Saturday, September 5, 2009

Bellyaching session

James Skillen, director of the Center for Public Justice, the dean of neo-Calvinist politics, weighs in with a delightfully wishy-washy essay on the war in Afghanistan that still manages to bug me.

Skillen begins by saying:

“The United States did not go into Afghanistan to build a nation-state. The aim was to defend us from terrorists. Which was also President Bush's stated reason for invading Iraq. Yet the long slog in both countries has continued for so long that other aims have been added along the way to justify the military losses and expenditures. Chief among the added aims is to promote freedom and democracy in the world, and that now involves us in trying to build a state in Afghanistan.”

That’s quite a claim. What is his basis for it? As these quotes show, state- and democracy-building in Afghanistan and Iraq have been the stated goals of American foreign policy for almost eight years now:

“America and Afghanistan are now allies against terror. We’ll be partners in rebuilding that country.”

- President Bush, January 29, 2002

“If military action is necessary, the United States and our allies will help the Iraqi people rebuild their economy and create the institutions of liberty in a unified Iraq, at peace with its neighbors.”

- President Bush, October 7, 2002

And Bob Woodward’s book Bush at War records Bush’s NSC drawing up nation-building plans for Afghanistan the week after 9/11 (P. 193).

Skillen goes on to say,

“The American venture in Afghanistan (and in Iraq) continues to be called ‘war’--to defend America--because Americans would not be willing to spend tens of billions of dollars each year for state-building exercises abroad.”

So state-building was arbitrarily added on to the wars after the fact to justify the wars, but the state-building projects themselves are justified by the label “war.” What is Skillen trying to say?

I bring this up only because he seems to be casting unjustified (and contradictory) aspersions on President Bush, President Obama and our military leaders. To me, it seems clear that nation-building has been the U.S.' goal since the start, as an integral part of the effort to address the "root causes" of terrorism, and is simply proving far more difficult than we anticipated (not that our initial mistakes helped any).

As for the rest, Skillen’s thesis about the limits of American idealism is very cogent and timely, but he does a better job of articulating the question than suggesting an answer. The closest he comes is his vague final paragraph:

“Meaningful answers to these questions will have to be rooted in a better, stronger, shared vision of what a just republic should be in this shrinking world. Confidence at home will require trust in government, for which we need a new system of electoral representation that will tie government more closely to citizens than to dominating interest groups. And sustainable prosperity will require hard work, durable savings, and stewardly investments in place of debt-induced consumption, unending warfare, and limitless grasping for the fulfillment of life's meaning in this age.”

Great. And Afghanistan? In this “shrinking world,” it’s not getting any farther away.

1 comment:

  1. Joel I forgot your e-mail again. Could you e-mail me Were you serious about North Korea? I had a dream about going there the other night, and am seriously contemplating it. (God knows where I will end up in times to come)