October 12, 2010

Why Die For Kabul?

They say there was a somber atmosphere at Rome’s military airport yesterday morning as the Italian air force C130 carrying the coffins, draped in Italian flags, of the four Alpine soldiers of the Julia brigade killed in the Gullistan valley in Afghanistan on Saturday touched down. The same atmosphere greeted them during the state funeral that was held in the Basilica di Santa Maria degli Angeli a few hours ago, before hundreds of mourners, including President Giorgio Napolitano.

The deaths took to 34 the number of troops from Italy to die in Afghanistan since 2004, when Italian troops were deployed there as part of the international military mission. Italy has about 3,150 soldiers currently in Afghanistan.

I may be wrong, but every time I think about what is happening in Afghanistan I cannot help asking myself, “Does it still make sense for our soldiers to die for Afghanistan?” And my answer is, No, it doesn’t make sense anymore. And this piece by Giuliano Ferrara in yesterday’s Il Foglio newspaper explains why [English translation by Mirino—thanks!—slightly revised by me] :

Obama has been euphemistically defined as “a reluctant soldier” by his apologists. But who wants to fight and die for a reluctant soldier who also happens to be the supreme commander of the most powerful army in the world?

In reality Obama bombs the same way as Bush, increases the numbers of troops on the battle fields just like Bush, organizes gradual and possibly safe withdrawals in the same way as Bush, but contrary to Bush he hasn’t got a political and military strategy to face the political challenge of Islam to the West.

In the province of Farah, the extreme west of Afghanistan, four Alpine soldiers of the Julia brigade were killed in a Taliban ambush last Saturday morning. Their names are Gianmarco Manca, Marco Pedone, Sebastiano Ville, Francesco Vannozzi. One of them was haunted by fear and death, but was still determined to fight; another, caporalmaggiore Luca Cornacchia who survived, wrote on Facebook: “I’m sick of Afghanistan; I don’t understand a thing.”

Processing the painful mourning for these four boys that one adds to the other thirty Italians fallen in the Afghan war, also means reflecting on “I’m sick of Afghanistan,” and “I don’t understand a thing.” And one can also ask: Why pay the price of death, for a “reluctant war?”

Certainly impulsive madness must be avoided, and obviously one must discuss things with the allies. But one must also tell at least a bit of truth. Whilst there was the Bush administration, the war in the Middle East had a sense: the right importance was given to the gravity of the most devastating terrorist attack in the history of humanity, the 11th September, 2001 in New York and Washington.

The reaction was strategically orientated to hit the rogue states in the heart, bringing to the front al-Qaida and the international terrorists of the whole world. This was done at great cost and there were many errors, but it was done with confidence, with heroism in the battle-field and magnificent results.

Moreover, Bush would never have permitted himself to define or to allow the definition of “reluctant.” With Dick Cheney he gave the right constitutional interpretation that he intended to his mission of security and defense of the American democracy. He mobilized the West making a division between willingness and recalcitrance, he constructed coalitions, strengthened friendships and clearly declared enmities. He limited the advantages of certain libertarian guarantees of protection of privacy with the Patriot Act. He resolved as best he could (and Obama has certainly not been able to do any better) the question of the asymmetrical war and the treatment of criminal combatants, the terrorists allocated to Guantanamo.

But even more important is the goal, the objective of this political, military, diplomatic, and cultural mobilization : the export of civil freedom and human rights to the Islamic world, that is the advanced front of a clash of civilization, between the worlds of slavery and liberty. To die for Kandahar or Fallujah then had a sense. Even the sacrifice of hostages after their summary Koranic trials had a sense.

Bush, the Americans and the Europeans who followed him with enthusiasm in the first phase of the battle after the 11th September moved on the greater frontier of politics and war, provoking the large rainbow vomit of revulsion of the entire world’s pacifists. Whilst Obama moves on a grey line that doesn’t know how to make war or peace and is exposed to unrealism in all directions. He is inclined to take the route of dissimulated surrender. He’s woven with Harvardian chat and petty political expertise from the school of Chicago.

While the four Alpine soldiers were blown up by an explosive device, and other episodes of combat brought back the Taliban activism to the center of the attention, in Washington the umpteenth institutional farce was taking place, with the military James L. Jones replaced by the political civil employee Thomas E. Donilon with the decisive charge of Advisor for National Security. Donilon was for a long time the effective right-hand man for Obama in the field of national security. The reluctant soldier needs politicians able to keep a check on the domestic scene of public opinion and polls, more than military advisors able to supply expertise regarding war. If you want to let things slide re. a nuclear Iran, if you want to ease off as soon as possible from the AfPak, if you want to cultivate the fine rhetoric of the proffered hand, Carter’s advisors will serve you, like Donilon, and certainly not the less reluctant military.

Thus another presidential fiasco, more damage to the West of the reluctant belligerence that justifies anyone to say today, along with the Alpine soldiers of the Julia brigade: “I’m sick of Afghanistan, I don’t understand a thing.”


  1. To me this war makes sense, because Europe and the Occident have no other choice. Ironically the 'moderate' Arab States, would be the first to be engulfed by the djiadist tidal wave if the Taliban were allowed to retake Afghanistan, but they sit and wait on the side lines, like silent supporters without a cause. Yet if, after Obama decides that the war will end in the summer of next year, and Nato consequently withdraws, the Taliban could retake Afghanistan then Pakistan. And in this latter case the rest of the world would be there's for the taking. And that's why we have no other choice.

    This is an important article, also because it's written by an Italian, a European. But isn't the difference between Obama and Bush even clearer? For Bush there was no other option possible. It was a matter of course, and the democratic world followed this logic, delighted by the rapid success even in Iraq, at least up until the punishing, rabid reactions of al-Qaida, obsessed with dividing the people and destroying the democracy.

    But if errors were made, they weren't made in Iraq, they were made in Afghanistan. The Occident reacted far too late and withdrew far too soon. And the Occident relied on an untrustworthy ally, Pakistan. We are now paying the price for those errors, but with Obama, there's even less incentive to finish the job properly.

    One wonders if Bush would have so easily accepted (on the pretext of security reasons) the presidential fiasco in Afghanistan. A man of conviction and integrity could never have accepted what would have been totally unacceptable in the USA.
    Yet there Obama shrugged it off. The very principles for which Nato is fighting in Afghanistan, the principles of democracy, were waved. How can the young soldiers understand what they are defending if their leaders don't set the example, if even they spit on democracy's flag for reasons of facility, thus going along with Karsai's conviction that 'fraud is normal in a young democracy'. Would it then be less normal in a middle-aged democracy? Where does one draw the line if it's not clearly defined and established in the first place? And the Afghans, those who were maimed and killed for having had the courage to vote. Where is the respect for them when 'fraud is normal in a young democracy'?
    How under such circumstances can confidence and trust reign? If the young soldiers don't understand, how in hell can the Afghanis understand? Perhaps it could all be reduced to an inconceivable conclusion, a common denominator: the president of the USA doesn't understand.