The End of Endless War

1024px-Town_meeting_in_Afghanistan

Wikimedia Commons

War doesn’t end war. Justice and peace do that.

Today we neither declare wars nor end them. This is the era of “endless war.”

“Endless war” is war for war’s sake. War without end. Profitable. Deadly. Self-perpetuating. And dangerous.

The “war on terror” is an endless war, a war that has no definite enemies, no defined measure of success, and above all, no exit strategy.

America’s longest war, the war in Afghanistan, is another such  war. Donald Trump has just written a blank check to continue this war with a “jumble of ideas” that are often mutually contradictory and have no strategic frame and absolutely no achievable stated goals.

The U.S. began the war in Afghanistan because we were attacked and the attacks were carried out by al-Qaeda, whom the Afghan Taliban were harboring.

But al-Qaeda is Afghan, and as the Obama Administration clearly saw, cannot be defeated militarily. They must be brought into the political sphere. The use of indigenous Afghan methods of conflict resolution, as the traditional Jirga as recommended by Afghan American Just Peace activist, Muhammad Shafiq in Interfaith Just Peacemaking, has not been tried other than as a stalling tactic by Afghan President Karzai. And, as is clear from the photo of a traditional Jirga shown above, this model will need to include women as Dr. Shafiq points out. This is a huge challenge. But 16 years of war with countless deaths and injuries and disruptions cannot be allowed to extend into a 17th year. It has to stop.

There may be reasons that justify going to war. If going to war is ever justified, it is for very specific and limited reasons. These reasons are self-defense or defense of the “vulnerable other” as St. Augustine said.

The vulnerable others are the civilians in Afghanistan, the victims of armed conflict, conflict over which they have little or no control and most often no defense. In his speech, Trump made their lives even more intolerable, announcing what amounts to the toleration of war crimes in the phrase “lift restrictions and expand authorities in the field.” What restrictions would those be? Well, it is likely those are the restrictions on killing innocent civilians.

This violates Just War theory.

Here’s what has to happen and probably will not because it would require experienced diplomats who know what they are doing. It takes skill and experience to pursue delicate peace negotiations when many parties to the conflict have vested interests that are opposed to each other. There are diplomats who have this knowledge and experience, they are just not in the Trump administration.

Nevertheless, should such experienced diplomats appear (and the State Department could in fact hire some), the Taliban must be included. They won’t negotiate with the Afghan government, whom they regard as corrupt (it is), but it is possible they will negotiate with the U.S. There’s actually will among Iran, Russia, and Pakistan to pursue a political settlement, though of course desired outcomes differ. Again, see the need for experienced diplomacy above. When India is included, as it must be, this becomes even more difficult.

But no peace negotiation will happen unless the U.S. makes it the only goal of its continued involvement in Afghanistan.

Again, it seems obvious, but announcing more war as a precondition to peace is idiotic.

Idiotic it may be, but war as a way to end war is a deeply entrenched ideology.  Endless war is a machine war, the robotic pursuit of violence as a solution to every difficulty we face. Endless war is also an enormously profitable enterprise. “Peace dividends” cut into profits.

But here is the ethical bottom line:

Endless war as a policy is immoral because it is unlimited in scope, unreasoning in its pursuit, and it has no end but the pursuit of more war.

 

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