. UN forces should be used for peacekeeping missions not the American military. The question is, as the world evolves should the U.S. be involved in nation building, if so at what level? My feeling is that U.S. resources should have been used to build an Afghan military. Also how could America be accused of interfering in another countries civil war when we were attacked? So please tell me if war is not the answer then what would you do? Send a group of physiologist to talk about their feelings and why they act the way they do, just so they could be beheaded on TV? Oh that’s right….we would just send them to the “moderate ones” they wouldn’t do that, now would they??

  13. Valkyrie says:

    I have to agree with Jackal that the US military is not built for nation-building or peacekeeping.

    As for the UN, as far as the world saw in Rwanda, even the UN was not quite adept at “peacekeeping,” either (unless, of course, you consider standing around observing a genocide as solid “peacekeeping,” that is).

    And perhaps that’s the main issue, as both international law and globalization evolve and progress, that we need more international solutions. Perhaps the UN needs to be strengthened and grow some teeth to enforce all of those non-binding resolutions they pass? A peacekeeping/nation-building team that actually works and is ready to deploy? An international network that cooperates to help drain the swamps where terrorists hide, so that the sole superpower doesn’t have to play Globocop and go over to topple terror training camps simply because no one else can do it as effectively (the initial routing of the Taliban was militarily successful in the short-term)?

    Clearly, the US had to act because of the attack on US soil, and also because only we could counter-strike at the terror training camps somewhat effectively (until we got side-tracked with Iraq, obviously). The US had to do what no one else seemed capable of doing. And, as I mentioned before, they hit the Pentagon! That’s an act of war, plain and simple.

    Have to disagree, though, on the talks. I don’t think what is meant by talks is that we send a team of Freudians over to find out if someone’s mommy didn’t give him a lollipop (and God help anyone who has to listen to, or talk to, a Freudian), but that we use it strategically, to form what’s known as a “theory of mind” of the other side (even if for purely strategic purposes).

    Know the opponent. This is a time-tested battle strategy. It’s nothing unique at all.

  14. The Jackal says:

    Valkyrie, well put! I understand everyone’s need for talking because this is what we are taught in our society but how can you talk to someone with bombs strapped to them?
    I hope when I said “send physiologist” you know that I was being sarcastic. I wanted to point out that the Taliban is a Theocracy and it is naive to think that when beliefs are driven by an ideology with god, that they could be changed. It’s not as if they had an organization set up with administrators that where just doing a “job” and could be considered as a “moderate” part of the faction. Obviously I do not believe that there is such a thing as a “moderate Taliban” and for this reason they should not be included in the reshaping of Afghanistan.

    No I do not think the UN does a good job but my point is America does not do police work abroad but other nations that can do this effectively should be utilized. I do agree that there should be cohesiveness among the international community and an international transitional military force to provide this much needed service.

    • Also, just a quick point about the international community.

      There are many many terrorist attacks that are happening in the world in any given year. India has about 2 big ones on average. Pakistan is full of suicide bombings. Iraq has seen many in the past few years. Israel-Palestine is another hotbed of such violence. Africa is still seeing horrendous violence in the Congo region. Insurgency against Russian in central Asia still has not abated.

      Point being that America being a superpower has a lot of traction in the UN and the international community, but still the resources required to do all the things needed would stretch any reasonable body thin.

  15. This is a very interesting discussion and there are multiple thought threads going on. I will just respond to one of those for now.

    Valkyrie brought an interesting point when he said that rather than whether this war is just or legal, the way to think is whether the war is necessary. In fact, I would like to go a step further, and say that more than necessary, we should ask whether the war is effective.

    Clearly the idea behind the war in Afghanistan was to tackle the very real threat of terrorism to United States. It does not seem like the threat has been eliminated because of this war, or that it is going to be any time soon.

    With Afghanistan not being safe haven for Al Qaida any more, they seem to have moved on to Yemen as their base. Let us try a thought experiment. Perhaps with their next attack, if it happens, US will attack the terrorism host, the Yemen government and then again leave the nation building of the new Yemen with a power vacuum at the center to the toothless UN. Let us also not forget that the Taliban in Afghanistan still consider the US a mortal enemy and may evolve a terrorist ideology of their own if cornered outside of a space for their own political ambitions. They are ripe targets for surreptitious alliance by any other nation/group that would like to bleed the US slowly from multiple wounds. It has been mentioned on this blog that Russia was similarly defeated by being bled in this fashion by US policies and activities.

    The point that I am trying to get at is that having a strong, stable Afghanistan is in the best interests of the United States. A state is stable if it has political and military legitimacy and is an adequate representative of the people to the extent that there are means to deal with rebellion and conflict that arise in any society. Afghanistan is not stable right now, and a big reason for that is the presence of the Taliban, who control most of the south and east of the country. They have not been defeated by the Afghan military in the past 9 years and it is unlikely that they will simply go away. Whatever their social policies within the country are, the US will have achieved its purpose when the Taliban stop being a mortal threat to America. Perhaps the way to do that is to involve them in building a polity that they would care about preserving.

  16. Valkyrie says:

    Re: “Valkyrie brought an interesting point when he said that rather than whether this war is just or legal, the way to think is whether the war is necessary.”

    She, not he.

    I thought my user name would make that evident, but I guess not (my conversational style can be very direct, possibly because I’m usually outnumbered by dudes in pol-sci classes, where the guys just tend to be way more direct in tone).

    For those not aware, the Valkyries are from Norse mythology. They are the maidens of Odin who would take the souls of heroes slain in war to Valhalla. I thought it was kind of appropriate as a user name, since we’re discussing the war in Afghanistan and, despite differing views on whether or not the US should be over there, many of us do support the troops!

    That clarified, on to the next point.

    “Perhaps the way to do that is to involve them in building a polity that they would care about preserving.”

    I think that was part of the course syllabus, that issues of “trade-offs” were going to be discussed. It is not full blown support of integrating them in a moving-forward-from-here Afghan society, but a possibly necessary trade-off.

    I think I’ve come to comprehend the necessity of trade-offs a bit more, although I have doubts about how you can reasonably expect to reconcile and reintegrate a bunch of Theocrats.

    This should certainly be interesting, to say the least!

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