Afghanistan war needs re-evaluation based on moral principles - Catholic Courier

Afghanistan war needs re-evaluation based on moral principles

It has certainly lived up to its name — or at least to half of it.

"Operation Enduring Freedom," the U.S. government’s name for its military action in Afghanistan, has endured for more than eight years, making it at least the second-longest war in American history. (Vietnam would be longer, depending on how you count).

"In the months ahead, our patience will be one of our strengths … patience and understanding that it will take time to achieve our goals, patience in all the sacrifices that may come," President George W. Bush said in his October 2001 address to the nation announcing commencement of military operations in Afghanistan.

"It’s harder, it’s slower than I think anyone anticipated," said CIA Director Leon Panetta June 27, 2010. "This is going to be tough. This is not going to be easy."

Panetta and Bush’s remarks could have been made the same day, but they are separated by eight years and nine months, billions of dollars and thousands of lives.

The goal of the operation was to take out al-Qaida and the Taliban, which were giving aid and comfort to those responsible for 9/11.

Panetta said that it "almost goes back to the early 2000s" that the United States had the last "precise" information on the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden. "Since then it’s been very difficult to get any intelligence on his exact location."

Asked about the number of al-Qaida, Panetta said, "I think … at most, we’re looking at 50 to 100, maybe less. It’s in that vicinity. There’s no question that the main location of al-Qaida is in the tribal areas of Pakistan."

Panetta added that "winning in Afghanistan" means "having a country that is stable enough to ensure that there is no safe haven for al-Qaida or for a militant Taliban that welcomes al-Qaida."

With 100,000 troops chasing a force of upwards of 150 and having had no idea for the past decade of the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden, it is time to re-evaluate.

And what of the chance of success?

Over the past two centuries, Afghanistan has been invaded five times, and each time the Afghans have forced the invading troops to retreat.

When the government says it not only is no closer to success after eight years but is actually losing ground, it is time to re-evaluate the situation in terms of moral principles.

"And when they are in a tough spot, it’s a moral imperative that we use everything we have to ensure that they get out of it," Gen. David Petraeus, the newest U.S. commander, told a Senate committee June 29. Although made in the context of a review of strict rules of engagement, his comment is appropriate to the overall war itself.

According to the church’s teaching on war and peace ("The Harvest of Justice Is Sown in Peace"), two of the moral principles that justify war are the probability of success and proportionality:

Probability of success says "arms may not be used in a futile cause or in a case where disproportionate measures are required to achieve success."

Proportionality holds that "the overall destruction expected from the use of force must be outweighed by the good to be achieved."

"Many Americans began to expect wars to be short and painless, sweeping away bad regimes and leaving behind better ones," George Packer, author of several books on the Middle East, wrote in The New Yorker.

The Afghanistan experience has been neither short nor painless but futile and burdensome. It is time to evaluate national policy as a moral imperative.

Kent is retired editor of archdiocesan newspapers in Omaha and Seattle.

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