Afghanistan: It's not the HOW but the WHY of war

For all the criticism progressives bestow on Ronald Reagan for just about any decision he made while living at the White House – and justifiably so, based on his interpretation of what social justice should be – the former president doesn’t seem to get appropriate laudatory mention for his handling of the aftermath in the 1983 bombing of the Marine barracks at the Beirut (Lebanon) airport where 241 American servicemen lost their lives in a single day.

Such unanticipated bombing did occur just two days before the American invasion of the island of Grenada (all 344 sq. km. of it) – a “multinational force” composed of 10,000 troops from the US and 300 troops from the Regional Security System (RSS) Caribbean nations – a fact which might have influenced Reagan’s decision to “cut and run” from the Civil War in Lebanon under the cover of an overplayed, and world-wide criticized, derisory victory against a raggedy army of 1,500 Grenadians and 700 attached Cuban military engineers (advisers).

To Reagan or, more specifically, to his war room advisers in both the Pentagon and the State Department, a greater entanglement in the Middle East did not make any sense. With the Soviet Union economic-military pulse getting weaker, and increasingly faltering in offering confrontation to the West, there was little reason to enter a conflagration in which Israel already had the upper hand. And, let’s face it, the brass at the Pentagon was still smarting from the embarrassment of a decade before in Vietnam where the initial why to the war – by then the infamous domino theory in foreign policy – was being debunked, replaced by the how to conduct a war, a war unlikely to be won.

Twenty-six years later, Obama is confronted with the same dilemma Reagan was, but with one disadvantage (vs. Reagan) to appease the large contingent of warmongers in this country: a lack of a Grenada-type victory to compensate for an orderly retreat from Afghanistan. So politician Obama is heeding what General McChrystal has to say on Afghanistan, paying close attention to those polls which confirm that in matters of war almost 60 percent of Americans have greater faith in the generals running it than in their commander-in-chief. And that brings us to the eternal question relating to the conduct of war: should the why or the how take precedence when starting or fighting a war.

As much as we may dislike it, the true mission of any military, ours included, is not the prevention of war, but the existence of war. War is the military’s raison-d’ètre where all sort of opportunity opens up to achieve glory and rank. The whys of war are in fact truly irrelevant to the military and only how war is conducted that counts. Now that the nation has seen the fallacy of Bush’s invasion of Afghanistan, where post-9/11goals could have been met negotiating with the Taliban government, we seem to get lost once again in how to win the war, or the hearts and minds of the Afghan people… Vietnam redux!

On September 10, as reported by the Washington Post, Matthew Hoh, a U.S. State Department official and former Marine warrior in Iraq, was the first diplomat to resign in protest to the war in Afghanistan. In his resignation letter he stated, “I have lost understanding of and confidence in the strategic purposes of the United States’ presence in Afghanistan. I have doubts and reservations about our current strategy and planned future strategy, but my resignation is based not upon how we are pursuing this war, but why and to what end.”

To Hoh, just as to other middle-rank diplomats, the war in Afghanistan makes no sense, breeding only an increasingly stronger insurgency that has resulted in an alliance which had not existed before between the Taliban and Al Qaida. Furthermore, the presence of the United States in Afghanistan is playing havoc on keeping the integrity of Pakistan as a nation intact, as US Secretary of State Clinton is finding out firsthand in her tour.

Bush had the why of the war in Afghanistan wrong. Obama shouldn’t be listening to the military, or anyone else for that matter, to conclude that the war had been a horrendous decision made by a little emperor without brains. The war must be ended, and the only how that needs to be asked is how to pull out… and how to help Afghanistan later with necessary aid to bring a better life to all the Afghan people; help they must request from us, not as benevolent invaders, but as compassionate world-neighbors.

Like Vietnam, the why of this war has been debunked, so there’s no need for how this war must be fought! Obama, the leader, must emerge ahead of Obama, the politician.