Moralism Meets Realism in Afghanistan

April 4, 2012 Topic: Ethics Region: Afghanistan Blog Brand: The Buzz

Moralism Meets Realism in Afghanistan

The April issue of Commentary is further proof that there is no problem that neoconservatives believe can’t be solved by military force applied in the service of moral values. In an essay grandly titled “Reclaiming the Moral Case for Afghanistan,” Jamie Fly contends that in addition to the national-security benefits, the Obama administration should emphasize the moral reasons for the Afghan war.

According to Fly, the moral case “endows the fight with a meaning beyond a narrow conception of the national interest.” Defeating the Taliban is a moral imperative; conversely, to withdraw would be “dishonorable.” Unsurprisingly, the reason Fly wants to make the moral argument is to bolster American public support for a longer-term U.S. presence in Afghanistan. He rejects the option of withdrawal through a negotiated settlement, and calls for staying in Afghanistan for as long as it takes to destroy the Taliban.

Fly’s essay totally fails to deal with the consequences of the policy it recommends. He provides no evidence that more troops or a longer presence will significantly improve the chances of a positive outcome in Afghanistan. He blithely asserts that “because we increasingly have the heretofore neglected population on our side, we can still win.” But there is absolutely no discussion of how this will overcome the endemic problems of poor governance and corruption that have crippled Afghanistan, and will continue to do so long after U.S. forces have left.

Moreover, Fly’s logic is totally open-ended. If the United States has a moral responsibility to save the people of Afghanistan from the Taliban, do we also then have a responsibility to save the people of North Korea from the Kim regime? And if failing to defeat the Taliban is “dishonorable,” must we achieve this end at any cost? Should we still be in Afghanistan in 2015, 2020 or even 2050 if we haven’t met this goal?

It is hardly “moral” to deploy American soldiers around the world without seriously thinking about the cost at home, or whether the mission we are sending them on is achievable. Fly’s insistence that it is makes his piece an outright howler.