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Washington's failed war in Afghanistan

By Elan Journo
web posted June 12, 2006

Unlike the seemingly endless war in Iraq, America's campaign in Afghanistan is widely considered a success in the "war on terror." We have nothing more to fear from Afghanistan, our policy makers tell us, because the war accomplished its two main goals: al-Qaida and its sponsoring regime, the Taliban, are long gone, and the country has a new, pro-Western government. But as the daily news from Afghanistan shows, in reality the war has been a drastic failure.

Legions of undefeated Taliban and al-Qaida soldiers have renewed their jihad. Flush with money, amassing recruits, and armed with guns, rockets and explosives, they are fighting to regain power. In recent months they have mounted a string of suicide bombings and rocket attacks against American and NATO forces; more U.S. troops have died in Afghanistan in the last 18 months than did during the peak of the war.

An Afghan policeman mans a machine gun mounted on the rear of a vehicle outside Kabul University in May 2006
An Afghan policeman mans a machine gun mounted on the rear of a vehicle outside Kabul University in May 2006

Taliban forces have effectively besieged several provinces in southern Afghanistan. Local officials estimate that in some provinces the "number of Taliban . . . is several times more than that of the police and Afghan National Army." Taliban fighters are said to amble through villages fearlessly, brandishing their Kalashnikovs, and collecting zakat (an Islamic tithe) from peasants. With astounding boldness, they have assassinated clerics and judges deemed too friendly to the new government, and fired rockets at a school for using "un-Islamic" books.

How is it that four years after the war began -- and in the face of America's unsurpassed military strength -- Taliban and al-Qaida fighters are once again threatening American interests?

Victory in Afghanistan demanded two things. We had to destroy the Taliban and we had to ensure that a non-threatening, non-Islamic-warrior-breeding regime take its place. But we did not think we had a moral right to do either.

Our military was ordered to pursue Taliban fighters only if it simultaneously showed "compassion" to the Afghans. The U.S. military dropped bombs on Afghanistan -- but instead of ruthlessly pounding key targets, it was ordered to gingerly avoid hitting holy shrines and mosques (known to be Taliban hideouts) and to shower the country with food packages. The U.S. deployed ground forces -- but instead of focusing exclusively on capturing or killing the enemy, they were also diverted to a host of "reconstruction" projects. The result is that the enemy was not destroyed and crushed in spirit, but merely scattered and left with the moral fortitude to regroup and launch a brazen comeback.

Even with its hands tied, however, the U.S. military succeeded in toppling the Taliban regime -- but Washington subverted that achievement, too.

A new Afghan government would be a non-threat to America's interests if it were based on a secular constitution that respects individual rights. The Bush administration, however, declared that we had no right to "impose our beliefs" on the Afghans -- and instead endorsed their desire for another regime founded on Islamic law. Already this avowedly Islamic regime has jailed an Afghan magazine editor for "blasphemy"; recently, Abdul Rahman, an Afghan convert to Christianity, faced a death sentence for apostasy. The new Afghan regime cannot be counted on to oppose the resurgence of Islamic totalitarianism. Ideologically, it has nothing to say in opposition to the doctrines of the Taliban (two members of the Taliban leadership are in the new government). It is only a matter of time before Afghanistan is once again a haven for anti-American warriors.

The failure in Afghanistan is a result of Washington's foreign policy. Despite lip-service to the goal of protecting America's safety, the "war on terror" has been waged in compliance with the prevailing moral premise that self-interest is evil and self-sacrifice a virtue. Instead of trouncing the enemy for the sake of protecting American lives, our leaders have sacrificed our self-defense for the sake of serving the whims of Afghans.

The half-hearted war in Afghanistan failed to smash the Taliban and al-Qaida. It failed to render their ideology -- Islamic totalitarianism -- a lost cause. Instead, at best it demonstrated Washington's reluctance to fight ruthlessly to defend Americans. How better to stoke the enthusiasm of jihadists?

America cannot win this or any war by embracing selflessness as a virtue. Ultimately, it cannot survive unless Washington abandons its self-sacrificial foreign policy in favor of one that proudly places America's interests as its exclusive moral concern.

Elan Journo is a junior fellow at the Ayn Rand Institute in Irvine, Calif. The Institute promotes Objectivism, the philosophy of Ayn Rand -- author of "Atlas Shrugged" and "The Fountainhead." Copyright © 2006 Ayn Rand® Institute. All rights reserved.

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