Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Senator Frist's Surrender

Apparently, Senator Frist believes that the Americans should surrender to the Taliban in Afghanistan - or, at least, we should negotiate a settlement rather than utterly destroy them.

Twisting Words

When I read news stories suggesting that this is Senator Frist's policy regarding Afghanistan, I immediately assume that somebody tried to reduce a complex idea to 25 words or less, and failed.

Then, this failure is compounded my political opportunists who see, in this failed attempt at summary, a 'straw man' that the can use to muddy debate, undercut hopes of rational discussion, and bear false witness against their political opponents, for the sake of personal power. After all, the power-grabber can now honestly say, "Hey, that's what it said in the newspaper."

See, there is a reason why I do not trust Democratic politicians any more than Republican politicians. Democrats will wail and complain and condemn Republicans who twist their words for political advantage. However, judging from their actions, the moral principle they live under is, "It is wrong for a Republican to twist the words of a Democrat for political advantage." Twisting stories about Republicans is perfectly permissible.

The reason they do this is because it works. The reason that it works is because we let them work. We let it work because many of us have picked sides and adopted an attitude that victory is the only thing that matters, and that injustice is only something that our opponents can do to us - never something that we can do to our opponents.

What Should We Do?

Who are the Taliban, and how many are there? Talibanis are like planets. The number of Talibani there are depends on how we define the term. Ultimately, I think that the most useful term to use defines "Talibani" as "people living in the region of Afghanistan and Pakistan who believe in a literal interpretation of the Koran - religious conservatives who believe that these sets of religious prescriptions are to be followed to the letter."

Defined in these terms, I would be comfortable guessing that the number of Talibani we are talking about is in the tens of millions.

So, what should we do with these people?

We could kill them all. We've got this problem in that we have a lot of troops tied up in Iraq right now. However, if we pull them out of Iraq and commit them to the battle in Aghanistan, I am certain that we could kill a few tens of millions of people in no time at all. After all, we have the benefits of modern technology. We could start by simply dropping Daisy Cutters on every village in the infected region until this cancer is destroyed, then move in and eliminate the small pockets that remain. Even if we do not get all of them, we can reduce their numbers to a degree that they are no longer a threat.

This is actually the most contemptible part of the practice of creating straw-man distortions for political gain. We end up painting ourselves into a political corner. Because, if we are not going to kill off everybody in these regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan, then we have no choice but to find some way to live with these people.

This pretty much exhausts our options - live with them, or kill them.

Senator Frist dared to suggest that the "live with them" option might actually have some merit.

He was met by a storm of criticism from people who seem to have failed to recognize that the only option to "live with them" is "kill them all!"

I would like to suggest that the option of, "Kill them all!" has some morally questionable elements. When I take my desire-utilitarian moral theory out and plug an aversion to slaughtering tens of millions of people into the set of possible desires, that aversion ends up with a fairly high score. Slaughtering tens of millions of people is wrong.

So . . . then what? If we are going to have to live with them, how do we do that?

Replacement Killers

Consider the fact that the 18-year-old Talibani today was 13 years old when we went into Afghanistan after the attacks on 9-11. These are reinforcements for all of the people we defeated five years ago. Plus, most of the people we defeated 5 years ago are still around. We could not simply round them up and eliminate them. We could only round up some of them. We had to let the rest of them go home, to their wives and children - children that they then raised to respect the Talibani values that their parents grew up with.

Now, people who were 13 years old on 9/11 in this country are gearing up to fight (and kill, and be killed by) people who were 13 years old on 9/11 in Afghanistan.

In another five years, people who were 8 years old on 9/11 in this country will be fighting and killing people who were 8 years old on 9/11 in Afghanistan.

Every year, the Taliban is getting another group of recruits. Every year, we devote another generation of our own children to fighting them.

A hundred years from now their great-great-great-great-grandchildren will be fighting our great-great-great-great-grandchildren, unless we find some sort of strategy that has some hope of bringing about some sort of peace.

If a politician wants to suggest that we should look at options other than rounding up whole populations to be slaughtered, I am willing to at least listen to what he has to say.

Bush Administration’s Assumptions

At this point, I think that we need to admit to another fact - that the Bush Administration is made up of people who tend to lack a certain degree of intellectual acuity. Okay, fine . . . they're a bunch of idiots.

They assumed that societies are made up of populations who want nothing more than to be free. If a society is being oppressed, all we have to do is flick off the top layer of despotic dictators and the people themselves will naturally form a freedom-loving, egalitarian society in its place. So, once the Taliban was removed and the first seeds of a democracy were sewn in Afghanistan, the battle was over. It was time to start looking for another despotic dictator to overthrow.

The Bush Administration failed to even think of how fundamentalist religious indoctrination can turn people against the basic principles of liberty and justice. Of course, this occurs in the context of a fundamentalist religious government in this country passing legislation that approves of torture, rendition, arbitrary arrest, indefinite confinement, unfair trials, warrantless wiretaps and a list of other fundamental injustices. It should have been very easy for them to see the connection. Though, I repeat, one of the fundamental characteristics of this Administration has been its lack of a certain degree of intellectual acuity.

A Possible Avenue for Change

Ultimately, there will be no peace until we change the culture of Afghanistan. To do that, ultimately, we need to reach the kids. We need to make sure that when the current crop of 11 and 12 year old Afghan children reach the ages a 17 and 18 that they are adverse to the idea of killing Americans for whatever reason. If they have that aversion, then we will be safe.

It would help in teaching them to be averse to doing harm to innocent people if America itself lead by example, through our reluctance to do harm to innocent people. Over the past five years the Bush Administration has communicated quite the opposite message - letting the world know just how little we care about the harms that innocent people may suffer through our practices of arbitrary arrest, rendition, and torture.

