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Commentary: Can't defeat terrorism in Afghanistan

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 6, 2010 - There are four questions:

  • How did we get in this mess?
  • Now that we are in this mess, what is the goal?
  • Can we achieve the goal?
  • If we can’t achieve the goal, how do we get out?

Here is Mark Twain’s take on getting into war:
The loud little handful - as usual - will shout for the war. The pulpit will - warily and cautiously – object ... at first. The great, big, dull bulk of the nation will rub its sleepy eyes and try to make out why there should be a war, and will say, earnestly and indignantly, "It is unjust and dishonorable, and there is no necessity for it." Then the handful will shout louder. A few fair men on the other side will argue and reason against the war with speech and pen, and at first will have a hearing and be applauded, but it will not last long; those others will outshout them, and presently the antiwar audiences will thin out and lose popularity. Before long, you will see this curious thing: the speakers stoned from the platform, and free speech strangled by hordes of furious men...

Next the statesmen will invent cheap lies, putting the blame upon the nation that is attacked, and every man will be glad of those conscience-soothing falsities, and will diligently study them, and refuse to examine any refutations of them; and thus he will by and by convince himself that the war is just, and will thank God for the better sleep he enjoys after this process of grotesque self-deception.

--The Mysterious Stranger (1910)

While still a candidate, President Barack Obama proclaimed a two-pronged war policy. First, he opposed Bush’s war in Iraq. Then, he said we should take the fight to Afghanistan. One day, perhaps to his own surprise, he woke up as president and had to make good on his word. Now he has escalated the fight in Afghanistan, and we are in it with both feet.

(That is the cynical view; the benefit of the doubt assumes he has us in it because he believes the war in Afghanistan will assist in the fight against terrorism.)

Surely we can all agree that there are many Islamic Jihadists in the world who want to destroy our way of life.  And surely we can all agree that stopping those people must be the primary goal, perhaps the only goal, of our foreign policy.

The last 1,000 years of war may be divided into four phases:

  • Phase One has aristocrats wearing suits of armor and whacking at each other.
  • Phase Two is the Napoleonic model with the masses dressed up in uniforms shooting at each other but with guns that don’t work.
  • Phase Three is the carnage of WW II where the masses are still dressed up in uniforms but the guns do work -- and the matter concludes with nuclear blasts.
  • Phase Four, the current phase, ditches the uniforms, uses commercial airplanes as bombs, allows a handful of terrorists to cause unthinkable civilian casualties, has one’s own otherwise polite and well groomed young men blowing themselves and everyone else up, and has a battlefield everywhere and anywhere.

(In this new fight, military and State Department types always seem to be whining about our enemies not wearing uniforms and so violating the “rules of war.” Quit whining, people. It’s war. The enemy is going to attack every way they can think of, by every devious means they can think of, and could care less about the rules of war of the last century. STOP FIGHTING THE LAST WAR).
Why do we think that in the current Phase Four the enemy is so concentrated in Afghanistan that wiping out lots of their villages and killing their men, women and children will destroy the Islamic Jihadists who are trying to demolish us? It is a dumb policy and likely only to make them hate us more. The Islamic Jihadists will slip into countries with hard to pronounce names and continue the fight. When one attempts to shoot an ant with a bazooka, one should at least aim.

What if the situation were reversed? Imagine a bunch of foreign soldiers strolling around Downtown, Clayton, the Loop, Kirkwood and Ferguson, all armed up with big scary guns and hand grenades, pretending to befriend our people. I would be inclined to double cross them. I would pretend to be friendly, but then would intentionally give them bad information and laugh when they pursued it to their own detriment.

I would be particularly furious if the foreigners were bribing our local elected officials to get them to support them – which is exactly what we are doing in Afghanistan. I would also be irked if I thought the leader of the foreign country was mainly in it for his own political good, and not because he believed in his heart that the war would stop terrorism.

The more we support a foreign nation’s government, the more the people hate us, and the more we hate a foreign government, the more the people like us.

In his 1797 Farewell Address, George Washington told us to “avoid foreign entanglements.” His advice was good then. His advice is good now. We should cut our losses and leave Afghanistan.

We cannot stay only to honor those who have died already, because by that logic we would still be in Vietnam trying to win over the locals and beat the Reds, and that logic denies ever admitting error.

I admit I don’t know how to conduct the new war, but that does not mean we should stay in Afghanistan. But I suspect if we follow George Washington’s advice we will be better off than we are now.

Question Four: How do we get out? I say we handle it the way a proper gentleman ends a romance with a lady. The two sit down for a cup of coffee. The gentleman delivers a simple message: “Thanks for your love and affection, but this is over and I am moving on. Please let me get my stuff out of your house. No hard feelings - let’s remain friends.” She is sobbing; so he beats it out of there - as quickly as possible.

Let’s beat it out of Afghanistan - as quickly as possible.

Bevis Schock is an attorney in private practice in Clayton.

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