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Nine years in and still no goals

Almost nine years since the terror attacks of Sept. 11 and we still don’t know if the “War on Terror” is winnable. It is the most basic question we can ask when we consider military action, and we have no answer.

This “War on Terror” has been taken up on several fronts. We started on the soil of Afghanistan. Then we inexplicably nearly abandoned Afghanistan to go to Iraq. Now we find ourselves back in the land of Afghanistan. But we have no answer to the question of whether or not we can be successful.

This question seems like it should be so easy to answer. Instead, it is a rather challenging and complex question. This is because we have yet to establish clear objectives on a large scale, like what winning the “War on Terror” actually means. Yes, President Obama has outlined clear objectives, but has not yet established what those objectives are supposed to accomplish.

In order to deem this war winnable, we need to clarify what our objectives are in a broad sense. They can’t constantly be changing. In recent history, controversy over the role of our military has come from exactly this problem – unclear objectives.

In Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s, the objective changed from containing communism to creating a democracy, though democracy was the minority faction within the country. The objectives went from getting rid of the influence of Ho Chi Minh to killing as many of his followers as we could, and hoping that brute strength would change the country. It did not.

In Iraq, we have more problems. We claimed to have left Afghanistan to go to Iraq to stop the terrorist movement. However, in doing so we left Afghanistan and our initial target to eliminate in Osama Bin Laden. The Bush administration claimed it was because of “weapons of mass destruction” and Saddam Hussein. Then it was suspected that we had gone for Iraq’s oil. In order to justify our mission to Iraq, whatever it was, we claimed we needed to democratize Iraq.

When we invaded Iraq, I felt that we needed to only be fighting in Afghanistan. I do not feel Iraq is justified. Afghanistan was where the fighting started and though it is true that fighting can spread to different regions, as the recent activity in Yemen has shown, there was no reason to abandon Afghanistan.

While I still support the reasons that we are in Afghanistan, I believe we need to clarify our overall objective. What are we trying to accomplish through these defined objectives that we keep outlining? We are fighting to eliminate the leaders of al-Qaeda and the Taliban. This can help contain terrorism.

However, if we are to succeed in this war, it will not be a victory with a decisive end like World War II. It will be something that we will need to continue to monitor.

In order to have a chance to accomplish this, we need to stay focused on our goals. Looking out for these countries’ inhabitants is important. The commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, claimed in an ABC News interview with Diane Sawyer that the Afghans support the United States because they believe in us. We must not be reckless as we were in Vietnam and Iraq. We must be supportive without being domineering.

One of the biggest reasons for our failures in Vietnam and Iraq is that we tried to convert the population to democracy. In Vietnam, this failed because the democratic faction in South Vietnam was the minority. We came in and tried to dictate and guide this faction against the will of the people. Thus, it failed.

In Iraq, we again tried to convert the population to democracy. Some will say it works but it is fractured at best. A large reason why this hasn’t worked smoothly is that we are fighting against religious cultures. One can change a heart or a mind given the right circumstances but one country alone cannot change a culture. That is just what we are fighting – a culture. Although there is a president of Afghanistan, how pure is their system?

Despite the differences of opinion on policies, one thing that we must continue to do is support our troops. In the end, they are fighting for the United States of America and are not the ones deciding the policies that we are for or against.

It is still too early to tell if this push into Afghanistan will succeed. It has a chance to, but we need to stick the course of what President Obama has detailed in his objectives, including the withdrawal plan, and we need to establish what those objectives will accomplish in the larger picture. Only then will we be able to determine if this war was a success or not.

Matt Kushi is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at mkushi@student.umass.edu.

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