Afghanistan: A Moment for Change
The U.S. war in Afghanistan is entering its tenth year. Begun as a U.S.-led NATO invasion to respond to the September 11, 2001 attacks, the occupation has cost thousands of lives and billions of dollars. Much of Afghanistan remains an unstable hotbed of extremism and violence. Attacks are on the rise and civilian deaths are increasing. Evidence shows that the presence of foreign forces is uniting extremist groups that have diverse ideologies and feeding recruits to the Taliban and al Qaeda movements rather than quelling them.
The initial invasion, motivated by revenge, fear, and a misdirected desire to demonstrate strength, has given way to a more complicated and amorphous mission to bring peace, security, and stability to Afghanistan. Accomplishing these goals through military means is not possible, yet the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan remains focused on war.
President Obama has continued and expanded the military occupation of Afghanistan, yet has been no more successful at defining clear U.S. objectives than was President Bush. Despite an announced goal to begin the withdrawal of U.S. combat forces in July 2011, we at FCNL are seeing clear evidence that the administration intends to continue the military occupation of Afghanistan until at least 2014.
How can the United States get from where it is today to an end to the war and a start on the reconstruction of Afghanistan?
U.S. policy in Afghanistan, and the greater Middle East region as a whole, is at a crossroads. The cost of the war in lives and dollars is leading some U.S. policymakers to question the current military strategy and recognize its limitations. Yet the United States has failed to develop a new policy that responds effectively to the region’s geography and history. This is a moment where change is possible.
Members of Congress and the administration still need to hear the message that war is not the answer in Afghanistan. Urge your representative and senators to speak out publicly against the war and to advocate for a new way forward.
Untangling the U.S. engagement in Afghanistan begins with an end to the U.S. military occupation. This necessary step is, however, not sufficient. The United States also needs to remain engaged in the reconstruction of the country through the provision of development and humanitarian aid de-linked from military activities; through engagement with Afghanistan’s neighbors to promote regional security; and through support of constitutional reform and the brokering of political reconciliation among all Afghan groups, including the Taliban.
These steps must take place in the context of a shift in mindset that has not yet permeated through the community of U.S. policymakers. For decades, U.S. military might was seen as central to our country’s security. Even after the end of the Cold War, many people perceived that U.S. influence in the world rested in large part on its superior military capability. The war in Afghanistan is just one example of the limitations of this worldview in efficiently and effectively pursuing U.S. interests. The United States is still struggling to adjust to the new global reality, where co-operation through non-military-based multilateralism holds the best chance for success