I consider myself a peacemaker and a patriot. I come from a long line of warriors and military servicemen. But, along with other Americans in my generation, the idea of blind patriotism died for me during the Vietnam War. Then, after my conversion in 1975, I found Jesus had much more to say about making peace than making war. I now understand peacemaking to be the first, the wisest, and the most critical act of courage and Christian faith. With all that said, I can say without hesitation that I consider the continuation of a war in Afghanistan to be pure foolishness. It is a war that we cannot win.
What qualifies me to make such a statement? Certainly the history of our involvement in the Middle East is complicated since our government has been covertly active in the politics of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Israel, etc. for many decades. We have sided with both "liberal" and "fundamentalist" despotic regimes in this ancient part of the world.
As a Native American, I made it a point to become a student of the 500 plus years of history between Native Americans and Euro-Americans. My ancestors suffered genocide, displacement, assimilation to colonialism, and now to modernism, at the hands of Euro-Americans and, in particular, at the hands of the United States Government. One needs only to see the other (often untold) side of history, such as the Native American viewpoint, to understand how imperialism works. The principals of conquest and exploitation still held by the United States cannot gain anything but a demoralizing loss in Afghanistan. Here are just a few of the reasons:
No One Size Fits All
The U.S. likes to poise itself as "the good guys against the bad." History shows that we look for broad sweeping approaches to complex problems. These simplistic storylines "sell" to the American people. This is how the American Myth is made and perpetuated. The same thing happened with my ancestors when Native Americans were considered to be the terrorists. Generally, the process went like this: The government would find a few chiefs who would sign a document that betrayed the others, and the U.S. pretended like the whole group was represented. This happened in spite of the fact that they knew our own systems never allowed any one chief or individual to speak for everyone. It's much the same in the remote areas of Afghanistan. Even if the chiefs speak for their tribes, they will be forced into a unilateralism that employs few local strategies.
Lack of Indigenization
Afghani ideas of governance are not the same as American ideas of democracy. In fact, democracy is a "by-word" to people in the region. The tribes and the central government of Afghanistan are not even settled on their relationship to each other (read Taliban), much less with the tenuous role that Pakistan must play. These indigenous ideas mean very little to the United States. Cultural concerns over how indigenous ideas develop and whether or not the cultures are worth preserving are not on the U.S. radar. If you don't believe this, just recall the lack of cultural appreciation exhibited by the U.S. in allowing the looting of ancient Iraqi cultural treasures from their National Museum. The people of the region soon come to understand that if we care nothing for their culture, we care nothing for their people.
Inability to Train True Leaders for the Long Haul
Because of our intransigence we have a terrible record of finding and influencing honest indigenous leaders who will give themselves in the way that they choose, for the best of the ideas we espouse. Instead, part and parcel of siding with America most often means that leaders trained by us become betrayers to their own people and culture. This process just increases the likelihood of continued instability. In time, another group must rise up to take back their country from foreign ideology and influence.
I do love America and I have traveled most of it. I love the land. I love the people. And, I love the government when it acts in the best of true democratic ideas. Most often this has happened when the government made room for the people to carry out those altruistic ideas that both soldiers and activists have died to protect and preserve.
Unfortunately, if we act in the same ways we have in the past, anyone can see that we cannot win in Afghanistan. Even if our government is determined that we must intervene in Afghanistan, no matter how hard we try, might will never make right. Minimally, the end result of our intervention will be a continued unstable region, including the escalation of Pakistani involvement, massive suffering of innocent Afghani civilians, and the heartbreaking loss of life to U.S. soldiers. And, the terrorists will live to fight another day.
So what should we do to gain influence in the region? Instead of increasing our military for conflict, let's send them as an army of builders. Equip them in providing culturally sensitive opportunities for education, human rights, creating medical facilities, micro-economic development, agronomists, peace-makers, etc. This is the kind of army we should be equipping. Sure, it sounds starry-eyed and simplistic, but this is the only kind of army that can win in Afghanistan. The old strategies will not work. Perhaps if we tried what I would call a more Christian approach, we might even find Jesus in Afghanistan.
Rev. Dr. Randy Woodley is a Keetoowah Cherokee Indian descendent and the author of Living in Color: Embracing God's Passion for Ethnic Diversity. He teaches history, theology, and culture at George Fox Evangelical Seminary in Portland, Oregon.