Afghan War is Not Justified and Must End

A reader asked me recently what I thought about the Afghan War and what I thought ought to be done about it. I spent considerable time thinking about and writing my response and felt it might be of broader interest, so here it is.

As a pacifist. I do not believe war is ever the answer. I do not believe war is ever justified. War in strict self-defense is the only possible exception my philosophy allows and that only if it's clearly the only solution. War should always be a last resort. I am a fan of Dennis Kuchinch's views in this regard.

So that obviously colors my views of the Afghanistan War.

On the other hand, the emergence of the stateless aggressor such as al-Qaida poses a special problem for pacifism. If a country attacks us, we can defend ourselves in a way that limits our response to actions that restrain or punish the aggressor. With a terrorist organization that is obviously not as obviously or readily feasible. Are we then at all justified in carrying out a war against recognized nations that sponsor or support the activities of the aggressor group? I tend to think we are, so that the same principle that applies to an attack by a nation applies to an attack by a sponsored terrorist group. That means that war, as a last resort, might be acceptable and palatable though never preferable.

Against that backdrop, to the extent that the U.S. had proof that al-Qaida was operating from Afghan territory with the official knowledge, consent, sponsorship and support of that country when it planned and/or launched the 9/11 attacks against the United States, we had a moral right to pursue Afghanistan as an enemy state. I'm not sure that proof was all that solid, but let's leave that question aside for the moment.

The bigger question, for me, is whether an offensive war was the only avenue open to us. And I think it is clear that it was not. In fact, we didn't even try any peaceful alternatives and, unlike the case with Iraq, we had never tried them before, either.

So I judge the mission of the Afghan war — the disruption and elimination of al-Qaida as a terrorist organization threatening the United States — as legitimate but I don't view the war as ultimately justified.

I would like to see a timely, orderly, safe withdrawal of our forces from that part of the world. The larger picture of a seriously global nuclear or conventional war is much more threatening to our safety and security and to world peace than anything the tiny splinter group known as al-Qaida could carry out. We are, in a sense, cutting off our noses to spite our faces.

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