Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Real Wars Have Ground Troops

Kevin Drum criticizes a Foreign Affairs analysis of how public support evolves for massive ground troop deployments on the basis that there have been rather few ground troop deployments in recent history: WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. (Presumably, historians are still writing the history of Iraq I.)

This entry in the liberal War on Terror reminds me of the apparently strange position I found myself in as a New York-resident liberal with many international friends immediately after 9-11. Obviously, we were going to have to go into Afghanistan. Just as obviously, the human rights situation in Afghanistan was appalling, and the Taliban had been consolidating an absolutist regime for years. I'd been getting Help Afghani Women emails since 1999, and the destruction of the giant Buddhas sent a chill up the spine of most academics.

So when the Taliban government of Afghanistan defied the US, refusing to give up Bin Laden and Al-Qaida, I thought: "This will be awful, this will kill many civilians, but this will be a just war. And, if we do it right, if we see it through, we might actually do some good in a foresaken part of the world that has known a shitload of misery--as we wreak our vengeance."

I wan't thrilled about the idea of the US entering en masse into the "graveyard of empires," as Afghanistan has famously been called, and I did appreciate that there were enormous logistical difficulties involved in getting troops, even in small quantities, into such an undeveloped nation. But this was our justified war. If we were going to strike a symbolic blow (as such a retaliatory move against terrorists--again, symbolic actors--from the underdeveloped southern hemisphere should be), I always felt that we should do with with gumption and with honor.

Yes, I was one of those totalized marginals who thought we should land massive troops in Afghanistan and do nation-building there. We had international support, we had a legal mandate, and we had at the very least a few short-term goals: get Al-Qaida and rout the Taliban. Of course there would be an insurgency, a revanchist faction or two, which is why ground troops would be necessary to hold territory for many years.

When I understood that the Pentagon's plans for a very limited, proxy war, I was bitterly disillusioned, which I wouldn't really have thought possible. But there you go.

Many people have "given" the Afghan campaign to this administration as a sucess. I will say this: the US is not "bogged down" in Afghanistan. I'm afraid even to research the human rights NGOs about what has happened since the US campaign (air and proxy): I've heard too many stories over the last few years. Since the invasion of Iraq, many people have pointed to the abandonment of Afghanistan as an unfinished project. To the latter, I would say: Get real and look harder. Without a substantial ground commitment, the US was never serious about transforming Afghanistan. The symbolic transformation of a fundamentalistic regime was always-obviously half-assed.

This much was obvious before the sabers started rattling in Iraq.


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