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.
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?
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.