Sunday, October 18, 2009
the Reluctant Settler and the Turbulent Frontier
Afghanistan: a just war, or just another war?
"You bleed green, I bleed red."
Obama's war. That is the the truth and the lie that frames our newfound interest in the American project in Afghanistan. Our political menu is being realligned in the foreign policy realm by a mixture of persistent critics, recent turncoats and Republicans who would criticize Obama if he cut himself shaving. That is to say nothing of the actual situation on the ground, which is deteriorating in real ways, as the clear illegitimacy of the Karzai government tarnishes our project in the eyes of Afghanis and the world writ large. Foreign relations, they say, is a two sided game: actors must model their moves for both foreign and domestic audiences.
It's not just Obama's war. This war belong to every American with a spine and an interest in our good name and the blood and treasure already spent on this project.
A liberal friend of mine has expressed his impatience with the project in Afghanistan.
"We should just go home, man." He tells me. "Who cares about those Afghanis? They obviously don't want democracy and you like can't force democracy at the barrel of a gun bro... Don't you know anything?"
Now my friend might have a point. If he wants to conduct his political theory as if he were God, then YES! I suppose it would also be fantastic if summer were 4 months longer and ice cream made you run faster and look better naked, but none of these things are. His attempts at theory cannot facilitate an examination of how an individual should be in light of how the world is. He admits that he was for the Afghanistan project at the time. All red-blooded Americans supported a targetted strike against al-Queda, Usama bin Laden and the Taliban government that enabled him.
Now he'd found he doesn't have the stomach for the conflict.
I must admit that a formative experience in the trajectory of my thinking on foreign policy was the surge in Iraq. At the time, in 2005, the war effort was going to hell in a handbasket. I wanted out. Where others would base their arguements on what was best for the Iraqis, I didn't. I was clear that I wanted out of Iraq to protect American lives and treasure. I was fully aware that there would be a bloodbath there if we left.
But we stayed. Sober, courageous minds and the momentum of a military occupation won out. I was sure that this was folly. But sure enough the surge worked. Those brave enough rushed in where the supposedly rational were rushing out. And a difference was made. That corner was finally turned. The situation as it stands now shows that the surge was a better decison not just for Iraqis but for Americans too.
Now what lesson is there to take away from this. We've made a covenant with the Afghanis. He who is so quick to inject responsibility and humility into our foreign policy cannot grasp that by invading, we entered into a covenant. We hold their lives in our hands: every man and woman who sided with us against the Taliban, every person who has embraced our liberal idea that everyone should be able to pursue their own vision of whats valuable in life.
We've chosen the arena, drawn the lines and started the timer and now we want out? Such an epiphany would have had more currency before we set this project into motion.
What does it mean to be liberal? Liberal in the sense that all Americans are liberal. Is liberalism a spineless philosophy? Is it politics as holy war between secularism and fundamentalism? Is it an uneasy piece between different visions of whats valuable in life?
Those who want to pack up and go home in Afghanistan want a spineless sort of liberalism for themselves but don't believe in in enough to take any leap of faith in its potential for traction in Afghanistan. Our defeatist friend (Brian) lives through a liberalism that is calculating, bland, petty and unheroic. We slap this articulation of liberalism down. We spit on its body and dance on its grave.
For we hold up a liberalism that is heroic. It is not heroic in the romantic conservative sense, but in a more nuanced, chaotic liberal sort of way. This is liberalism not as a road map but as a flash light. It doesn't tell you exactly where we are going and how to get there, but it offers you a tool to navigate a confusing and dangerous world. With a little courage and ingenuity we can use it too.
I present you liberalism as impatience with arguments based in fear and self-preservation. Liberalism as faith in our ability to take our individualistic ideal and spread it like apple seeds on a wild frontier.
In the Afghanistan project we are the new pilgrims of liberalism. Instead of bringing bibles, we bring guns and ammo and food and money, and cranes and planes and the promise, or the threat, of making Afghanistan into California.
My defeatist friend told me: "You would have been one of the people who advocated Manifest Destiny."
Well my friend is a Washingtonian. He obviously can abstractly critisize American expansionism but feels no need to retreat Eastward. Perhaps he has resigned to the reality on the ground. He is not trying to reverse or disavow the newfound possibilities and problems that have followed from the combination of Western civilization and Washington State.
No one likes a reluctant settler. Sitting on the back of the covered wagon, feeling a slight sense of remorse, and feeling almost sorta kinda unhappy, as he plows Westward into the night.
From Shakespeare's Macbeth:
"Fair is foul and foul is fair.... What's done cannot be undone... Blood will have blood."
From Colin Powell on the Iraq War:
"You break it, you buy it."