Compassion for Afghanistan
President Obama recently unveiled his new strategy for Afghanistan. The strategy calls for a surge of 30,000 new U.S. troops to be sent to Afghanistan. The strategy also set some expectations with vague conditions including the following:
- A call for accountability to the corrupt Afghan government that suffered a recent electoral debacle
- A stronger Afghan security force and government
- A initial planed withdrawal of US forces by 2011
- A commitment against permanent occupation
By now many Catholic and other faith-based organizations here in the United States have openly criticized the strategy for being vague on the mission and for its focus on a military troop surge. Much of this response stems from the Christian position of promoting peace and non-violence, a position that we as Passionist generally support because of the consistent position of Christ himself as a promoter of peace even in the midst of the violence he experienced with His Passion and death. The Catholic social tradition has supported both the Just War and Non-Violence theory with regards to its position on war and peace. However Catholic social teaching also reminds us that peace is a value only insofar as it related to justice. In his 1972 Message of Peace titled “If you want peace, work for justice” Pope Paul VI said:
And where other unquestionable forms of Justice have been injured or crushed – be they national, social, cultural or economic – could we be sure that the Peace resulting from such a tyrannical process is true Peace? That it is a stable Peace? Or, even if it be stable, that it is a just and human Peace?
Any analysis of the situation in Afghanistan reveals that the situation is very complicated. Unfortunately there are no simple solutions here. Peace is always desirable, but the lens from which we measure peace demands that we also review its ability to promote justice. Paul VI also qualifies what this peace based on justice looks like in this famous speech of his: “A Peace that is not the result of true respect for man is not true Peace. And what do we call this sincere feeling for man? We call it Justice.”
It is for this reason that I will not be so quick in judging the current strategy of President Obama on the merit of his military surge. The situation in Afghanistan is critical and, not being in a position of evaluating the full scope of global security, I cannot presume to know the resources necessary to achieve a just goal and an actual peace.
What I would critique however is the emphasis of President Obama’s strategy objectives. Especially with regards to the “war of ideas” it is necessary to offer a clear vision and related goals for the promotion of a just scenario where the sincere respect for the people of Afghanistan is evident. This vision cannot be to merely “deny al Qaeda a safe haven” and to “reverse the Taliban’s momentum and deny it the ability to overthrow the government.” This vision must be rooted in a plan to partner with the Afghan community for the political, social and economic development of the nation. It is not enough that the President touch on the value of promoting mutual respect and a form a collaborative partnership with Afghanistan when he shared his commitment that the United States would not engage in a permanent occupation. This principle should have been the cornerstone of his strategy.
True development should not come from our own economic or military interest but the interest of the Afghan community and their culture. The 3D (Development, Diplomacy, Defense) Security Initiative suggest in their report, “Missing Elements of a Comprehensive Strategy in Afghanistan,” that a greater surge priority should have been for a development surge and as a model they suggest supporting the Afghanistan’s National Solidarity Program (NSP) which are development projects that are run by local, democratically elected, mixed gender Community Development Councils.
The military strategy needed to win the stability of Afghanistan is beyond my scope of analysis. Think tanks like the Brookings Institute or the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace have offered some interesting points on this matter. But if our position is based on a priority for justice, solidarity and compassion for a people who are experiencing social and economic suffering then our own position must prioritize a vision to partner with them in achieving a social and economic development that works for them.