After Sojourners joint chiefs chairman General Jim Wallis wrote that it was time for President Obama to stop listening to his generals regarding Afghanistan, it was pretty much inevitable that the rest of the General Staff would add their two cents. And so it has come to pass:
As your target date to begin U.S. troop withdrawals from Afghanistan approaches, we are compelled by the prophetic vision of just peace to speak.
In case you’re wondering, “just peace” is the latest fetish expression on the religious left. You’ll be hearing this expression more and more in coming days, until it becomes background noise, like “peace with justice.”
We represent a diversity of faith communities – ranging from just war to pacifist traditions.
If you take a look at the list of signatories, you’ll find that they are virtually all either pacifist denominations, pacifist fellowships within mainline denominations, pacifist para-church organizations, pacifist leaders of mainline denominations, random pacifist individuals, or Muslims. There may be a few just war advocates among them, but they certainly don’t jump out.
As leaders of these communities, some of us initially supported the war in Afghanistan as a justified response to the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C. Others opposed the war, believing there were better ways than military force to address the al Qaeda threat. Today, however, we are united in the belief that it is time to bring the U.S. war in Afghanistan to an end.
I don’t know about all of the specific individuals whose names are on this letter, but virtually none of the churches and organizations represented by those names ever supported military operations in Afghanistan.
After nine years, what began as a response to an attack has become an open-ended war against a Taliban centric insurgency—which itself is largely motivated to drive out foreign troops and has no designs beyond its own borders. The military operation has so far resulted in the deaths of over 2,500 Coalition troops, including 1,600 from the U.S. Estimates are that over 20,000 Afghan civilians have died. And yet, the security situation is deteriorating and Taliban influence is spreading. The military situation is at best a stalemate. Al Qaeda barely exists in Afghanistan, but it has metastasized into Pakistan and has established itself in Yemen, Somalia, and other places around the globe.
This demonstrates nicely why mainline church leaders are not in charge of American foreign policy. 1) The action in Afghanistan was, from the beginning, about deposing the Taliban, which had been harboring and aiding al Qaeda because they were ideological soulmates. 2) The idea that the Taliban is now solely about driving out the foreigners from Afghanistan, and has no plans to aid anti-Western terrorist movements as it has in the past, is completely without evidence. 3) The military situation is not stalemate. It is far too fluid to be properly characterized that way. 4) The border between Afghanistan and Pakistan is so porous that it makes no sense to say that al Qaeda “barely exists” in the former and has “metastasized” in the latter, as if there is a hard-and-fast barrier between the two.
So if military force isn’t the answer for what ails Afghanistan, what is?
We recognize that legitimate ethical and moral issues are at stake in Afghanistan — U.S. national security, protecting the lives of Coalition servicemen and women, protecting Afghan civilians, defending the rights of Afghan women, supporting democracy and, of course, saving innocent lives from the inevitable death and destruction that accompany war. We humbly believe there is a better way than war to address these important issues.
What is needed now is a comprehensive package of interlocking arrangements to enhance security and stability. This alternative path is not without some risk, but it is preferable to the known dangers of war. As you said in December 2009, the US should begin a responsible but accelerated withdrawal of troops, beginning with a significant number in July 2011 and continuing along a set timetable. This must be linked to a comprehensive security agreement, a regional multi-lateral diplomatic initiative, and increased public & private assistance for locally based economic and social development programs. We must commit to proactively share the costs of war, which have been borne disproportionately by the veterans of these wars, their families and thousands of Afghan civilians.
I’m glad these mainline leaders recognize that there are “legitimate ethical and moral issues” involved. It’s a pity their proposed solution–the “comprehensive package”–is mostly vague doubletalk, where it is not actually subversive of the “just peace” they say they want. A “set timetable” is an invitation to the Taliban and its tribal allies to simply wait until U.S. and other forces leave, and then resume the offensive–unless, of course, a “comprehensive security agreement” and a “multi-lateral diplomatic initiative” are not in the offing, in which case what? Do we stay, or go anyway? And what nations are we supposed to give the power to hold our troops hostage to any of this: China? Pakistan? Russia? The fact is that these are just high-sounded phrases that demonstrate both that these people don’t actually understand any of this and that what is most important to them is simply getting out, a position that gives the lie to their expressed concern for the “ethical and moral issues” that have to do with the real-life safety and freedom of the Afghan people.
They conclude by showing that they don’t even understand the stuff they are supposed to:
We reaffirm our religious hope for a world in which “they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more; but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid.”
I’m glad they “reaffirm that hope.” What they don’t seem to get is that this is not a prescription for military strategy or foreign policy, but an eschatological vision that Christians have always connected with the coming of the Kingdom of God in Christ in its fullness. Last time I checked, no orders that the American president can give will make that happen.