So What Do We Do?

Man, this is rough:

Gunmen Kill Medical Aid Workers in Afghanistan – NYTimes.com

Returning home from a three-week trek on foot to deliver free medical care to the remotest regions of the country, the aid workers — six Americans, a Briton, a German and four Afghans — had just finished eating when they were accosted by gunmen with long died-red beards, the police said.

The gunmen marched them into the forest, stood them in a line and shot 10 of them one by one.

Like everyone else, I am torn reading this sort of story. On one hand, my reaction is “screw em” — the Afghans I mean.  What kind of culture would break this sort of fanatic?  And what can we do in the face of such nihilism?  Who would target and kill doctors like this?

And yet, of course, I realize that this is a broken society, and that the killers don’t represent the majority of the population, and that by throwing in the towel we would essentially be surrendering to lunatics and fanatics.

Every time I read a story like this — or one about Talibans cutting off a girl’s nose — I am split in two in terms of my response. 

But in the final analysis, this has to be an Afghan problem with Afghan solutions.  We ought to help the decent elements in Afghan society, but we just can’t seek to impose our values.  And yet, we do have a universal ethical obligation to promote human rights.

The terrorism issue is incredibly straight-forward and simple compared to the human rights issues we face in Afghanistan.

3 comments to So What Do We Do?

  • Yup. The number of Afghans killed or driven into refugee status in the ten years prior to 2001 dwarfs the number killed/displaced since then. I guess we need some way of estimating whether, and to what extent, the situation would revert back toward the greater bloodshed and misery of pre-9/11 Afghanistan.

    We ought to help the decent elements in Afghan society, but we just can’t seek to impose our values. And yet, we do have a universal ethical obligation to promote human rights.

    The problem is that westerners don’t know how to promote human rights without imposing western values.

  • Of course, “western values” aren’t half bad, on the whole, are they?

    I hate when people caricature me as “pull out now” guy. The reality is that this is a devilishly difficult issue. The one thing I am sure about is that pop-centric COIN won’t work in Afghanistan. But I am open to a variety of alternative approaches that imply a smaller footprint.

    I do think that abandoning Afghanistan outright is a terrible idea. The question is how to balance involvement with a realization of the limits of American power.

  • Western values aren’t half bad if you’re a westerner in a western culture. If you’re an easterner in an eastern culture and you’re given the choice between accepting western values (and norms) or being left to fend for yourself against the Taliban, that’s where the problem arises.

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