Stopping the Tide of Terrorist Activities in Afghanistan
History has clearly shown the world that war is a slippery slope in Afghanistan. Just killing the so-called “enemy” of the moment does not seem to change the problems in that region. Remember, at one time we supported the mujahadeen against Russia. Later these “Afghan freedom fighters” morphed into the Taliban and many joined up with Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda!
So what is needed besides a military presence in that region?
What are the goals of the U.S. in Afghanistan?
A movie called “Charlie Wilson’s War” featuring Tom Hanks as Congressman Charlie Wilson documents the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan in the early 1980’s. The problem, we gave lots of weapons and military training to future Taliban and the nascent groups that then became Al Qaeda.
With 20/20 vision, former Congressman Charlie Wilson talks about what he learned from his experience with pushing the military option in Afghanistan in a Washington Post article of 8/28/2008, “Charlie Wilson’s Peace”:
“We must recognize now, as we learned years ago, that a strong military alone is not enough to ensure our long-term national security.”
“If we had done the right thing in Afghanistan then — following up our military support with the necessary investments in diplomacy and development assistance — we would have better secured our own country’s future, as well as peace and stability in the region.” (Charlie Wilson)
Just killing off one terrorist group will not stop the fundamental problem of people becoming terrorists. In fact, it may just incite more people to want to become terrorists! So, what is the fundamental solution to ending conflict and terrorist activities? As Wilson finally concluded, the country is in dire need of help with basic needs. Charlie Wilson says in the Washington Post:
“But the Afghans, with our weapons, had done nothing less than help precipitate the collapse of the Soviet Union. And instead of intensifying our diplomatic and humanitarian efforts to help the Afghans meet their postwar challenges, we simply walked away — leaving a destroyed country that lacked roads, schools, and any plan or hope for rebuilding.”
“It takes much more to make America safe than winning on the battlefield. Had we remained engaged in Afghanistan, investing in education, health and economic development, the world would be a very different place today.” (Charlie Wilson)
Charlie Wilson also explains the interconnectedness of all things and all people when he said in the same article:
“The aftermath of a congressional committee’s decision so long ago has turned out to be a warning that America is not immune to the problems of the very poorest countries. In today’s world, any person’s well-being — whether he or she is in Kandahar, Kigali or Kansas — is connected to the well-being of others.”
The Role of Dialogue, Diplomacy & Development in Securing the Peace in Afghanistan
Charlie Wilson pointed out in the Washington Post article of 8/2008 that the U.S. spends only 1% of the federal budget on critical elements of foreign policy related to diplomacy and development as compared to the 22% spent each year on the military and weapons.
Now is the time to create more balance in our foreign policy by properly funding non-military operations that help heal the areas of conflict.
Charlie Wilson concluded his article in the Washington Post with a plea to the next President who at the time of the writing of the article had not yet been elected. He said:
“Robust investments in health, education and economic development are critical elements of our national security. I hope the message of our experiences in Afghanistan will resonate with the next president, whoever he is, as he puts in place his strategic vision for America’s role in the world.”
The Road to a Secure Peace in Afghanistan Mr. President:
Three months after Charlie Wilson’s article in the Washington Post, the people of America chose Barack Obama as their 44th President of the United States on November 4, 2008. Barack Obama won the election 52 percent to 46 percent for John McCain. He also won 349 electoral votes compared to 173 for McCain. Basically, President Obama has a mandate from the people. Many people voted for Obama to “get out of Iraq and Afghanistan” and to stem the tide of endless military contracts going to cronies in the former administration. President Obama inherited the problems of the prior administration as well as a new set of challenges confronting the U.S. and world.
A “decider” can best decide what action to take by having the ability to listen objectively to competing views in order to chart the best course forward. In deciding the next step in Afghanistan, the key is to ask,
- Will this action protect U.S. & Afghan lives?
- Will this action help the people of Afghanistan move away from the causes of terrorism?
In answering those important questions, Mr. President, please consider the wisdom of Charlie Wilson to realize that military solutions are not always the best and final solution to solving a protracted conflict. It’s time for “Smart Soft Power” approaches.
Professor Joseph Nye co-chaired the Commission on Smart Power with Richard Armitage for the Center for Strategic & International Studies.
The Commission on Smart Power’s Report states in the Executive Summary:
To maintain a leading role in global affairs, the United States must move from eliciting fear and anger to inspiring optimism and hope.
The United States must become a smarter power by once again investing in the global good-providing things people and government in all quarters of the world want but cannot attain in the absence of American leadership. By complementing U.S. military and economic might with greater investments in soft power, America can build the framework it needs to tackle tough global challenges.
Professor Joseph Nye talks about Soft Power in an interview at the Harvard Kennedy School shown on You-Tube.
An interesting conference called “The Obama Administration Faces Afghanistan” sponsored by the Arnold A. Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies (SIWPS) at Columbia University, took place on April 24, 2009. This conference consisted of a series of panels that looked at the many issues confronting leaders making decisions about solving problems in Afghanistan. The video below is the first panel.
Panel 1: Afghanistan in Regional and Global Perspective: Kimberly Marten
In order to effectively help Afghanistan, it appears that the U.S. needs to work together with other nations. The fundamental problems in the region are intertwined with basic survival. People need a way to make a living for themselves and their families. Since the literacy rate is quite low, Afghans would benefit from educating both males and females to aid their society. Therefore, the fundamental issue is one of non-military solutions for basic human problems.
What happens in Afghanistan can affect the entire world. Therefore, it is in the interest of the global community to assist with a multi-pronged approach to wean the people away from terrorism and encourage peaceful economic and social development of the region. That would be a win-win situation for Afghanistan, the U.S. and the world community.