Andrew Bacevich, retired Army Colonel and Professor at Boston College, is a traditional conservative. His good advice regarding our contemporary foreign policy, like that of the late Lt. General William Odom, fell on deaf ears in both Washington and in the so-called "conservative" heartland.
Bacevich and Odom were consistent and correct in advising a somewhat constitutional and certainly more prudent foreign policy than Washington has pursued for some decades. Because they are conservative, they sought to make sense, to connect what we are doing today in Iraq and Afghanistan to an American tradition that, perhaps, has simply gone awry.
I found it interesting that in an American Conservative excerpt from his new book, The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism, Bacevich refers to our "occupation" of Afghanistan. Not a lot of people are referring to Afghanistan as an occupied country, but it is.
The indications were there early on, with the US-selected puppet governor crowned December 2001, and the reluctance and minority of NATO troops vis-à-vis American troops (28,000 and counting). As with all occupations over time, instead of a pacified group, or groups, we see strengthening and growing sophistication in the national and local resistance to the occupation.
As noted by Australian journalist John Pilger, in 2003 with his documentary "Breaking the Silence" and more recently this year, what we are doing in Afghanistan has the trappings of vicious total domination, and it frankly doesn’t seem to be doing the already impoverished Afghans much good. Almost a year ago, 60 Minutes did a segment on Afghanistan, where the narrator tut-tutted when an Afghan observed, "We used to hate the Russians much more than Americans. But now when we see all this happening, I am telling you Russians behave much better than the Americans."
That October 2007 broadcast was about recent inadvertent killing of civilians by air strikes. What changed in eleven months? The mass murder by air and land of Afghan civilians, including women and children, continues. It’s not only the U.S. military doing the killing, of course. But none of that murder of innocents would be happening, or would have happened, had Washington not, as Pilger and others have observed, first planned to invade and then moved to base-build in, and occupy, Afghanistan.
In a sheer quantitative sense, the United States has long since avenged 9-11, racking up hundreds of thousands of dead, wounded, and scarred innocents. It has long since avenged 9-11 in sheer destruction, laying waste to cities, villages, homes and hearths, industry, government and religious observance. The destruction and murder is now habitual, profligate and self-indulgent. To the world, the President of the United States – present and future – is an uncouth and supersized version of Marie Antoinette.
In the most recent Afghan outcry over the death of innocent men, women, and children – the American military spokeswoman Lt Col Rumi Nielson-Green had this to say: "Soldiers treated wounded people at the scene, which indicated that the Laws of Armed Conflict were followed."
How very nice for them. Laws of armed conflict? Is there possibly a way for a state to conduct war that is traditional, lawful, good? The three main principles of the LOAC – military necessity, distinction, and proportionality – provide a clue.