By Frank Wessling
We have been at war too long. This needs saying.
When war has gone on so long that it begins to feel normal; when young men and women — and some not so young — are sent off for the third and fourth time to risk life and limb; when marriages and families are repeatedly strained by long separation and the uncertainties of war, it is imperative to stop. No society can keep its sanity in such conditions.
Since the United States is the supreme power making war in Afghanistan and attempting an extrication from war in Iraq, we bear most of the responsibility for ending those adventures. We’ve made a good start in Iraq; the pressure, after nine years of war, must be increased to do it in Afghanistan. The rest of the world has roles, especially our Western allies in the struggle against new forms of terrorism and, of even greater importance in the long run, leaders in the Islamic world who will firmly advocate a nonviolent jihad. But American policy and practice must lead.
We are trying in Afghanistan. It seems irresponsible to just cut and run there, since we can’t ensure that the old masters of worldwide mayhem won’t rise up again to use that land as a base for operations. But we must stop looking for a high degree of confidence that Afghanistan is pacified to our specifications. We simply can’t get that.
It’s a tribal society colored by Islamic faith and resistant to central authority of any kind, especially ours, or one colored by dependence on us. Our staying and fighting is itself a reason for Afghans to stay aloof from our ultimate aims. The people there don’t have the experience or the structures or the inclination to live or decide in the democratic ways we prefer. They may move in that direction and become much closer in the future, but for now they operate in their own different way.
We must risk letting them run their society, making their mistakes their way, and go back to working with our allies and through the United Nations to find and neutralize the people who would terrorize the world. As some military people and some policymakers continue to find reasons why our military “can’t” leave Afghanistan, we must keep insisting: we have been at war too long.
Or there is one reasonable alternative. We could stop putting the entire burden of this warring on a small segment of American people and establish universal conscription of everyone 18 years old and over for military service. That would be an honest war policy. Anything else calls for an end to war soonest.