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Michigan politicians support war in Afghanistan, Polls show public disagrees

November 2, 2009

On Sunday the Grand Rapids Press ran a front page story entitled, “All eyes on endgame as war decision looms.” The story, written by Press reporter Ted Roelofs, begins by focusing on a local soldier who was “singled out for bravery last month” in Afghanistan. The soldier’s father is then cited in the article making comments in support of his son.

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Roelofs then writes that the upcoming decision to send more troops to Afghanistan “is dividing US citizens and making it difficult for Obama to follow through on goals outlined in his campaign.” Unfortunately for readers, the Press reporter never states what those campaign goals were as it relates to Afghanistan.

The article then provides readers with comments from another military family, Donna & Bob Roush, who think the US should not pull out of Afghanistan. “Those are bad guys over there. I would like the president to take the advice on the ground. I don’t understand this waffling and waiting.” Here the Press reporter doesn’t bother to verify or clarify what is meant by “bad guys over there.”

The reporter then says that, “a majority of Americans either oppose the war or question whether it is worth continuing to wage.” This statement is based on a Washington Post-ABC News poll, but the Press doesn’t tell readers when the poll was taken, nor which questions were asked of those polled. The Press is providing its own poll with three voting options: 1) Add troops and continue counterinsurgency, 2) Maintain current strength, focus on militants along the Pakistan border, or 3) Pull out of Afghanistan entirely. While it is interesting that the Press is conducting its own poll it should be noted that President Obama has said that withdrawal from Afghanistan is not an option.

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The rest of the story is devoted to other comments on what the US should do in Afghanistan. Representatives Vern Ehlers and Pete Hoekstra both support send more troops and Senator Carl Levin wants to “see a large increase in the Afghan army be the major way in which this is successful.” We have pointed out in previous postings how Levin’s position supports the US strategy in Afghanistan, but doesn’t agree with some of the tactics.

Another source cited in the story are Mary Alice Williams, an Obama supporter, who said, “the troops should come home.” However, her comments are drowned out by two more comments from pro-military families. One mom says that her son thinks the US should stay in Afghanistan and “we need to be there and get the job done.” A comment from the military parent who lost a son in Afghanistan in August concludes the article by saying, “His buddies want to finish the job. I would like us to see it through.

This is the first article written by a Press reporter since President Obama took office that deals with the US war in Afghanistan that didn’t just report on troop deaths. However, like most of the reporting we have seen in the Press in recent months, this story does not deal with the real policy issues that will ultimately determine what the current administration will do in Afghanistan, instead it presents numerous claims about should be done with no evidence to support any of the claims, particularly those made by politicians.

