Tuesday, December 21, 2010

How to defeat the Taliban with nonviolence

Militaristic types with zero connection to the human emotional content in conflict scoff at the notion that anything except violence can keep us safe from the Taliban. A derisive snort would be the best one might hope for from those folks. Their attitudes are best summed in the old movie, Crimson Tide, when Gene Hackman's character equates all conflict to how to train a horse using an electric prod. It's all just voltage, he says.

But humans have memories, suffer collective humiliation, and feel collective pride. Unless we want to commit genocide, they cannot be crushed in their own homes and be expected to put up with it.

Nor will religious zealotry be stamped out by violence, much as we might wish it could be. All that does, demonstrably, historically, repeatedly, in various religions, is produce more extreme, warped versions of the faith.

But violence worked to end the Nazi militaristic takeover of Europe. It stopped the Japanese imperial wars and the Germans and Japanese people were ultimately grateful for that. How can we rule out the efficacy of violence?

Indeed, could a wise humankind have handled German and Japanese aggression in a wiser way without violence at a far lower cost? That is always a question that goes to timing and intention.

To apply a generous set of conditions to the end of World War I would have almost certainly meant that Hitler would not have been radicalized, or, if he were the same old bloodthirsty nutcase, he would never have found a public so eager to listen. Germans were punished mercilessly by the conditions of the Treaty of Versailles, they were impoverished while the US was enjoying the hedonistic Roaring 20s, and they were disarmed while the rest of Europe rearmed. Like any pecking order process, the powerless Germans went after their weakest, their Jews and gays and Romany and communists and others.

So, this process took 21 years, a deepening disaster ignored. Served those Hun right for being the enemy in World War I. Of course the secret alliances, Balkan wars, pent-up and unresolved bitterness between European colonial powers, and arms races that led to the outbreak in 1914 could have been avoided too. The peace following the war of 1870 contributed to the irredentism and vengeance that led to the 1914-1918 slaughter.

And of course, before that was the Concert of Vienna, itself a peace agreement in the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars, and a precursor to the eventual League of Nations and our modern UN. The rise, fall and rise of Germany was cyclical and, while militaristic, avoided the inhuman atrocities the world saw under Hitler. Indeed, in the 1870-71 Siege of Paris the German military commanders rebuffed calls to bombard the city, preferring to blockade and win the war by causing shortages until France capitulated, which they did, the Germans left, and took Alsace Lorraine back from France, the historical resource-rich territory disputed and snatched by one and then the other. The French took it back after WWI, lost it, and got it back again.

All this history pours itself into the creation of the Nazis and when the context of militarism, wars, territorial and colonial power battles are understood, coupled with the retributive nature of the Treaty of Versailles, we get why Hitler happened and we can see how a nonviolent alternative would have removed his base and ended his power before he had any chance to get elected in 1933.

In a vastly different way, we could have eliminated the Taliban threat using nonviolence. The Taliban, after all, were zero threat to the US and in fact were in part created by us during the 1980s, when "Charlie Wilson's War" ramped up and we provided $billions in armaments to them and the other mujahedeen fighting the Soviets. We poured arms into that war and helped create, or at least exacerbate, the extremism and militarism that came from the armed resistance to the Soviets. Had we undertaken a different form of helping Afghans that entire history would have been quite different.

So now we see our position as a result of all sides failing to use nonviolence again and again, and the Taliban are on the rise after we knocked them out of overt ruling power following their failure to turn over bin Laden after September 11, 2001. We could have prevented the Taliban from offering sanctuary to bin Laden by massive aid and development, making the paltry and bitter 'help' from bin Laden unwelcome and impossible. The world failed the Afghan people and now we are paying for it.

So we are back to voltage. We resurrect the old Curtis LeMay notion of making the rubble bounce, whether we target Somalia or Afghanistan, and wonder why we cannot defeat these jihadis. We've been in Afghanistan longer than the Soviets were and we wonder why they consider us foreign occupiers. Most Afghans have no clue about bin Laden but they know who is running around with military convoys controlling their land, land that has been theirs forever, even if under temporary control by outsiders. At this point, nonviolence is the only hope for our success in making America more secure against terrorism. Giving aid to the people, not at gunpoint but unconditionally, and using the UN sanctions to target the bad behavior of corrupt and violent elites, is how nonviolence can win at far less cost.

Instead we send barrels, bales, bags and baskets of cash to Karzai and display our weapons on the roads of Afghanistan. We have it all backwards and we will not win this way. We will not win unless the people of Afghanistan win. Victory over terrorism will come for all or for none, and not with our violence.

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