Q: In the wake of Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal’s dismissal as chief commander of American and NATO forces in Afghanistan, Congress is evaluating our policy and presence there. Is it time for the U.S. to get out of Afghanistan? Do we have a moral responsibility to stay or to leave?
Let’s be honest–our eight-year-old presence in Afghanistan is no longer a war, it has become an ongoing occupation conducted at an unbearable cost of lives and resources, paid by both the Afghan and the American people. We spend a million dollars to keep each soldier there. Imagine the jobs that money could create, the health care it could provide, the schools it could build! But far worse is the toll in lives–over a thousand of our own soldiers and uncounted Afghans.
Military occupation is no way to win hearts and minds. The Karzai government is corrupt, and our support for it undermines trust. There is no moral justification for occupation, nor is it strategic: our continued presence inflames hatred and creates a climate that furthers violence.
There is a moral and strategic path, but it require a shift in our thinking, the same kind of shift we make when we change from industrial, toxic agriculture to organic farming. Instead of simply trying to kill the pests, whether they are insects or suspected terrorists, we ask: “What are the conditions that are favoring the destructive elements? How do we change those conditions and give a competitive edge to the beneficial forces?”
In a garden, we feed the soil and look to the health of the plants. In a country, we would support all the efforts that truly feed the health and life of the people–from schools and rebuilding efforts to energy projects and food growing. Instead of funding war, we’d fund peace. Instead of massive, disruptive projects with huge budgets–most of which never reach the people, we’d fund small-scale, local, hands-on projects, on the model of something like the Grameen Banks of Pakistan, in which tiny amounts of money are loaned to small circles of women who support and are accountable to one another. We’d lend our resources to efforts of cooperation and real growth, and create new conditions.
That’s a longer term path. Perhaps it seems like a ‘soft’ path–too soft for politicians bent on proving their ultra-butch hard-fisted credentials. But it’s a path that might lead somewhere worth going. If we continue to pour lives and funds into military occupation, we’ll prove the truth of that Native American proverb which says “If we don’t change our direction, we’re going to wind up where we’re headed.” Where we’re headed is a continuation of the hellish and desperate conditions we find today. There is no morality in that–only what might seem to be political expediency, short-sighted and ultimately ineffective. The moral and truly courageous path is the path of peace. And today is a good day to call or write your elected representatives, and tell them so!