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Send college students to war in Afghanistan

Chris Rhodenbaugh | Friday, September 17, 2010

President Barack Obama has said of Afghanistan, “This is not a war of choice. This is a war of necessity.” If that is true, every citizen between the ages of 18 to 25 should be prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice. A volunteer army should not allow the rest of American young adults to disconnect from debates on just and necessary wars. Let’s analyze the nine years of evidence to find justification for President Obama’s claim.

The war in Afghanistan has no achievable goal, yet we are committing desperately needed dollars to the war in the face of a devastating recession at home. Even if every military offensive is successful and the Afghan people begin to cooperate effectively with the U.S. military, the U.S. is still left propping up a corrupt government under President Hamid Karzai. Not to mention the country’s infrastructure is non-existent or in shambles, and the population has little to no respect of the country’s political institutions.

The plan of using force to win the hearts of a people puts our soldiers in a precarious situation. Once one civilian is killed violently by a drone missile, a grenade, or a stray bullet, the entire community will be pushed away from supporting the war effort and at least one, likely two or more, person will enlist to fight for the Taliban.

What would you do if a member of your family or your best friend had been killed by a heavily armed military force from another country that does not practice your faith or speak your language? Would you risk your life to cooperate with a foreign military force responsible for civilian deaths in your community? The reality is every Afghan knows a U.S. soldier will leave if that is the order. They understand the individual Afghan does not matter to Washington or the war effort. Therefore, why do we continue to put our soldiers into villages and tell them to be armed diplomats and community organizers?

Bank bailouts are being talked about in political ads across the country with politicians trying to be more populist than the other. Is anyone mentioning that we are currently “bailing out” the central bank of Kabul? Bank failure would mean no government employee (Afghan military force) could be paid and one of the only sources of credit in the country would disappear. Because we are building a country, and not fighting a war with our military, this issue is potentially catastrophic. While the Treasury department said no U.S. taxpayer money would be given directly to the bank to protect its solvency, the U.S. will be bankrolling the government of Afghanistan for the next 10 to 50 years. Therefore, we may not be giving cash to Kabul Bank, but by subsidizing other government action we indirectly are contributing.

The U.S. will spend $105 billion (roughly one-sixth of its defense budget) on the war in Afghanistan in 2010, which is more than the $98 billion the Chinese government, second largest spender on defense in the world, spent on defense in 2009. Total spending from 2001 to 2009 in Afghanistan is $190 billion, yet experts are saying the Taliban has recovered from its initial defeats to return to nearly the same power and influence it had in 2001 when the U.S. invaded.

Why are we unable to learn from our country’s past engagements abroad and the military history of Afghanistan? You cannot kill an idea, or a culture that accepts the Taliban with force. It must be destroyed by education and economic development. Modernity and legitimate democratic governance cannot be brought in by U.S. tanks and squads of marines. Maybe that is why many NGOs and experts like Greg Mortenson, director of the Central Asia Institute that has built 145 schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan, believe money should be invested in the human capital of the Afghan people instead of militaries. Between the 145 schools built by the Central Asia Institute and the 300 schools built in Afghanistan by the CARE foundation not a single one has been destroyed by the Taliban. Greg Mortenson has said, “for the cost of just 246 soldiers posted for one year, America could pay for a higher education plan for all Afghanistan.”

Remember when 60 percent of people disapproved of health care legislation and politicians and the media said an anti-government revolution was brewing in this country? Then politicians began the race to see who could distance themselves more from the bill before the midterms. Well, recent polls show that 60 percent of Americans oppose the war in Afghanistan, yet our country trudges on with nation building and our country’s leaders are holding their ground that we are fighting “a war of necessity.”

People are not invested in the events of the war because it has no effect on their day-to-day lives. Even in a recession the economic costs of the war still are not enough for the issue to be a part of political platforms in the midterm elections. How would this situation be changed if every mother in the United States knew it was possible that her child was sent into a battle with no metrics for victory? Would college campuses take some time away from drinking to start organizing against a war that is taking the lives of Afghan civilians and their friends or family members? How would politicians vote if their children were going to war? To justify taking the lives of more than 1000 U.S. soldiers, and spending 1/6 of our defense budget, every young person in the U.S. should be willing to fight to protect this country. Do we have to reinstate the draft, college students included, to hold our president accountable when he calls nation building in Afghanistan a “war of necessity?”

Chris Rhodenbaugh is a senior political science major and editor of www.LeftysLastCry.com, Notre Dame’s Progressive Headquarters. He can be contacted at crhodenb@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.