Interesting blog post on leaving or staying in Afghanistan

#1
Another thought provoking post on the Kings College Dept of War Studies blog about the dilemma faced by the UK in staying in or leaving Afghanistan:



They will mobilise if we leave…and if we stay
By Patrick Porter

Some quick thoughts about these two arguments made recently by Britain’s new Chief of the General Staff, General David Richards:

Defeat for allied forces in Afghanistan would have an “intoxicating impact” on extremists around the world, the new head of the British Army has warned. Gen Sir David Richards said the failure of a coalition of such powerful western nations would show terrorists that “anything might be possible”.

Yes presumably. Islamists would be very quick to take credit, claim victory and exploit it as propaganda. There wouldn’t be much in the way of trendy ‘yes, but what is victory?’ in their fevered online celebrations.

But staying in Afghanistan will also galvanise them. The presence of the Zionist-Crusader-infidel forces, polluting Islamic lands and standing in the way of the kingdom of the righteous, will also be a propaganda tool, and a cause (or ‘grievance’) to mobilise around. Or are they overlooking the opportunity to rally the faithful when NATO airstrikes unintentionally kill civilians?

There is no avoiding this dilemma. Militant Islamists are skilled at turning most Western foreign policy behaviour into a propaganda victory and finding ever more reasons to fight. They are not just the result of grievances, they are a movement forever searching for grievances, like the ladies who commended Dr Johnson for not putting obscene words in the dictionary.

If we turn and run, we are cowards, paper tigers and decadent materialists, a rotting power ripe for attack. Osama Bin Laden’s rhetoric before 9/11, inspired by America’s withdrawal from Somalia and casualty aversion in the Balkans, was aggressive on this point.

If we stay, we are predators and aggressors.

Which is worse? I’ll leave that to others to argue. Conceivably, invading Iraq and handing Islamists a propaganda victory is more galvanising than restraint and looking like decadent cowards, because there is nothing so electrifying as foreigners turning up to occupy someone else’s lands.

But there is a certain futility in trying to manouevre ourselves strategically in the desire not to fulfill Islamist propaganda. While AQ is ultimately a self-defeating enemy that can barely control its loose network of enthusiasts, it is highly flexible in its demonology. After all, so are we.

The fear of being taunted by others is not necessarily a compelling reason to stay in an otherwise misconceived war. If they will think we are sissies if we stop hammering that nail into our eye, they may also rejoice if we keep hammering.

Defeat could have an “alienating and potentially catalytic effect” on millions of Afghans, he said.

Yes, again this is probably right. Withdrawal would alienate and possibly transform millions of Afghans.

On the other hand, very similar arguments were made in the early-to-mid-1970’s about America’s moral obligation to the South Vietnamese, and the brute fact that withdrawal would leave them in the hands of totalitarians with their re-education camps. Should America have felt obliged to remain in Vietnam until 1990?

As for the ‘catalytic effect’, again, staying in Afghanistan could radicalise Afghans as well. See above.

Part of the discipline of strategy and foreign policy is that we can’t help everybody all the time. At a time of global economic meltdown, there are even more important things at stake for the US, with profound consequences for us all, than its moral obligations to Afghans. America, it should not be forgotten, did not invade Afghanistan to do the population a humanitarian favour. It invaded because it was attacked, by Islamists who had a host government in Kabul. Its liability and duty to the Afghans exists but is limited and must be balanced against broader considerations.

As I’ve suggested before, there are good arguments to be made in favour of staying in Afghanistan, but pure altruism and the fear of humiliation are not amongst them.
http://kingsofwar.wordpress.com/2009/09/19/they-will-mobilise-if-we-leave-and-if-we-stay/
 
#2
But staying in Afghanistan will also galvanise them. The presence of the Zionist-Crusader-infidel forces, polluting Islamic lands and standing in the way of the kingdom of the righteous, will also be a propaganda tool, and a cause (or ‘grievance’) to mobilise around. Or are they overlooking the opportunity to rally the faithful when NATO airstrikes unintentionally kill civilians?

There is no avoiding this dilemma. Militant Islamists are skilled at turning most Western foreign policy behaviour into a propaganda victory and finding ever more reasons to fight. They are not just the result of grievances, they are a movement forever searching for grievances, like the ladies who commended Dr Johnson for not putting obscene words in the dictionary.
This is a important point: the grievance argument against Afghanistan is bogus, and always has been. There will always be something happening in the world that upsets them and can be used as a call to arms.
 

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