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."


  1. I have to give it to you Hans. Your romantic notions of invade and conquer would certainly arouse proud notions of bombs bursting in freedoms sweet air in the hearts of even the most 'spineless' pacifists.
    Near the beginning of your ethnocentric rant, you mention that our supposed ally Karzai's waning legitimacy is souring Afghanistan's view in America. But you take nothing of importance from this notion? Perhaps we can find one of your Afghan liberal wunderkinds to usher in our country's ideologies. A feminist perhaps? Maybe a homosexual president is just what Afghanistan needs to introduce them to all the fruits of American capitalism.
    No matter how much you try to hide behind notions of freedom, your wish to transpose your views upon others will ultimately keep you from truly understanding it.
    "For behind all imperialism is ultimately the imperialistic individual, just as behind all peace is ultimately the peaceful individual." Irving Babbitt

  2. "No matter how much you try to hide behind notions of freedom, your wish to transpose your views upon others will ultimately keep you from truly understanding it."

    Brian, Brian, Brian. Woe onto them that bend to the tautologies that roll off your forked tongue. Perhaps they could use a feminist President. Seems we'll have to try for something humbler if we wish to impose both democracy and liberalism at once.

    I must say, I find your counteranalysis a little less than overwhelming here. You are want to look at the impacts of withdrawal, the responsibility of Americans to stand by those who have stood up to tyranny and superstition and hierarchy and terrorism.

    I suppose Brian, that those who have stood up to these forces have always had the same enemy. They base their arguements on order and stability and fear and self-preservation and defeatism and the backwards idea that superstition and slavery can be instruments of courage and freedom.

    What would you have said about Apartheid in South Africa Brian??? It's their problem isn't it. What would you have said about civil rights abuses in the deep South of 1960? It's not our problem in the North is it? You can fortify yourself in a stable fortress against the problems of the Otherlings, but that life is hollow and meaningless.

    As MLK Jr said, we are all bound together in one garment of destiny. I cannot be free if you are unfree, and vice-versa.

    You treat liberalism like it is an overarching imposition of what is valuable in life, but it is really a neutral grid for allowing individuals to pursure their own vision of the good while respecting the moral powers of others.

    Brian, I think once you come to terms with the character of liberalism, you will feel comfortable accepting your responsibilities in the Middle East. What will the history books say about you Brian Ely, that you are disingenious, treacherous, like a stagnant swamp filled with eels???

    OR will they say that you were a man who understood the weight of his crown and heard the call of the frontier, and carried people's project one mile farther?

  3. "carried his people's project one mile further."

  4. I'm weary of the illuminati, also of said "people's project." This whole nation building notion of BR's, it sounds like it's coming fresh from the frothy mouthes down at Jew Command.

  5. You break it you bought it Al. No ammount of hand-wringing and angst will get you a refund.

    And you've indicated your weariness with taking a hand in our shared project as Americans. I wish I could divorce myself from the efforts of my brothers so easily.

    I wonder how many waves youll shred Al. How much pot you'll smoke. How many groovy conversations youll have around the campfire... For me, that would never be as meaningful and satisfying as crafting my actions through the eyes of people I love and the expectations of people I respect.

    Our "people's project" isn't some creepy North Korean sort of a thing, it is merely the notion that our sweetest existence takes place when we take on the responsibilities of our awesome power we hold as Americans. The appeal of the "people's project" is that it isn't something that dissapears when you turn away from it. We merely become corrupted, infantized and alienated by our refusal to engage in the conflict that claims American lives.

    You are purposefully flippant with the issues (illuminati, etc.. ) because its hard to accept the messy reality that these decison are made by real Americans like you and me who take on the burden of making tough calls. Woe onto them that make perfect the enemy of good. I feel bad for you who feels that shovelling pot and ipods into your bottomless appetites will do anything but leave you exhausted and hungry on your death bed. The "people's project," in it's foreign and domestic forms, is the noblest exercise in which a human can engage.

    As MLK Jr said, the righteous man is he who sweats and bleeds to bend the arc of history towards justice.

  6. Or we could just let the Taliban take over Afghanistan, kill anyone who worked with us, impose fundamentalist Islamic law on everyone, and work to destabilize the already unstable nuclear power Pakistan.

    I think your solutions imply more violence and danger and war than the status quo or the proposed escalation.

  7. Sometimes the tough call may be one’s refusal to engage in the conflict. Additionally, what is an escalation of Americans in those countries other than more honey for Taliban frenzy? Also, who broke it? Brother Bush? Brother Jeb? Brother boot up yer’ ass?

    Moreover, all can disappear if you turn away from it, but say what you will BR; regardless, you’ll be wishing you could vibe on my tasty waves AND MY NUGS from that sand dune where Sgt. Rosco will cry for you to feel for his johnson just incase the numbness near his hips actually DOES mean that the shaft has been partially removed and rendered useless.

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