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Unwinnable

April 12, 2010

Gleen Greenwald of Salon is constantly fighting to bring American national security policy back to reality. If I had one critique, it would be that his righteousness can be a detriment to his persuasiveness, not in persuading me but the wider public. Still, at times the facts on the ground demand a righteous response.

His post today comes at one of those times and it makes a point that I often want to make with much more evidence and erudition than I could so I’m just going to summarize it here. It begins:

The extreme paradox of our actions in the Muslim world is now well-documented: namely, the very policies justified in the name of fighting Terrorism (invasions, occupations, bombings, lawless detentions, etc.) are the precise ones that most inflame and exacerbate that threat.

He writes in response to two incidents involving the killing of innocents by U.S. troops. The most recent occurred this morning when U.S. troops opened fire on a passenger bus which they believed posed a danger to a group of soldiers clearing roadside bombs, killing five civilians. The other occurred in February when 5 innocent Afghans were killed including three women, one of them pregnant.

These are accidents, but they are distressingly common. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the head of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, admitted as much, saying:

“We’ve shot an amazing number of people and killed a number and, to my knowledge, none has proven to have been a real threat to the force.”

Haji Sharabuddin, an 80-year-old man who lost two sons, two daughters and a granddaughter in the botched raid, has now pledged to launch a suicide attack on the United States. Presumably, the “amazing number” of other innocents that have been killed also have family members who, reasonably, feel compelled to seek revenge for their deaths of their loved ones.

Their are a few intertwined questions at play here. One is whether we, American voters and politicians, can live with this blood on our hands, whether any gain in national security is worth the preventable deaths (what could be referred to as murder) of innocent civilians, whether we believe that to be moral. A second is whether our military actions abroad can really have any net positive effect considering how many enemies and potential terrorists we create with each of innocent civilians we kill (or murder). A third, more practical question is whether we can even stem the current unacceptable rate of civilian casualties, whether high levels of civilian casualties are inherent to our military actions, as they are to war everywhere.

Glenn Greenwald raises these questions often but they are raised far too rarely in our national discourse. These are our soldiers; these are the results of our political decisions. Ultimately, I doubt both that the ends justify the means and that the means even further the ends.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Tim permalink
    April 13, 2010 6:19 am

    Wow, don’t know how I haven’t heard that McChrystal quote before. Seems like it should be a much bigger deal.

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