Afghanistan and the West The Difficult Relationship between Democracy and War

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Part 4: The End: Aftermath and Innocence


How does a war come to an end? This too is a question that is addressed differently by a democracy today than by any other form of government. In the past, those who attacked a country for reasons of economic greed could withdraw as soon as they had taken their fill or after the military costs of exploitation exceeded the spoils. The victors enjoyed their newfound wealth and were indifferent to the suffering they left behind.

Fortunately, this is not possible in a modern democracy. Feeling "indifferent" is not an option, not even when it comes to the period following a war. In other words, those who conduct a war also assume the responsibility for what happens after the war, that is, for the postwar order. Unfortunately, democracies almost never succeed in establishing a satisfactory order within a short period of time.

World War I was followed by the regime of Versailles, which ended in World War II. World War II was followed by the division of Europe, which only brought freedom and prosperity to the West. In the East, Stalinism took the place of Nazi rule, and the gulags followed for many who wanted freedom and democracy. Somalia is no longer a country today, but a place of violence and suffering. It is only through the constant presence of foreign powers that a precarious peace prevails in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo.

This is a sad state of affairs. Nevertheless, it was only a mistake to have waged war in one of these cases: Somalia. The West abandoned the people of Somalia to a bleak fate when it became clear that it would be extremely difficult and costly to create a new order. Now pirates are terrorizing trade routes off the Somali coast.

The Barbarism Is Over

In Bosnia and Kosovo, the military intervention of Americans and Europeans has brought peace and order. The barbarism is over, and there are no longer any massacres or mass rapes. Both countries are part of Europe, and Europe cannot allow civilization and civility to deteriorate along its periphery. This is where moral and geopolitical arguments come together. And if there is no other option, the Bundeswehr will remain in the region for another 100 years.

Afghanistan, on the other hand, is far away. In addition, the original argument to justify this mission has begun to crumble. No one knows whether Osama bin Laden can still be apprehended. Militant Islamism is sufficiently mobile to create bases elsewhere, in places like Pakistan and Yemen. Nevertheless, if NATO were to withdraw now, the Taliban would soon be in power again. The new order would be the old order, and the only difference would be that the Taliban would be back in power because the West had failed.

The Bundeswehr has assumed responsibility for the people in the north, which has been a relatively comfortable undertaking to date. In Kunduz, Mazar-i-Sharif and elsewhere, people are able to live normal lives without violence. They go to work and girls can go to school. The news of dead soldiers covers up the fact that this ordinary life exists. This normal life, too, is a success for the Bundeswehr.

Nevertheless, Afghanistan is a country that is completely incompatible with our notion of democracy. It also suffers from the scourge of corruption, and yet Afghanistan today is still a better place than it once was.

No Place for Self-Righteousness

At the moment, the media are filled with reports of dead soldiers. But when the Germans withdraw, they will be reporting on acts of retaliation and on girls who are not permitted to go to school. From the Western perspective, Afghanistan's new order will likely be difficult to endure. Pacifism is not a position of innocence. Deciding not to go to war can be just as reprehensible as going to war. In other words, self-righteousness has no place in this argument.

In addition, an Afghanistan ruled by the Taliban would likely do its utmost to ensure that neighboring Pakistan came under the control of ultra-religious forces. This could result in an order that would pose a threat to the West, because Pakistan has enriched uranium and nuclear weapons.

There is no doubt that militant Islamism remains a challenge. If NATO withdraws now, without having established a relatively stable order, it will have lost the first round in a fundamental conflict, and it will have emboldened its enemies.

There are good reasons not to end this war yet.

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MobiusPrime 07/08/2010
1. To Stay or not To Stay
Being of German ancestry, and proud of it, I try to appreciate the confusion facing the German People and their abhorrence of military actions. As a Proud Citizen of the United States I too am hesitant to condone military intervention in situations that on the surface appear to be contrary to the peace of the world. The participation of the German People (Military & Civilian) in the Afghan war on terror is necessary and Appreciated by all Anti Terrorist People of the Civilized Word. Civilized is the Key Word. Make no mistake, Their hatred is focused on the Christian Jewish Countries of the world. The Extremist of the Islamic People are sworn to destroy western cultures including Germany's Democracy, The Germany People , standing side by side with the NATO countries and the Unites States have to stay united. Unfortunately the Radicals have subverted the Islamic faith and are sworn to destroy You & Us. This war in Afghanistan is only the beginning of their cult to rule the world and wipe out Democratic Cultures. They will not succeed unless the individual countries are divide. Look at Britain, they have actually allowed Sharia Law courts to exist in their country. The UK is lost , Will Germany /France /Spain/US etc be next? Stay the course in Afghanistan, as abhorrent as it is, or Parrish.
verbatim128 07/09/2010
2. Why Democracy and War?
One would hope that some societal evolution has occurred since the 5th century BC and the Greek democracy, although I am not sure that our modern democracy is part of that evolution. But to assign "a relationship" between democracy and war, albeit calling that a difficult relationship, and justifying the war in Afghanistan by stretching a comparison with the Athenians having to defend against the Persian attacks, now that is a fallacy of argument. It appears to me that the essay is attempting to find reason in an outcome which has a) not been reasonably considered from the start and b) not been pursued in a reasonable manner. The author is also trying hard, though in a confused conciliatory fashion, to reconcile those terrible a) and b) shortcomings without addressing them, with the public opinion of Germans which he grudgingly admits is against continuing the war. Some sort of argument that the effort is not wasted, but worth it. For good measure and to justify calling this piece an essay, the author muddles the issue by introducing the philosophical relationship of this war and democracy, when in fact all that needs done is to ask: Was the war right? Every time an outcome begs the question as an afterthought, 'Was it worth it?', you can guess that something was dead wrong with the action. In fact the question ought to have been up front, "Is it right, will it be worth it?," and aimed before the action got underway, at it, as well as, the foreseeable outcome. But if we must ask after the fact-- always better late than never-- the question needs to be : "Was it right? Did it accomplish what was right?". That way chances are we learn something. If it wasn't right to begin with , never mind whether it was worth it, in some twisted fashion, like in a bargain we imagine we got. It still is not right.
kashiwa 07/12/2010
3. Make no mistake
Like many others I am very grateful to live in a country that has overcome nationalism and in which, in contrary to the United States, war is not a legitimate political tool. Most Germans have no illusions whatsoever about the essential nature of war. They share their insight with the countless pacifists around the world who took to the streets in 2003 and tragically could not prevent the violent death the war of the Western coalition brought upon more than one million Iraqis*. So is the terror of war. It is easy to understand that none of the two wars the West has waged against muslem countries in the last decade have likely undermined islamic extremism. The Taliban who have fiercly fought the 'International Security Assistance Force' for the last eight years are Afghans, who have not organized international Islamic terrorist attacks. From their point of view they fight the invader of their territories and his 'nation building' efforts strategically aimed at undermining Afghanistan's traditional social, political and economic structures and establishing a 'civilised' order. A state is democratic if it makes democratic politics - political decisions made have to be supported by the majority of the country's population. The war against Afghanistan has no majority in Germany and Germany's participation is therefor simply illegitimate. Unlike Islamist extremists who represent a fraction of the largely peaceful and welcoming Muslim populations around the world (why not go vist and talk to the people in Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Egypt and elsewhere?) such undemocratic, violent politics and their supporters pose a real threat to Western societies - and to everbody else. Nie wieder Krieg! War - never again! *http://www.globalpolicy.org/iraq/humanitarian-issues-in-iraq/mortality-.html
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