Framing Obama's Biggest AfPak Mistake 5.18.09
Framing Obama’s Biggest AfPak Mistake
By Susan C. Strong, Executive Director and Founder, The Metaphor Project
Last week resistant House members reported heavy presidential lobbying in favor of the war supplemental funding bill, of which only 10% is allocated to diplomacy and development aid. This comes after the President has repeatedly said his administration would favor diplomacy and development over military options. It flies in the face of statements by a wide range of counterterrorism experts and high ranking military personnel, including Petraeus, that there is no military solution to the problem of Afghanistan. Worst of all, there was absolutely no effort by the Administration to cut funding for drones and air strikes. President Obama owes the American people an apology and a course change.
If your goal is winning over a population and peeling them away from guerrillas in their midst, dropping unmanned bombs or airstrikes on them that kill mostly civilian grannies and grandpas, mommies, babies, and kids must be the stupidest public relations stunt ever conceived. Counterterrorism scholars agree that to succeed in counterinsurgency work, you have to PROTECT the people. (1) It doesn't matter whether or not the Taliban is using them as human shields. It also doesn’t matter if we bag a few Taliban leaders that way every once in a while. As President Obama himself recently said about torture, the real issue is not about whether it works or not, it's about who we are and what it does to who we are. The same is true about the drone and airstrike attacks.
Our “death from the air” AfPak tactic is the ultimate morally corrupt outcome of the kind of war fighting tactic begun in the American Civil War with Grant, when he deliberately targeted civilians at Vicksburg. Even if we aren’t deliberately gunning for civilians now, accepting that kind of “collateral damage,” as the military calls it, is wrong. As a patriotic American, our drone and airstrike bombing tactics make me feel sick. It's worse even than our having tortured people—is this what America has come to, the land of the free, the brave, the noble Americans who stand for democracy and human rights?
Moreover, just as our torture tactics did, our air war tactics are turning the simple people abused by them against us and seeding new Taliban and Al Qaeda recruits in droves, which is reportedly the Taliban’s intention. Grant’s “civilian targets” innovation took place in a world where there was no worldwide web or instant media exposure. Now we all truly live in McLuhan's global village. Everybody knows everything you are doing right away, especially if you're the biggest military power in the area. Moreover, according to a July, 25th, 2008 Associated Press report, the Taliban have a very sophisticated communications strategy, just right for their audience. They and their sympathizers create “songs, religious chants, and poetry that appeal to Afghan nationalism and Islamic pride.” These are available on audio cassettes, DVDs and even as ring tones for cell phones, in addition to web sites, pamphlets, magazines and fliers. (2) This is the new “smart” war, and we are flunking.
Today Afghanistan (and now Pakistan too) form the latest horrible case study for the new reality in international politics—war simply doesn’t work as counterterrorism strategy. Mr. President, change your AfPak course or give us back our criminally wasted, innocent blood-soaked tax dollars!
l. The latest testimony about this point comes from David Kilcullen and Andrew McDonald Exum in their 5.17.09 New York Times Op Ed, entitled “Death From Above, Outrage Down Below,” on p. 13. I especially like their example of how we Americans would react if the police bombed the whole neighborhood in which a drug house was situated.
2. “Multimedia Taliban Get Their Message Across,” by Nahal Toosi, published in the San Francisco Chronicle on that date.