Friday, January 28, 2011

Work and Tourism Collide

I spent much of today driving--to get from The Hague to Brunssum where the NATO base is that serves as the operational command for the Afghanistan mission in between the hq in Afghanistan and the folks in Brussels.  After that, I drove to Margraten where there is a cemetery where the Americans who died during World War II in the Netherlands are buried.  These two experiences collided. 

Focusing on how countries influence their missions in Afghanistan inevitably gets to casualty aversion, as countries go to different efforts to limit the risks their troops face, even if it means putting the mission at risk.  And then I see the cost of war with thousands and thousands of crosses marking the sacrifices paid by the World War II generation.  Given that a good number these were lost in Operation Market Garden, an incredibly poorly conceived plan, I was thinking today about risks and costs.  On the one hand, this one cemetery (there are many American ones and then many, many more for other countries) holds more killed in action than twice the American and allied lives lost in Iraq and Afghanistan combined.  So, perhaps our focus on the casualties in Afghanistan is excessive.  War involves death--if you want to achieve something through the use of force, there is a price to be paid.  Excessively worrying about the casualties can undermine the mission (and has very much done so in Afghanistan), making it more costly perhaps in the long run.  On the other hand, there was a much clearer means to ends connection back then--sacrificing to defeat Germany and Japan and those were worthwhile goals. 

What kinds of costs are worth it in support of the Afghan government?  oooh, that stacks the deck.  Ok, is what we are paying in costs in Afghanistan worth it in terms of helping the Afghans?  Here, there is something about responsibility.  The US walked away from Afghanistan after the Soviets left, and only returning after paying deeply for the consequences--the rise of AQ.  The terrorists are largely gone from Iraq and have found plenty of other places to hang out, so why stick around in Afghanistan?  Because we might owe the Afghans a decent effort.  Only in the past few years, have we, the US and its allies, really tried at all to create a better (not perfect, but better) place.  And, despite the surge in violence, it is certainly a better place than it was in August 2001.  It is probably better than it was in 2002 or 2003 and so on.  Every year, as one interviewee put it, is a pivotal year, but I think 2011 is especially so.  This upcoming summer will measure the effort as only now for the past year have there been enough troops to do the kind of COIN that needs to be done. 

I still don't know if it is worth it.  I just know that leaving precipitously is a bad idea.

No comments: