Overestimating Our Innocence in Afghanistan

Posted: November 20, 2009 in Uncategorized
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Note: Derrick Crowe is the Afghanistan blog fellow for Brave New FoundationThe Seminal. Learn how the war in Afghanistan undermines U.S. security: watch Rethink Afghanistan (Part Six), & visit http://rethinkafghanistan.com/blog.

The Center for American Progress (CAP) published a piece on just war criteria and the war in Afghanistan (we’ll come back to this, don’t worry) that paraphrased Reinhold Niebuhr, President Obama’s favorite theologian, on American self-image and action on the international stage:

One of the biggest problems of American foreign policy, Niebuhr contended, is that Americans are tempted to overreach, to overestimate the innocence of our own power, and thus also overestimate its possible effectiveness.

This made me think of Malalai Joya. The former member of the Afghan parliament wants the U.S. out of her country post-haste [h/t Tina Rife]:

They [occupying forces] say if troops leave, the Taliban will eat us. But they are supporting the Taliban today, supporting warlords. Both of them are eating us. To fight against one enemy is easier than two. We are between two enemies [the occupiers and the extremists].

This extreme skepticism of (or even contempt of) the idea that the U.S. military can be a good actor in that country often does not compute with American policymakers. For those that badly want to help, they can’t understand the way Joya wants to bat away their hand. For all my disagreements with Niebuhr on issues of war and peace, I would recommend that the “We Just Want to Help” crowd take a moment to reflect on CAP’s paraphrase of Niebuhr’s thought on just war. Neither we nor the people we try to help can afford continued American overreach and overestimation of the innocence of our exercise of power.

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