Monday :: Nov 30, 2009

Afghanistan? Why not invade Mexico, instead?

by Turkana

There are many reasons why we shouldn't be escalating the war in Afghanistan, not the least of which is that the war is unwinnable. But some say we have to stay and rebuild Afghanistan. That we owe it to them, or that it's in our national interest, or that it's the moral thing to do.

In an article in Harper's titled "The war we can't win," Andrew J. Bacevich, who was an officer in the U.S. Army for more than twenty years, and now is a professor of international relations at Boston University, makes a compelling case against escalation, and he attacks this particular argument in a unique and brilliant way.

Why not first fix, say, Mexico? In terms of its importance to the United States, our southern neighbor—a major supplier of oil and drugs among other commodities deemed vital to the American way of life—outranks Afghanistan by several orders of magnitude.

If one believes that moral considerations rather than self-interest should inform foreign policy, Mexico still qualifies for priority attention. Consider the theft of California. Or consider more recently how the American appetite for illicit drugs and our lax gun laws have corroded Mexican institutions and produced an epidemic of violence afflicting ordinary Mexicans. Yet any politician calling for the commitment of 60,000 U.S. troops to Mexico to secure those interests or acquit those moral obligations would be laughed out of Washington—and rightly so. Any pundit proposing that the United States assume responsibility for eliminating the corruption endemic in Mexican politics while establishing in Mexico City effective mechanisms of governance would have his license to pontificate revoked. Anyone suggesting that the United States possesses the wisdom and the wherewithal to solve the problem of Mexican drug trafficking, to endow Mexico with competent security forces, and to reform the Mexican school system (while protecting the rights of Mexican women) would be dismissed as a lunatic. Meanwhile, those who promote such programs for Afghanistan, ignoring questions of cost and ignoring as well the corruption and ineffectiveness that pervade our own institutions, are treated like sages.

The contrast between Washington’s preoccupation with Afghanistan and its relative indifference to Mexico testifies to the distortion of U.S. national-security priorities adopted by George W. Bush in his post-9/11 prophetic mode—distortions now being endorsed by Bush’s successor. It also testifies to a vast failure of imagination to which our governing classes have succumbed. This failure of imagination makes it impossible for those who possess either authority or influence in Washington to consider the possibility (a) that the solution to America’s problems is to be found not out there—where “there” in this case is Central Asia—but here at home; (b) that the people out there, rather than requiring our ministrations, may well be capable of managing their own affairs, relying on their own methods; and (c) that to disregard (a) and (b) is to open the door to great mischief and in all likelihood to perpetrate no small amount of evil. Needless to say, when mischief or evil does occur—when a stray American bomb kills a few dozen Afghan civilians, for instance—the costs of this failure of imagination are not borne by the people who inhabit the leafy neighborhoods of northwest Washington, who lunch at the Palm or the Metropolitan Club and school their kids at Sidwell Friends.

I've previously posted some very direct questions that need to be believably and pragmatically answered. They can be narrowed into three groups.

1) The president already escalated the war in February, and in September decided to replace 14,000 non-combat troops with combat troops, while contracting out the non-combat replacements. The result has been month after month after month of record American troop deaths, in Afghanistan, with the annual total already having surpassed its previous record, in August. Meanwhile, the Taliban have only grown stronger. So, what will more troops accomplish? Why would anyone think a war strategy can succeed?

2) What is the goal? Al Qaeda terrorist Osama bin Laden is thought to be hiding in Pakistan. The Taliban are now based in Pakistan. The Afghan "government" has no credibility, and has been frustrating the Obama Administration, for months. The Afghan people, themselves, want us to leave. Also as previously noted, the Bush Administration long ago lost this war. It cannot be fixed. The only thing going well in Afghanistan is the opium trade. Which is going very well, indeed. So, what is the strategic goal, and how are we supposed to accomplish it?

3) How does this end? This is the simplest and most daunting question. A good answer has yet to be seen. At what point is the unnamed goal supposed to be accomplished, allowing our troops to leave? How do we get from here to there? How long will it take? What will be the human, geopolitical, and financial costs?

Until and unless there are clear and believable answers to those questions, a further escalation of the war shouldn't even be considered. But the question Bacevich asks perhaps makes the absurdity of an escalation all the more clear. Because no matter how one rationalizes continuing and escalating the war in Afghanistan, the same arguments make a more compelling case for invading and nation-building in Mexico. Which we all know is laughable. So, why is no one laughing?

Turkana :: 7:43 PM :: Comments (3) :: Digg It!