Em: Why Germany Must End its Deployment in Afghanistan, A Commentary by Jürgen Todenhöfer
[Jürgen Todenhöfer, 70, served as a representative in the Bundestag, Germany's federal parliament, as a member of the center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) from 1972 to 1990. He has also served as a judge and a member of the executive board of the German media company Hubert Burda Media. Todenhöfer has made regular visits to Afghanistan since 1980 and wrote about them in his 2010 book "Teile Dein Glück" ("Share Your Good Fortune").]
The Four Lies about the War in Afghanistan
Since no one really wants to repeat such platitudes, they prefer to tell fairy tales like the ones they used with Iraq. Their hands hold swords, while their mouths tell lies. When it comes to the war in Afghanistan, there are four lies:
The first lie says we're there to fight international terrorism. Even David Petraeus, supreme commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, conceded in May 2009 that al-Qaida is no longer operating in Afghanistan. The organization became decentralized a long time ago, with nerve centers spread around the globe. And al-Qaida's leaders don't transmit instructions from Afghanistan anymore because all electronic data traffic in the region is monitored by American drones and satellites.
In Afghanistan, what we're really fighting is not international terrorists, but a national resistance movement -- and, in doing so, we're creating exactly the thing we claim to be combating. For every civilian we kill, 10 more young people across the globe rise up, determined to strike back with terror. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the former commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, called this "insurgent math" in the interview that would ultimately cost him his job. Like a boomerang, our own violence comes back to haunt us in the guise of global terrorism.
The second lie is that we're there to defend our civilization's values. I recently held a position teaching constitutional law. I tried to explain to my students that our constitution protects every individual's dignity. No one can be deprived of his or her freedom without a trial. But where is human dignity being respected in Afghanistan? Every day, two to three Afghan civilians die at the hands of Western troops. By night, nameless American death squads move in to liquidate resistance leaders -- and often civilians as well -- violating the most basic rules of international law. Young Afghans have sat in the Bagram torture prison for years with no hope of being granted a trial and in conditions worse than at Guantanamo.
Our "defenders of civilization" never considered this worthy of a parliamentary debate. Indeed, since the dawn of colonialism, our involvement in the Muslim world has never been about defending our civilization's values; it's about defending our interests -- and Iraq and Afghanistan are merely the latest episodes in a long history. What's more, in most cases we've even been more brutal than our Muslim opponents. Granted, over the past 19 years, al-Qaida has brutally murdered some 3,500 Western civilians in the United States and Western Europe. But former US President George W. Bush has hundreds of thousands of civilian lives on his conscience in Iraq alone -- and all of this is in the name of our civilization.
The third lie is that we prioritize civilian reconstruction over military activities. Although the US spent $100 billion (€74 billion) on the war in 2010, only $5 billion of that was for development aid -- and 40 percent of this "aid" happened to flow back to the US as profit and fees. The rest of the money had to wind its way through the dark channels of international subcontractors before a trickle of 20-30 percent finally reached development projects.
Germany likewise puts into reconstruction only a fraction of what it spends on its military. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Afghanistan is currently the poorest country in Asia, and UNICEF estimates that 20 percent of all children there die before reaching the age of five. Even US Ambassador Karl Eikenberry admits that 77 percent of Afghans don't have access to clean drinking water and 45 percent go hungry. Under these circumstances, can we really call this "prioritizing civilian reconstruction"?
The fourth lie is that we're in the Hindu Kush to prevent the return of the Taliban for good. That almost sounds like a goal we can rally behind. After all, who really wants to see a return of those Stone Age warriors who trample women's rights under their feet? Nevertheless, the truth is actually much more complex. The Taliban already controls half of Afghanistan, and the danger that it will capture the rest won't be any smaller four years from now. Indeed, the Afghan Taliban grows stronger every day and -- unlike its imitators in Pakistan -- it seems to have learned from past mistakes. The New York Times has reported that, in some regions controlled by the resistance, girls are once again being barred from attending school -- with the Taliban's approval. The "Layeha," or "book of rules," laid down by Taliban spiritual leader Mullah Omar suggests that things will soon change in many respects.
Even if things were different, the Taliban's unacceptable worldview is still not a good enough reason to wage war. If that were the case we would also have to invade Somalia, Yemen and North Korea and a number of other authoritarian states, some of which we even count among our allies. The world would become one massive, bloody battlefield.