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ISSUE - Iraq / Afghanistan



The U.S. was deliberately attacked on 911 by Al Qaeda with the aiding and abetting of its home base operations by the Taliban in Afghanistan. The radical Islamic teachings of AQ and the Taliban are xenophobic, anti-democratic, indecent, and in opposition to basic human rights accepted by all cultures. Simply put, the ideology of Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and other radical Islamic movements is primitive, savage, evil, and dangerous. As a consequence, Afghanistan is a ‘war of necessity’ and not an elective or preemptive war.

Although war is a tragic element of human life, World War II and other occurrences in human history have shown us that appeasement of evil via pacifism can be more tragic than war itself. Unfortunately, there are evil people and leaders that have no respect for human life and respond only to force. Thus, as much as it is true that no war is just, there are instances in which the consequences of the absence of war are more unjust.

Whether grievances related to disliked American foreign policies contributed to Al Qaeda’s antagonism with the U.S. provides no excuse for its hostile ideas and approach and lack of respect for human life, individualism, and egalitarianism. Al Qaeda has shown no interest in attempting to affect change in the international community via non-violent political means. It will continue to do all it can to kill Americans and other pro-democratic people wherever it can detect exploitable vulnerabilities. It has killed innocent civilians in the U.S., Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. Its radical views are not specifically anti-American but more generally anti-modern egalitarian thought and culture.

The appeasement of the similarly evil movement of fascist Nazism in the 1930s led to WW II and the deaths of millions of people. We cannot afford to repeat that error. Al Qaeda cannot be appeased in any way or anywhere, including Afghanistan and Pakistan, or it will strengthen and take advantage of the opportunity to kills Americans and others. Appeasement via a pullout from Afghanistan would have disastrous implications. Such an AQ and Taliban victory, whether real or perceived and so advertised, would lead to the recruitment of thousands of young men into their ranks to affect further terrorist acts. Ability to train and move freely in Afghanistan would significantly strengthen Al Qaeda’s military capabilities to pursue international terrorist activity. The people of Afghanistan would suffer immeasurable pain due to retribution by the Taliban, including massive executions, stoning, and return to Sharia law. The plight of women, in particular, would be horrific, returning them to the dark ages with a termination of basic human and health rights, legal protection, education, and career possibilities. Potentially the most important consequence of a resurgence of a radical Islamic Taliban government would be its destabilizing effect on the fledgling democracy in nuclear Pakistan, and secondary strategic effects on South Asia more generally, including Pakistan-India relations.

The U.S.’s strategic decision about the war in Afghanistan must be a determination that Al Qaeda will be suppressed to the point of immaterialism at all costs. The war in Afghanistan (Operation Enduring Freedom, GWOT) is only one component of the Global War on Terrorism that must be won. In WWII, our strategic goal was an unconditional victory over fascist Nazism, resulting in the movement’s loss of strategic significance. Our strategic goal in the GWOT must be the same. Our tactical goal in Afghanistan, including our exit strategy, should be based on the establishment of a democratic Afghan government capable of providing basic needs to its people, disallowing use of Afghan territory for training and movement by Al Qaeda, and suppressing the re-emergence of Taliban as a significant political movement.

Therefore, I fully support President Obama’s recent decision to send an additional 30,000 American troops to Afghanistan. We must establish reasonable security to provide opportunity for more enduring nation building activities, including stabilizing and reforming the Afghani government, and building of infrastructure, hospitals, clinics, schools, and a sustainable economy. To a significant extent, a similar surge of troops established sufficient security in Iraq for similarly constructive developments, establishing a model for potential successful strategy in Afghanistan. That security has improved in areas of Afghanistan where American troops have already surged in the last year also provides an evidence-basis to support the strategy.

tired troops

General McChrystal’s military assessment resulted in a request for 40,000 troops. President Obama is hoping for NATO support for the balance of requested 10,000 troops. I believe we should not complete this task ‘on the cheap’ but should resource such an endeavor generously. There are government services that must be funded thriftily but not when we send young Americans to war. Our troops should be fully supported, including being sent to war with such strength that military victory is a predetermination. Analogously, in domestic policy, Veterans’ affairs should be the last place to cut funding. President Lincoln’s Second Inauguration words, “to care for him who shall have borne the battle…”, have no less significance today. We have a moral responsibility to maximally support the troops when performing their duty and afterwards. Such policies are essential in order to fairly and fully support our troops being sent into harm’s way, including the Vermont National Guard’s 86th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (IBCT) currently being deployed to Afghanistan.

In other words, if the military assessment is that 40,000 troops would suffice to accomplish the task, 60,000 should be sent because of inherent political influences on such predictions and the unpredictability of war. Of course, the current participation of NATO and other ally troops (e.g., British, Australian) in the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan is acknowledged and must be appreciated. However, the U.S. should insist that NATO match American combat troop strength, sending an additional 30,000 to 40,000 troops (with rules of engagement similar to those of the Americans). It is a matter of fairness and morality.

If NATO is unwilling to step up to the plate and abide by its treaty obligations, all options should be on be the table, including an American reassessment of its ongoing key participation in NATO. That the war is unpopular in Europe is no excuse; European leaders must remind their people about the ‘moral imperative’ in Afghanistan to regain their support. After eight years, the American people are weary of the war also. American entry into WWII was also unpopular (until Pearl Harbor), yet historians know the delay in American active participation strengthened the resolve of Germany and delayed victory.

At the same time, we must work to support an enlightened security for the United States. I believe inequities in American domestic and international policies have contributed to anti-Americanism and resulting hatred and terrorist activity. The U.S. remains a beacon of hope for a better life but its inconsistencies negate this theoretical appeal. We must restore fair economic policies in the U.S., including reasonable progressive taxation and universal health coverage. We cannot mortgage our children’s futures by borrowing endlessly to pay for our current social services and costs related to two wars. We must raise revenue to pay for the wars by restoring a progressive income tax and establishing progressive payroll and capital gains taxes. After WWII, the highest marginal federal income tax rate was above 90% because policy makers knew that the war must be paid for somehow and that such funding should come from those who could most easily afford it. We must lead by aiming for more reasonable energy and economic policies that lead to a transformational change towards a green revolution in our economy. We must increase our effort to combat poverty in the developing world. Such domestic and international activities would provide the credibility to insist on appropriate NATO partnership in the GWOT and for buy in into modern egalitarian democratic principles by people struggling in the developing world. Such policies are essential in order to fairly and fully support our troops being sent into harm’s way, including Vermont’s 86th IBCT.

Our position on the Iraq war will be updated shortly.

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