Andrew Bacevich, retired Army Colonel and Professor at Boston College, is a traditional conservative. His good advice regarding our contemporary foreign policy, like that of the late Lt. General William Odom, fell on deaf ears in both Washington and in the so-called "conservative" heartland.
Bacevich and Odom were consistent and correct in advising a somewhat constitutional and certainly more prudent foreign policy than Washington has pursued for some decades. Because they are conservative, they sought to make sense, to connect what we are doing today in Iraq and Afghanistan to an American tradition that, perhaps, has simply gone awry.
I found it interesting that in an American Conservative excerpt from his new book, The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism, Bacevich refers to our "occupation" of Afghanistan. Not a lot of people are referring to Afghanistan as an occupied country, but it is.
The indications were there early on, with the US-selected puppet governor crowned December 2001, and the reluctance and minority of NATO troops vis–vis American troops (28,000 and counting). As with all occupations over time, instead of a pacified group, or groups, we see strengthening and growing sophistication in the national and local resistance to the occupation.
As noted by Australian journalist John Pilger, in 2003 with his documentary "Breaking the Silence" and more recently this year, what we are doing in Afghanistan has the trappings of vicious total domination, and it frankly doesn’t seem to be doing the already impoverished Afghans much good. Almost a year ago, 60 Minutes did a segment on Afghanistan, where the narrator tut-tutted when an Afghan observed, "We used to hate the Russians much more than Americans. But now when we see all this happening, I am telling you Russians behave much better than the Americans."
That October 2007 broadcast was about recent inadvertent killing of civilians by air strikes. What changed in eleven months? The mass murder by air and land of Afghan civilians, including women and children, continues. It’s not only the U.S. military doing the killing, of course. But none of that murder of innocents would be happening, or would have happened, had Washington not, as Pilger and others have observed, first planned to invade and then moved to base-build in, and occupy, Afghanistan.
In a sheer quantitative sense, the United States has long since avenged 9-11, racking up hundreds of thousands of dead, wounded, and scarred innocents. It has long since avenged 9-11 in sheer destruction, laying waste to cities, villages, homes and hearths, industry, government and religious observance. The destruction and murder is now habitual, profligate and self-indulgent. To the world, the President of the United States — present and future — is an uncouth and supersized version of Marie Antoinette.
In the most recent Afghan outcry over the death of innocent men, women, and children — the American military spokeswoman Lt Col Rumi Nielson-Green had this to say: "Soldiers treated wounded people at the scene, which indicated that the Laws of Armed Conflict were followed."
How very nice for them. Laws of armed conflict? Is there possibly a way for a state to conduct war that is traditional, lawful, good? The three main principles of the LOAC — military necessity, distinction, and proportionality — provide a clue.
Military necessity relates to those acts needed to achieve a military objective, or win a battle, and no more. Distinction means not targeting, and being careful not to inadvertently damage civilians and civilian property. Proportionality prohibits the use of any force that exceeds that needed to accomplish the military objective. Sounds fair, but in the context of occupying Afghanistan (or any occupation), is following the laws of armed conflict even possible?
Notwithstanding the military spokeswoman’s allegations of soldierly medical care for blown up babies, the LOAC cannot honestly be observed in military occupations. Ever.
Odom and Bacevich have described our foreign policy and security challenges as evolving recently, mid-20th century, and their writings indicate that there may be a way, or at least a hope, for our military empire to be benign. In this, they are conservative in the sense that Joe Biden and John McCain are conservative.
In 1963, looking at libertarian solutions for war and defense, Murray Rothbard wrote, "For it is precisely the characteristic of modern weapons that they cannot be used selectively, cannot be used in a libertarian manner. Therefore, their very existence must be condemned…." In "War, Peace, and the State," Rothbard addresses primarily nuclear weapons, but makes clear that the indiscriminate nature of conventional weapons, for the same reason, renders their use unacceptable, immoral and wrong.
But without these weapons, how would we fight our war in Afghanistan, occupy that country, and counter the nationalists, the tribalists, the Taliban, the hundreds of families and thousands of sons and daughters, wives and husbands each seeking their own vengeance, each asserting their existence as angry and powerful people, not faceless collateral damage?
Of course, we could not fight such a war, and we should not. Sadly, the government and the American demos believe freedom and prosperity, our own and that of others, can and ought to be produced by force. This belief is anti-American, un-conservative, and logically flawed. It is wrongheaded, and it is the foreign policy and heartfelt ideology of both major presidential candidates.
As American occupations bring suffering — untold and denied, unmeasured so as to be deniable — Washington cannot understand why the occupied do not simply submit. Whether it is cake, or brioche, or the heavy American porridge of bristling state socialism and angry imperialism, the Bush-Obama-McCain answer to heartbroken Afghans and to the world, is "Eat it!"
LRC columnist Karen Kwiatkowski, Ph.D. [send her mail], a retired USAF lieutenant colonel, has written on defense issues with a libertarian perspective for MilitaryWeek.com, hosted the call-in radio show American Forum, and blogs occasionally for Huffingtonpost.com and Liberty and Power. To receive automatic announcements of new articles, click here.