Our new kind of war needs team spirit
LACEY, WASH. — Only the targets seem to be happy with our military operations in Afghanistan. The Taliban and Osama bin Laden crow that the attacks make them stronger. Asserting many civilian casualties, they claim the bombs prove the justness of their cause - and that, as throughout their history, the Afghan people will repel foreign invaders.
Everyone else is a critic. Many Afghan allies call the bombing too tentative. They want more - a view seconded by voices on America's political right, who also encourage combat operations on the ground.
Others think the bombing ought to be stopped, at least for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Aid workers report that the bombing is deepening the humanitarian crisis. They say our bombs, by disrupting international food convoys and flushing Afghans from their homes into the squalor of refugee camps, are incubating new generations of anger - the very problems that we claim to be trying to address.
Those concerns are echoed by a small but growing peace movement. The international networks of peace activists are becoming more critical of the American-British attacks. In Canada, where citizens tend to prefer the role of "peace builder" as the national approach to international relations, these "peace strategy" voices are becoming quite prominent.
Even the Bush administration seems unhappy. Officials are surprised at how difficult it is to topple the Taliban - a pseudo-government with only partial control of the country - or to overrun their primitive military defenses, an odd assortment of true believers, soldiers of fortune, and men dragooned into service. As the Pentagon counsels patience, we hear dissent within our high command about military strategy - and anxiety from diplomats about holding together a coalition if the military effort drags on indecisively.
What are we to think? Two months ago, the terrorists declared a seemingly limitless war on the civil world, a war in which they recognize no Geneva Conventions, no neutrals, and no sidelines. In response we started a long-haul, global campaign against terrorist networks and the climates that nurture them. Were we right to make military operations in Afghanistan the early centerpiece of our counterattack? Just what is the proper use of military firepower in this campaign and in the less violent world we hope to achieve?
These are hugely important questions, questions without settled answers, and above all citizens' questions, because they touch on the fundamental values of the better society we are hoping to build.
As the Sept. 11 attacks made clear, wars nowadays come in new, profoundly different patterns. It is not yet clear what kinds of military forces will be useful in the decades ahead. Afghanistan is a learning ground, for us and for the terrorists.
As we rethink the basics of war and peace, here are two suggested principles for the use of force in ways consistent with our long-term goal of reducing violence and increasing collective civility.
The use of force should be tied tightly to legitimate political objectives. Little on the new battlefields is purely military. An errant bomb from a single aircraft may stir international repercussions; willful aggression accelerates cycles of violent reprisal. In the decades of the global campaign ahead, we should expect our military professionals to integrate sophisticated political judgment into their high-tech combat.
Warriors should be just one element on an international team of peacebuilders. Combat power remains a necessary but decreasingly central constituent. This new kind of war assigns leading roles to police, humanitarian workers, conflict resolution and development specialists, information gurus, financial experts, and above all, individual citizens.
By these tests, do our military attacks in Afghanistan measure up? So far, yes. An attack as vicious as Sept. 11 demanded a swift reply to punish the perpetrators and cap the escalation. In cases of dysfunctional "governments" such as the Taliban, coercive removal seems the only practical course. On the political side, it appears the planners have been working hard to calibrate military operations to political ends, dropping food while raining bombs on opposition troops and metering out support to the Northern Alliance.
What has been missing is the teamwork that connects diplomacy, humanitarian aid, and cultural outreach to the military plan. The source of much of the angst about military operations in Afghanistan is our weakness in the collaboration and information-sharing demanded by this new kind of war. We should interpret the growing complaints about the bombing as encouragement to broaden the participation in this momentous enterprise.
Larry Seaquist, a former US Navy warship captain and Pentagon strategist, is founding chairman of The Strategy Group, a global action network of professional peace builders.