Whose War Is It?

As the press reminds us daily, Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele put his size 12 foot in his mouth, calling Afghanistan a “war of Obama’s choosing” and not “something the United States has actively prosecuted or wanted to engage in.” This, no doubt, was news to the service members who served in Afghanistan between the fall of 2001 and January, 2009.

Steele’s “unusual interpretation” as it was called was quickly followed by an attempt to back off the limb he had climbed out on. He added that “the stakes are too high for us to accept anything but success in Afghanistan.”

Amazingly, all his fellow Republicans jumped all over him as the Democrats watched in glee. But party chairmen on both sides have done this kind of thing often over the years.

And actually, I think Steele may have done us a service by raising what is really the critical question: What is our goal in Afghanistan?

Last November, when the President was trying to decide what to do in Afghanistan, I, unlike many of my conservative friends, agreed with his deliberate approach and said so here on BreakPoint.

The reason for my commentary was that I wasn’t sure that the cost, both human and financial, of staying full scale in Afghanistan was justified by the Christian just war doctrine. And eight months later, I’m even less sure.

Despite the build-up in troops, the military news out of Afghanistan is grim. The vaunted Marjah offensive has failed to achieve its goal of stabilizing that region, which remains violent and ungovernable.

That brings me to my principal concern: “Success in Afghanistan” has become nothing less than nation-building. It’s about creating a central government in Kabul that is strong enough and competent enough to claim the allegiance of most of the country’s 28 million citizens.

But such a development would be unprecedented in Afghan history. Afghanistan has always been a loose confederation of local and tribal groups that rebelled against strong central authority.

Look, here is the debate we ought to be having: Is what we are doing in Afghanistan just? For this war to be just, under the Augustinian doctrine, our cause and intent must be just. We must wage war in proportion to the threat, and we must not target non-combatants. And we must also have a reasonable chance of success.

While pre-emptive military strikes to kill the bad guys are justifiable under the just war doctrine, the kind of nation-building we’re pursuing In Afghanistan is not. And here’s why: Sacrificing lives to give Afghanistan what it has never had and never desired—a strong central government—is the antithesis of the “reasonable chance of success” requirement of the just war theory.

So let’s stop the silly name-calling over whose war it is. Trying to score political points while people are dying and billions in taxpayer dollars are being squandered makes me wonder if we aren’t the ones in need of nation-building.

Maybe you could call my approach an “unusual interpretation” as well. But it’s rooted in fact and Christian doctrine and seeks a just use of our nation’s most precious resource: our men and women in uniform.

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