Just War in Afghanistan?

Bob Woodward’s newest book, Obama’s Wars, chronicles the administration’s handling of this now nine-year old conflict — and the President’s search for an exit strategy.

And I can say wholeheartedly that I sympathize with the President. Not because I myself was a frequent target of Mr. Woodward in his Watergate books, but I sympathize with him because I know exactly what he’s going through. I was in the White House during the agonizing final years of the Vietnam War. And the parallels between Vietnam and Afghanistan are growing by the day.  I remember how we always liked to talk about “Vietnamization,” that is, training the South Vietnamese to fight the communists themselves. We could never seem to get the upper hand on the communist insurgents, who blended in with-and terrorized-the South Vietnamese population.

I recently came across a quote by one of the nation’s fiercest critics of the Vietnam War, Senator William Fulbright, who chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Fulbright questioned, and I quote, “the ability of the United States to go into a small, alien, undeveloped Asian nation and create stability where there is chaos . . . democracy where there is no tradition of it, and honest government where corruption is almost a way of life.”

He said this back in the 1960s about Vietnam. He certainly could have said it about our involvement in Afghanistan were he here today.

So we find ourselves in a protracted, costly war. We have no clear idea about what “victory” looks like, and yes, while our troops are killing insurgents, they themselves are shedding their blood. So what are we to do?

Caspar Weinberger, when he was secretary of defense under Ronald Reagan, gave a speech in which he said that America should not commit men and women to war unless we are willing to go and win the war. This is why Reagan never involved U.S. troops in a protracted ground war. Quick, surgical strikes, yes, like Granada and Panama. And Clinton followed the same policy: quick, surgical strikes in Serbia and Bosnia.

After he had left the White House, I remember a dinner then we had with Cap Weinberger when we discussed the morality of putting troops in harm’s way. If there is no commitment to win, or no understanding of what “win” even means, then you are wasting human lives for no purpose. And as Weinberger and I agreed talking that night, that is profoundly immoral.

Weinberger’s words were much on my mind when I applauded President Obama last year for taking his time whether to commit more U.S. troops to Afghanistan for the so-called “surge. But at the forefront of my thinking was the Christian Just War doctrine — a view of war and justice that has informed the Western view of war for nearly 1,700 years.

And it is the Christian understanding of Just War that leads me to say that the war we are fighting in Afghanistan today is no longer morally justifiable.

I attempt to make that case in detail on my weekly Two Minute Warning video commentary. I urge you, go to Colson Center.org and watch the Two Minute Warning today. Also at Colson Center.org, we will have other resources to help you learn more about Christian Just War theory-what it means, and why it’s so important.

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