President Obama told the nation last night that his strategy in Afghanistan is to make more war in order to end the war. But he never satisfactorily assured the nation of the probability of such success. As such, his expanded war fails to pass one of the rules of a just war—the probability of success. For a war to be just, the war must have a high chance of success.
The original purpose for the war in Afghanistan was to kill Osama bin Laden for the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. After eight years, that purpose has never been achieved.
Obama’s new purpose for escalating the war through a massive troop deployment boils down to two words repeated throughout his speech: “capacity” and “transition.”
“I have determined that it is in our vital national interest to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan. After 18 months, our troops will begin to come home,” said the president. “These are the resources that we need to seize the initiative, while building the Afghan capacity that can allow for a responsible transition of our forces out of Afghanistan” [italics added].
Obama said that “we must increase the stability and capacity of our partners in the region” [italics added].
Conversely, the U.S. must diminish the capacity of its adversaries, a point the president made. He said, “Our overarching goal remains the same: to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and to prevent its capacity to threaten America and our allies in the future” [italic added].
He said, “[W]e must strengthen the capacity of Afghanistan’s Security Forces and government, so that they can take lead responsibility for Afghanistan’s future” [italic added].
With different words but similar meanings, he said that more troops “will increase our ability to train competent Afghan Security Forces, and to partner with them so that more Afghans can get into the fight. And they will help create the conditions for the United States to transfer responsibility to the Afghans” [italic added].
Obama said more American and international troops will enable “us to accelerate handing over responsibility to Afghan forces, and allow us to begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011. Just as we have done in Iraq, we will execute this transition responsibly” [italics added].
Then he added the critical qualification for his July 2011 date—“taking into account conditions on the ground.” That, of course, means that if the war doesn’t go well, our troops don’t come home on the projected date.
Moving from the war in Afghanistan to the war in Pakistan, Obama said, “We will strengthen Pakistan’s capacity to target those groups that threaten our countries, and have made it clear that we cannot tolerate a safe-haven for terrorists whose location is known, and whose intentions are clear” [italic added].
Toward the end of his speech at the United States Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., Obama acknowledged the economic difficulties in the United States. “[A]s we end the war in Iraq and transition to Afghan responsibility, we must rebuild our strength here at home” [italic added].
Two critical components remain ambiguous in his case for more war. First, how will we measure the “capacity” of the governments in Afghanistan and Pakistan? Second, what is meant by “responsible transition” in Afghanistan?
If by “capacity,” Obama means that the corrupt Afghani government must become less corrupt, then what is the real probability of success?
If he thinks that training 50,000 more Afghani soldiers—to join the unimpressive Afghani armed forces—will allow the U.S. and its allies to leave behind a stable government, what is the probability of such a successful outcome?
The president must define what he means by “capacity” and “responsible transition” if he expects to win over the support of the American public.
As it stands now, more war to end war is no just war—for there is low probability of success.
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the BaptistCenter for Ethics.