One Comment leave one →
  1. February 1, 2010 10:27 pm

    The culture of Afghanistan is tribal. The dominant tribal group has always been the Pashtuns. Pashtunistan was divided in two by the Durand line leaving some members of this group in Pakistan and others in southern Afghanistan. The border between Afghanistan and Pakistan has always been porous. The reasons are partially geographical in that it is a mountainous region and difficult to patrol, but Pashtuns have always moved back and forth with little or no supervision even on the main road(s). There is much greater sense of family between Pashtuns of each country than there is to either of the national governments.
    Pashtuns are Sunni Muslim whereas the rest of Afghan’s tribal groups are mostly Shiite including Hazaras, Tajiks, Uzbeks, Turkmen, and others. Nuristanis have their own forms of Islam that are not always orthodox.
    The army and police in Afghanistan have been drawn largely from the Shiite community. The Taliban are almost exclusively Sunni as are the Pashtuns. Laws are written and formalized with a court system, but the laws apply only to those who are powerless. The traditional pancheyat system that was handled within villages was not always fair and impartial, but it was respected and effective. In villages, laws are not written and courts do not adjudicate. The pancheyat is a group of five elders of the village, sometimes elected and sometimes self-appointed. They act as judge and jury with decisions given on unwritten laws that have been held in common by the village for many generations.
    Laws that originate in Kabul are not easily enforced in the tribal areas. There is no sense of nationalism among the tribes, and even in the capital city Kabul, your place of origin counts for at least as much as education or experience. Any solution to problems in Afghanistan must take into account the tribal nature of the country and to a system of historically unwritten laws.
    Soldiers and policemen are largely illiterate. Estimates are as high as 75% of the army and police force can neither read nor write in their native language. Regardless of their training, they are still part of their origin culture and any smooth integration is not likely to happen. Increasing the number of soldiers to 170,000 and police to 135,000 is probably not an unreasonable number, but without eliminating corruption all that has been accomplished is to better equip corrupt men with military training. The Afghan government is in no position to pay these increased numbers of enforcement personnel and to reduce the need for them to seek bribes, they will have to be paid quite well.
    Policemen are seriously corrupt. Soldiers may be equally corrupt but they have less opportunity than the police. Government ministries are corrupt. Any office that provides permits is corrupt. All politicians are corrupt. A system of bribes exists in virtually every corner of the culture and at all levels of the economy.
    Problem number one for the US and allies to solve is corruption. In order for us to leave the country and turn over military and police activities to Afghans, we must have some means of controlling corruption. We may be between a rock and a hard place here since this is not something that can be accomplished in a short time. We’ve already had over ten years and corruption is more rampant now than when we arrived. There’s more money floating around than ever before and it is reasonable to expect greater corruption. What to do about it is probably the single biggest problem that we have to face. The fact that nothing has been done in ten years when every single American living in Afghanistan now has first hand experience with corruption in one form or another, indicates how intractable a problem it is.
    For years now, we have been told that our task in Afghanistan was to defeat terrorism. That was defined as al Qaeda and the Taliban. They have often been confused in news reports and by our government personnel to appear as though they were interchangeable. However, they are not. The Taliban have never been any kind of threat to the United States and except for unification of the Pakistan and Afghan Pashtuns, they have no international interests. They are a group that we, the United States, supported financially and with military weapons at one time. They have become a threat to us only since we invaded Afghanistan.
    Al Qaeda, too, is not the monolithic threat that we are often told that it is. Osama bin Laden is treated as though he is a kind of head terrorist controlling cadres of people throughout the world with some kind of integrated plan to destroy democracy. Such is just not the case. There are dangerous individuals who group together in Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria, Chechnia, Korea, Mexico, Columbia, Indonesia, and a host of other countries including the United States and Europe. In some cases, these cells may have some link to al Qaeda and may receive funding from an allied group, but they are not like battalions in an al Qaeda army taking orders from Osama bin Laden.
    It may be that focusing on Osama bin Laden simplifies our approach to the overwhelmingly complex and overlapping groups throughout the world that see reason to hate the United States. But, it also distorts the reality that we face. If bin Laden were killed tomorrow, we would still face terrorism from multiple places in the world. We would have to find a new center of terrorism and call it a new name. Terrorism and hate of the United States will not disappear because one individual is dead.
    Osama bin Laden has little to do with the problems in Afghanistan. He never did have much to do with Afghan politics or culture. He was a carpetbagger who found Afghanistan a congenial place from which to operate but he was never interested in Afghan politics or culture. He still is not. If he is hiding in the Waziristan area as is thought, he is there because he is safer there than other places in the world and not because he is in the midst of supporters and an army that protects him.
    Our real problems in Afghanistan are with corruption and poverty. If we build up an army and police force and leave Afghanistan to its own devices, we will have failed miserably. We will have abandoned the Afghan people for a second time.
    We should not leave Afghanistan until we have created something that is self-sustaining and can nurture future growth. We could have used the last ten years to build up an infrastructure of commerce by introducing mining operations, manufacturing, communication networks, and advanced regional cooperation (Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Russia, and China) for sharing of electricity, water, roads, and other resources.
    A solution to the problems in Afghanistan is linked to those of their neighbors. Russia and China should be larger partners with us in finding ways to help Afghanistan develop economically. There are a number of inherent problems in getting Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan to work cooperatively, but it is in our interests and the interests of Afghanistan to try.

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