Knitting Afghanistan

More failures for the international welfare state


It is becoming more and more clear, as this story from the Los Angeles Times depressingly details, that while the U.S.-waged war in Afghanistan may have eliminated the Taliban, it hasn't necessarily liberated the people of Afghanistan—much less laid the groundwork for any worthwhile long-term peace. Tribal warlords, hoisting the heavy weaponry that is the lasting legacy of the Great Powers games in Afghanistan over the past 30 years or so, are still making life miserable for many (possibly most) Afghans just trying to eke out an honest living, and neither law nor order reign.

And with probably reliable reports that Al Qaeda, or similarly minded Jihadists, are still alive and well in Southeast Asia, it's certainly hard to assess how successful in any terms the recent (and still ongoing) U.S. war in Afghanistan has been. It might take David Letterman, when he returns from his Christmas visit to the troops, to give us a convincing Top 10 Reasons Why the War in Afghanistan Should Be Seen as a Success. Certainly, the depressing news of ongoing chaos, war, and oppression of women there aren't giving us much of a hint.

The United States is—rightfully—required to defend our waging of foreign wars before world opinion on grounds other than that we merely felt like wreaking havoc. A humanitarian urge to make life better for the citizens of the nations we assault has been used as a cloak to cover U.S. military escapades in every war since WWII. This sort of international welfare state argument has never been entirely convincing to minimal-staters to begin with—if a domestic welfare state is an illegitimate function of a government whose purpose is to defend its citizens' lives, liberty, and property, then why is a worldwide one, with aerial bombing no less, any better?

But even at face value, ensuring that everything will be better once the U.S. Army has kicked some ass demands a level of understanding of the nuances and dynamics of foreign nations and cultures, and a potentially almost eternal commitment (U.S. troops tend to stay put once sent somewhere), that requires a lot of heavy thinking—as well as a fair amount of existential despair over the occasional immutability of human perfidy and misery. Those salivating at the thought of bombs over Baghdad need to remember that cleaning up after a fun party like that is long and arduous. The results might not be anything we'd have a reason to be proud of, either.