Friday, July 17, 2009

Complicated Afghanistan and Just War

The war in Afghanistan is important. At the moment it's one of the main arenas of conflict with those Islamists who are willing (or forced) to fight rather than merely murder; if they aren't defeated we'll all pay a heavy price, such is their hatred of mankind and their eagerness to kill people.

But it's not a simple tale. The Economist just offered what seems to me a reasonable analysis of how muddled and complicated the country is. It's worth reading.

Being who I am, I was glumly tickled by this section:
The biggest change under General McChrystal is the instruction to reduce
civilian casualties. A “tactical directive”, issued at the start of Thrust of
the Sword, says that winning the support of the Afghans overrides all else. “We
must avoid the trap of winning tactical victories—but suffering strategic
defeats—by causing civilian casualties or excessive damage and thus alienating
the people,” he says. This may increase the danger to troops; but the greater
risk is to push Afghans into the arms of the Taliban.

We're eight (8) years into the war, and the top American general has told his forces that they really ought to be more careful and kill fewer civilians. Civilians, I remind, who may well be citizens of an ally nation, who's crime is that some nasties happen to be in their neighborhood. And the mention of this is in the Economist, a British paper. If it's also in any American publications, I assure you it's not on their front pages.

Earlier this week President Obama met with some top Jewish folks, and apparently told them Israel must think more about its policies. The next day I met a group of very intelligent American news-junky types, the kind that follow every detail of the political scene. At one point I mentioned, as an aside, that Americans have been killing thousands of civilians in their wars these past few years. They were incredulous. Did I mean mercenaries with American companies, perhaps? No, I meant American pilots in Afghanistan, American drones in Paksitan, and American Marines in Iraqi towns, most notably Faluga. They were astonished, my audience.

On a scale of human forms of waging war, the Americans really are about as good as you'll find. But the idea of their president lecturing us about how we need to be more reflective, not to say more careful, leaves me scratching my head in puzzlement.


aaron said...

"On a scale of human forms of waging war, the Americans really are about as good as you'll find."

As an American, thanks. But my understanding is the IDF has the best ratio of combatants to civilians killed. Of course the IDF is operating in territory they know extremely well, while US forces are rather alien in their current theaters.

Anonymous said...

Yaacov -

About 2 weeks ago I left you a comment to a NYT artcle on this subject and 2 radio reports on NPR. What I pointed out was that in both our military talked about avoiding civilian casualties as a tactical, but not moral, imperative.

Aaron - US forces do not take the same kind of risks IDF does to avoid civilian casualties.