Afghanistan and the West The Difficult Relationship between Democracy and War
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.