We seriously would have been a lot better off if we had been lead by people who were smart enough to realize the magnitude of the problem we are up against and the huge amount of work that is involved in fixing that problem - people who had not made the mistake of thinking that nation-building was as easy as removing a dictator.

Ultimately, this does not square well with Senator Frist's suggestion of inviting the Taliban back into the government. Insofar as the Taliban are a group of people who will teach their children to hate and that violence against innocent civilians is a morally acceptable form of behavior, there is no room for the Taliban in any civilized nation. The very focus of our strategy should be to destroy that way of thinking (without slaughtering people). Frist's plan will have the contrary effect - of giving the Taliban ideology a sense of legitimacy.

Recognizing the fact that I am no expert, I offer the following two options as examples of ways in which we may avoid a future in which Americans who are ten years old today are fighting Afghanis who are ten years old today - in eight to ten years.

Option 1: Close down the Afghani schools that teach nothing but hate, establish actual school (even if they have to be built behind guarded walls for security), and give the children of Iraq a real education complete with a set of values that include, "Thou shalt not use weapons of violence against innocent people."

Option 2: Bring 200,000 Afghani children under the age of 12 to America, where they can live beside our children under the age of 12, go to the same schools, and learn our culture. At the age of 18, the students are drafted into the military for 6 years of service in Iraq. Hopefully, many of these will be driven to become civic leaders in their home communities.

Both of these options have the same core value of reaching the children of Afghanistan and helping to raise them with a proper aversion to killing innocent people that will make the world a safer place for the rest of us.

I am pleased that Frist acknowledged that we need to look for options other than "the military solution" of either wiping out whole populations or engaging in perpetual combat. I think that this is a step above those who say, "Kill them all!" – particularly those who make this claim so that they will not appear to be ‘weak’ on terror.

That is a solution that I tend to be disinclined to support.


Rev. Bob said...

If you believe that Democrats and Republicans each think their side can make mistakes and deserve to be given considerable more latitude than the other side, I'd have to agree.

If you conclude from that that the frequency with which one party posits strawman arguments like that is the same... if you conclude that the number of times each party accuses the other of amorality, lack of patriotism, and treason is the same... if you think that the amount of harm that can be done by the party out of power is exactly as great as the harm that can be done by the party that controls all 3 branches of government... then you've bought what somebody's trying to sell you.

What did you pay for it? Just curious.

Whenever I hear "they're all the same", I can pretty well guarantee that what I'll find is a situation where somebody is much worse than the other, but wants everybody else to equate flea's eggs and ostrich eggs.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Rev. Bob

This is not the first time that I have documented Democratic leaders or sympathizers twisting words or otherwise distorting the views and statements of Republicans for political gain.

I was particularly amused by the response from Democratic leaders in the house when the Republicans held a vote open for over 50 minutes until it could muster a majority. The Democratic response, "When we hold a vote open to muster a majority it only takes us 20 minutes to get a majority and close the vote."

Another example is Keith Olberman's recent rant on "It is unacceptable to think..." which, Democrats praised and repeated without noting that the rant takes Bush's words out of context in order to criticize them while condemning Republicans for taking peoples's words out of context for attempting to criticize them.

Ultimately, this post concerned what to do in Afghanistan. In passing, I made a note that this is yet another example of Democrats twisting the words of Republicans for political gain. I do not see any evidence to refute that claim - only assertions that possible implications that I did not make would have been invalid if I had made them, which I did not.

What is your reason for asking what I paid for things that there is no evidence I ever bought into?

By the way, on the issue of which side does this more than the other . . . as a matter of moral principle, I consider this to be irrelevant.

It is hardly a legitimate defense for a thief who has stolen $1,000 to say, "I am innocent, because others have stolen far more money than I have." Nor can a rapist defend his actions by saying, "I have only raped one person, while there are stories of others who have raped dozens of people."

If theft and rape are wrong, then they are wrong even if they are only done once. Though I have, on the part of Democrats, already reported more than once occurrance.

Now, you should not think of this as my claiming that Republicans are better or even no worse than Democrats. Think of it as my doing what I think that all Democrats should be doing - condemn their party leaders when those party leaders do things that are wrong. That is to say, they should hold their leaders to standards that are no lower than the standards they apply to Republican leaders.

Derek Scruggs said...

I don't know the details of what Frist said, but does "live with them" mean the Taliban continues to exists as a political party, or do they disperse into one or more independent movements? It's one thing to live with Nazis. It's another to live with the Nazi Party.

Dar said...

I have to disagree with your only two options, which (as a mother) seem like kidnapping and brainwashing.

In order for option 1 to happen, you'd first have to get up to 200,000 families to agree to send their children to these special schools. It seems unlikely that you would get that many families to participate willingly, given the area is surrounded by tens of millions violent protesters.

So you'd have to resort to Option 2, which means kidnap these children, bring them to America, and literally brainwash them. I don't like it. If someone stole my child and took her over to a land to teach her things I don't agree with, and then sent her back...I'd have to say I'd work really hard on "deprogramming" her. I would/could eventually get her to furiously hate her brainwashers, even if they fed her and treated her well. I don't think anybody wins.

Option 2 could work if - I'll call this Option 2(a) - our government (or private organization led by a certain brainy blogging Ethicist*) could set up such a program and invite entire families to participate. There could be "escape" plans and moving/living expenses paid for those who fear being harmed and/or killed by their opposing neighbors.

Option 3: We overtake middle-eastern media for mass converting.

Dar said...

* Sorry, I forgot to mention funding for this private organization. Ethicist Party development would need lots of funding.