We Make War; Keeping Peace is for Others
Future historians might gaze back at mid-March 2002 and determine this was when the Bush Administration decided to write off Afghanistan. It's true President Bush and Laura Bush visited a Northern Virginia high school days ago to celebrate a volunteer program sending material, sewing machines, and funds to Afghanistan to be used in the production of school uniforms for Afghan children. But as the first couple were hyping this citizen-to-citizen initiative, Bush's minions were maneuvering to limit peacekeeping operations in Afghanistan -- meaning the administration did not care much if the country disintegrates into warlord-ravaged territory. On-the-run terrorists ought to have been pleased by this development.
For months, Hamid Karzai, the interim prime minister, has pleaded for expanding the international peacekeeping force in his country. Currently, these troops -- about 4500 soldiers from 17 nations -- patrol only Kabul and its environs. As lawlessness and violence mount in other parts of the country, Karzai and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan have appealed for a larger peacekeeping contingent that would cover areas beyond the capitol. A month ago, the Bush White House was considering backing a plan to double the peacekeeping force in Afghanistan -- while the State Department had advocated beefing it up to 25,000 troops -- but then the Bush administration changed direction and said no to bolstering what's officially known as the International Security Assistance Force.
The United States does not contribute any military personnel to the ISAF, maintaining it is reserving its troops for hunting al Qaeda and Taliban fighters. (Message: we do the fighting; others can keep the peace.) Still, Washington carries much say in determining the size, shape and mission of the peacekeeping force. For example, the Bush administration recently urged Congress to provide $228 million to help Turkey take control of the ISAF from Britain.This was akin to a bribe, for Turkey has not been eager to assume command. And it has not wanted to lead a force that operates outside of Kabul. So to win Turkey over, the United States had to nix the idea of a larger ISAF.
As part of its efforts to coax Turkey, the Bush administration went further. Vice President Dick Cheney reiterated the administration's support for Turkey's admission into the European Union. Perhaps he did not get a chance to read the State Department's annual human rights report, released on March 4, which notes that in Turkey "limits on freedom of speech and of the press remained a serious problem," that "at times the Government restricted freedom of assembly and association," that "the Government continued to harass, indict and imprison human rights monitors, journalists and lawyers," that "there were credible reports of extrajudicial killings by government agencies," that "the security forces continued to torture, beat, and otherwise abuse persons regularly," that "arbitrary arrest and detention continued to be problems," and that "the government restricted the activities of some political parties and leaders." That sure doesn't sound like the record of a nation that ought to be embraced by the EU. But Turkey is part of Bush's supposed coalition for freedom, and Washington also wants Ankara to stop griping about U.S. intervention in Iraq. (Turkey frets that if Saddam Hussein is toppled, Iraq might break up and the establishment of an independent Kurdistan would whip up Kurds in Turkey.) Bush and Cheney are trying to make Turkey happy. Thus, peacekeeping in Afghanistan suffers.
On March 15, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld explained the decision to oppose extending the ISAF beyond Kabul, not by saying the United States had to satisfy Turkey, but by maintaining that donor nations are not interested in footing the bill and that "there is not a serious security problem" in Afghanistan. Apparently, other memebrs of the Bush national security team weren't listening to Rumsfeld. Four days later, CIA chief George Tenet and Vice Admiral Thomas WIlson, head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told the Senate armed services committee that severe economic, social and political problems plague the country. Wilson noted there is "a very widespread probability of insurgency-type warfare" in Afghanistan's rural areas and cities. Al Qaeda and Taliban remnants were strong, they said, and posed what Tenet called "a long-term issue."
Tenet and Wilson made it seem that not just Karzai's government will have trouble contending with the security situation outside Kabul; the U.S. military may find the next phase of the war in Afghanistan challenging. Which is another reason for the United States to be cautious about initiating military action against Iraq. It might be prudent for the Bush crowd to see how war number one finishes, before launching war number two.
By opposing a peacekeeping expansion in Afghanistan, the Bush administration may abet chaos. The International Crisis Group, a private research organization specializing in issues of conflict resolution and management, recently released a study reporting that "the failure of major NATO powers to summon the political will" to expand the scale and mandate of the ISAF "risks seeing Afghanistan again slide toward factional fighting." The group explained:
"Recent security incidents underscore the challenges in creating credible national military and police forces. While support for establishing ethnically balanced forces has been strong rhetorically, particularly from the United States, these are massive undertakings that will take more time and resources than are yet available. Afghanistan has not had a genuinely effective police force in more than a decade, its current force has not received training in years, officers have not been paid for months, and the force structure is built around an old Soviet-style system. Similarly, the notion [promoted by the United States] that a national military can quickly be propped up as an effective national force -- free of allegiance to local commanders -- is subject to serious question."
The International Crisis Group recommended boosting the ISAF to 25,000 to 30,000 troops to cover the main cities of Afghanistan and vital transportation routes. "An expanded peacekeeping presence is also the only means to restrain outside influences," says IGC president Gareth Evans, "and allow the country's internal political process and security forces to develop."
Before those high school students in Virginia, Bush boasted, "We've prevented mass starvation because we've moved a lot of food into the region." But Kenneth Bacon, president of Refugees International and an advocate for a larger ISAF, says security in parts of Afghanistan is so bad that aid workers cannot safely operate and food is not reaching starving Afghans. "The United States has to change its view," Bacon comments. The Bush administration promises and pep-talks regarding humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan will mean little it there is no civil stability there.
It is not classified info that peacekeeping, in general, is not popular among the Bush crowd. In early March, the word leaked that the Army is considering shutting down its Peacekeeping Institute, a small unit at the Army War College, with a staff of ten people and an annual budget of $200,000. This is the only office in the military devoted to studying U.S. peacekeeping missions. "My concern is, what message does this send to the world?" Col. George Oliver, the institute's director, told the Associated Press. "It's going to say that the U.S. military doesn't really care about peacekeeping." In response to this news, 25 members of Congress -- led by Democrat Lynn Woolsey and Republicans James Leach and Todd Russell -- dispatched a letter of protest to Army Secretary Thomas White. "As our ongoing war in Afghanistan demonstrates," the letter notes, "international issues today require civil-military partnerships as never before. Whether it is called peacekeeping, public security or nation-building, the fact is that our success in Afghanistan will depend in part on building social and political stability over the long-term." Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld appear to disagree. They certainly won't say they're against long-term stability in Afghanistan. But they are opposing steps to prevent disorder.
In the 1980s, the Reagan administration enthusiastically backed the mujahedin battling the Soviet occupiers of Afghanistan. Once the Soviet Union was chased out by the rebels, the United States disengaged from Afghanistan -- contributing nothing to national rebuilding, doing nothing to promote internal stability. From (what seemed) a comfortable distance, Washington watched as Afghanistan was rocked by violent factional fighting. Out of that chaos rose the Taliban movement, which promised to restore order to Afghanistan -- a promise that understandably appealed to many Afghans. The rest is...tragedy. It would be too easy to warn of history repeating itself. But the Bush administration is sending an ugly signal: The United States cares more for making war than maintaining peace.