Posts tagged War
Posts tagged War
But the anger among the security forces is about more than the big provocations. The commonplace, daily cultural misunderstandings and mistranslations on both sides can be just as damaging to relations, says the major. For example he recounts an incident that took place when he and his men were on patrol with U.S. troops in a dangerous and contested area. Through an interpreter, one of his soldiers asked one of the Americans if he believed in God. The American shook his head no and said he didn’t. Overhearing the conversation, Hasanzada quickly ordered the interpreter not to respond. But it was no use: the Afghan soldier had seen the American’s body language and understood. “My soldier got very upset, quit the army within days, and gave his salary to poor local people,” says Hasanzada. “At least he didn’t react with his Kalashnikov.”
Routine American profanity can appall even the toughest Afghan men. The major puts it delicately: “Americans use the word f—k all the time,” says the major. Most Afghan troops take the meaning sexually, not as a meaningless expletive, he says. “Sometimes our mutual understanding is lost in translation.” He tells of an incident that occurred on another joint patrol: “I remember one U.S. soldier who saw some Afghan women carrying heavy loads of firewood on their heads and who remarked: ‘Those f—king Afghan women really work hard.’ The next day I heard a number of complaints from my men saying that these U.S. soldiers are lusting after our women and abusing our culture.” Women are a particularly raw subject. The major says his soldiers hate it when U.S. troopers urinate on rural trails that may be used by village women or when they stare at local women drawing water from wells.
But even the best intentions go wrong. This past Ramadan an American soldier nearly provoked a fight with one of Hasanzada’s men by sympathetically asking the fasting Afghan: “F—king hell, how can you go all day without drinking?” Another American cultural misstep is to give an Afghan ally an affectionate pat on the butt, as American athletes often do when saluting a teammate’s good play. “It’s a supreme insult and a sign of bad intentions to touch the bottom of an Afghan man,” says the major.
The Afghan war has been reduced to a bad episode of Arrested Development:
Since I suddenly have some extra free time, I have started reading Walzer’s Just and Unjust Wars, mostly out of interest in how drones are changing the basic equation of war. One thing that strikes me is Walzer’s assertion early on in the book that a battle plan is mostly an ideal. Soldiers and even generals, when placed in the midst of battle, will improvise and react to the chaos exploding around them. Battles in Waltzer’s view are a very fluid and reactionary affair.
With the rise of drones and other forms of computerized warfare, we are depending more and more on programmed weapons of war. In other words, more dependable units of warfare that will stick to a battle plan more tenaciously than humans ever will. Will drones make battle plans even more important than before?
The Obama administration may have departed from the highly controversial anticipatory war doctrine of the Bush era; however, it has replaced this doctrine with an equally problematic, albeit less costly and less destructive, anticipatory drone strike doctrine. What is worrisome in this shift is the recognition of a dangerous precedent being set: namely that low levels of force, such as drone strikes, bypass the bureaucratic hurdles that need to be navigated when seeking the right to wage war, making them very easy, perhaps too easy, to justify. Even in cases where it is not clear whether the threat is actually imminent. This builds from the assumption that because we are waging a just war against Al-Qaeda, it must be just to expand the war in any direction we see fit. But the war against Al-Qaeda is not a conventional war in which both sides will fight, kill, and then come together in the end to make some sort of peace. It is a struggle to defeat an ideology, meaning every action - especially including drone strikes - which could potentially fuel this ideology, needs to be carefully considered.
Does the advent of drones mark a new era of microwars, where nations do not declare war with each other, but only against specific targets?
In short, there is no clear end game of the drone campaign against Al-Qaeda, but rather, an endless cycle of perceived threat, drone strikes, inevitable collateral damage, and mutual animosity. The successes lauded by Brennan in his speech may be but a Pyrrhic victory. By their very nature, drones remove the human element because they are operated from far away and all but eliminate any positive contact with local populations. This may greatly diminish the risk to U.S. personnel, but it also makes making peace almost impossible. If drones are to be effective, they need to be part of a clearly defined strategy where non-lethal measures are the priority, and drone strikes are a last resort. Just because they are easy to use and very effective at killing does not mean they should be used in lieu of other options.
An interesting, it problematic (how much positive contact results from any occupying army?) analysis of drone warfare.