Witte: Afghanistan and the U.S. tendency to perpetual warfare

Jacob Witte

“There is no instance of a country having benefited from prolonged warfare.”

This quotation is attributed to Sun Tzu, who wrote the most influential treatise on warfare in history, “The Art of War.” That tome is more than two millennia old and is still as important today as it was two-and-a-half thousand years ago.

And yet here in the United States, the most advanced and powerful empire in world history, our leaders are still unable to understand this simple and eloquent passage.

American military forces have been involved in the war in Afghanistan for more than a decade. And what do we have to show for it? There is still little resembling democracy; the Afghan police force is still ill-trained, ill-equipped and unprepared to handle the country once we (if ever) leave Afghanistan; and the Taliban is simply waiting in the shadows. Throw in a corrupt president who happens to be the brother of an opium drug lord, and you have got yourself a wonderful mix just waiting for collapse.

Recent events have only further cemented the notion that the war in Afghanistan is going dreadfully awry. These events point toward at best carelessness and, at worst, downright incompetence.

First, five American troops were “disciplined” for the accidental burning of a pile of Qurans, which led to riots and heightened tension between Afghan and American military officials. According to the inquiry, the Muslim holy books were mistaken for garbage and taken to a landfill to be burned.

The riots that took place in response to the burning within Afghanistan saw 30 Afghan and six American military personnel deaths that were directly related.

The second event, which was by all accounts atrocious, was the unprovoked slaughter of civilians in which an American soldier went into an Afghan village, shooting and killing 16, then setting several of their corpses aflame.

There should be no reason for this ever happening in warfare. If the soldier was in need of psychological help, there is no logical reason that he should be on a military base, able to procure weaponry so easily and do what he did. With the immense budget the U.S. armed forces have, certainly there is treatment available for soldiers in that kind of condition.

This event led to the Taliban turning its backs on negotiations of any kind with America, a situation that will certainly hinder any attempts at a successful withdrawal from Afghanistan.

These two incidents, while hard to stomach, are merely two more in a nearly endless line of incidents that seek to prove that the war effort in Afghanistan is lost. From drones killing civilians and videos of Marines urinating on dead Taliban soldiers to purpose-driven death squads and torture of Afghan civilians at Bagram, these recent extreme cases hardly seem anecdotal anymore.

At this point, after more than a decade at war, after countless casualties of both belligerents and civilians, it is this author’s opinion that America cannot achieve a graceful exit from Afghanistan. Afghanistan has been dubbed the “Graveyard of Empires” for a reason. It successfully resisted British occupation in the 19th century, and the Soviet Union was horrifyingly unable to occupy the country during the 1980s, playing a crucial role in the collapse of the USSR in 1991.

So what is to be done? With increasing international pressure for America to leave Afghanistan, the targeted withdrawal date is by the end of 2014, which will mean we will have been at war with [enter enemy here] for 13 years.

Perpetual warfare has always been feared by intellectuals throughout the ages. The current case of the Afghanistan war is no different. An entire generation of youth has never seen an America at peace. And with the war drums sounding again with Iran, it is unlikely that America will see peace again for perhaps another generation, if both Afghanistan and Iraq are to be used as guides.

We have been told for a decade now that we are fighting an enemy that hates the freedoms we enjoy. These same freedoms, such as the right to protest peacefully, the right to be protected from unwarranted searches and seizures, the right to be protected from cruel and unusual punishment and the right of habeas corpus, have been chipped away at over the last decade by the very people who told us to support the war: Congress.

The Patriot Act, National Defense Authorization Act 2012, suspension of habeas corpus, unusually sadistic treatment of nonviolent Occupy protestors — these are all things that have been happening to Americans by Americans over the last decade.

I will leave you with one more quote, from one of America’s favorite Frenchman, Alexis de Tocqueville. “All those who seek to destroy the liberties of a democratic nation ought to know that war is the surest and the shortest means to accomplish it.”