Mounting Civilian Deaths In Afghanistan Pose Problem For Obama
The United Nations released a report accounting for civilian deaths in Afghanistan in 2008. The report indicates that the civilian death toll rose 40% from 2007, jumping from 1,523 to 2,118 for the past year. The total surpassing two thousand marks the highest number of civilian causalities in any calender year since the Taliban was ousted in 2001.
The UN report indicates that United States and Afghan proxy forces accounted for 828 deaths in 2008. The large majority were caused by Taliban forces. Regardless, a mounting civilian death toll poses a serious threat to American foreign policy success in Afghanistan.
It is a constant truism that violence erodes public support, both at home and abroad. The more local the violence is, the more pronounced the public reaction can be expected. Iraq is a clear indication of the effect that unrelenting violence on a people will, in time, turn public support downward.
The preponderance of public ill will invariably focus’ on the occupying force. In the case of Afghanistan, this would apply to United States military forces and proxy contingents, which includes Afghan Army regulars, Afghan police and security forces, US Special Forces units, and CIA paid para-military private soldiers.
The allocation of an additional 12,000 US soldiers bound for Afghanistan, as part of President Obama’s decision to prioritize the Afghan theater higher in the foreign policy ladder, represents a distinct threat to Afghan civilian safety. This in turn translates into a greater threat to the American foreign policy aims it attempts to purport – the creation of a free, democratic Afghanistan.
With a grand historical record of how violence upon a civilian population steadily erodes public opinion towards the occupiers, it begs the question – what are the true foreign policy motivations behind the United States military operations within Afghanistan? Why would an occupying nation intentionally employ counter productive strategies that run opposed to the announced foreign policy initiatives?
American foreign policy in Afghanistan purports two central aims. One, to combat and eliminate Al Qaeda/Taliban forces, and two, to install a functioning democratic government. These two tenants pose diametric reactions to the use of violence. The first reacts favorably, and, in fact, becomes more attainable with the increased use of violence. However, the second aim responds negatively to the use of violence, as evident in decreased public opinion synchronously to force.
While the United States foreign policy aim is undoubtedly to defeat Al Qaeda and it’s Taliban supporters, the desire for a functioning democratic government in Afghanistan is nothing more then a self proclaimed, virtuous myth. The prioritization of violence, where in a mounting civilian death toll is deemed acceptable, is evidence that the goal of democracy is a secondary and ancillary byproduct. If it happens, so be it.
What is most important, as it concerns the Afghan government, is that it is compliant. Anything other then subservent obiedence is unacceptable to those shaping US foreign policy. Provided Afghan officials are sufficiently dependent upon United States support, the misuse of violence against the civilian population can be marginalized and mitigated to a level where it does not threaten the primary goal – defeating the enemy through force.
Just as in Iraqi, the introduction of increased violence decreased local support. With Barak Obama’s plan for additional forces in country, there is no reason to believe that American support within Afghanistan will not plummet. This, in turn, poses the daunting prospect of a defiant Afghan populace that will eventually view the United States as an occupier, and subsequently become a plague on any possible true non-violent, democratic growth.
The long term answer to eliminate our enemies is not through violence, but through mutual cooperation and, ultimately, shared democratic ideals. It is sobering, but not surprising, that American foreign policy is pursuing short term fixes within Afghanistan.