The Face of Barbarism

by Dr. David Aikman
August 23, 2010

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For 23 years Dr. David Aikman was a foreign correspondent and senior correspondent for Time magazine. A former foreign policy consultant in Washington D.C., he is a current senior fellow of the Trinity Forum. Read full bio.

Since TIME magazine first appeared on newsstands in 1923, it has featured a great variety of faces on its cover: Winston Churchill, Mahatma Gandhi, Marilyn Monroe, and Mao Zedong, to name a few.  From great men to glamorous women, TIME's cover story has usually illustrated the ground-breaking news of the previous week.  But I doubt whether any cover picture has ever been as gruesome as that of Aisha, 18, on the front of the August 9 issue.
You see, Aisha, who was once a lovely young Afghan wife, had her nose and ears cut off by Taliban thugs because she had the temerity to flee abusive in-laws.  The appalling fact is that, if NATO forces, currently numbering about 140,000, pull out of Afghanistan, there are likely to be many more Aishas.
The Taliban is one of the most barbaric political gangs operating in the world today.  Until its overthrow in 2001 by U.S. forces in the wake of 9/11, the Taliban -- which had provided safe haven to the al-Qaeda plotters of 9/11 -- had ruthlessly tortured and murdered women and kept the entire country in a dark age where even the possession of a music CD player was punishable by imprisonment, beating, and possibly death.
During his campaign for the presidency in 2008, then-candidate Obama proclaimed that the U.S. and NATO military struggle in Afghanistan was the "necessary war."  As a U.S. senator, he had voted against the American invasion of Iraq and strongly opposed the 2007 U.S. troop surge, which most objective observers now recognize is the one thing that helped Iraq become moderately stable politically.  I say "moderately" because, while Iraq has successfully held two presidential elections since its liberation from Saddam Hussein in 2003, it is still suffering from an alarming number of suicide-bombings and cannot satisfactorily decide who should be its next president.  Still, if President Obama wishes to argue that Iraq is an American foreign-policy success story and to claim political credit for it -- despite having fought tooth-and-nail against the whole enterprise from the outset -- we should not complain.  After all, it was the brave men and women of the American military who accomplished it.  Voters will decide for themselves whether President Obama deserves any credit for it.
But the current Afghan situation is far more perilous for both Afghans and the NATO troops fighting the Taliban than Iraq was, even at the height of the American military surge in 2007 and 2008.  It's possible that, if the Taliban returned to power, they might not welcome back agents of al-Qaeda.  What is not in doubt is that they would return Afghanistan to a new dark age of Islamic sharia law, which would be proclaimed as a global triumph over Western civilization by all those who support Islamic radicalism.
Americans, to their credit, do not like fighting wars, and even when there are global tyrants about like Hitler or the Japanese, militarists often have to be dragged kicking and screaming into the conflict to save mankind.  It's doubtful, even today, whether the U.S. would have entered World War II if Japan had not attacked Pearl Harbor first and if Hitler had not then helpfully declared war on the U.S.  During the Vietnam era, much of the American left complained that the American presence in Southeast Asia was creating more harm than it was preventing.  Common-sense Americans, however, wondered why, if the regime imposed by Hanoi was so beneficial to them, a million boat-people had tried to flee Vietnam after its conquest by the Communists.  As Britain's Economist magazine once put it, democracies find it very difficult to fight wars "in peace-time" -- that is, when the citizens of those democracies do not consider that they are personally under attack.
It's painfully obvious now that the European members of NATO, with the exception of the British -- and even their will is breaking -- have no willingness to deploy troops abroad, and especially not in Afghanistan to ensure the preservation of even moderately humane values.  That was first demonstrated in Bosnia in the 1990s, when it required a courageous decision by President Clinton to deploy the American military to suppress the ethnic cleansing of the Bosnian Muslims and Muslim Kosovars by the Bosnian Serbs.  Had it not been for the Americans, the Europeans would probably have sat on their hands.
President Obama's intentions in Afghanistan seem to be good; he doesn't want to see a return to power of the Taliban.  But his political stock has been sinking rapidly in most areas of his administration's governance, and in his handling of Afghanistan it now stands at about 36 percent -- compared with 46 percent this past February.
During the nearly nine years that U.S. forces have been in Afghanistan, they have fought bravely and have had local successes here and there.  The question every American must decide, however, is this: does the Karzai government in Kabul have the integrity, the good judgment, and the staying power to offer a credible alternative to eventual rule by the Taliban?  If they show no signs of either the will or ability to stand on their own one day, then American troops should be out of the country as quickly as is practicable.  If the answer is yes, then it will be a long, dangerous, and casualty- heavy conflict.
But if the answer is yes, then Americans will be able to take pride that they helped to prevent any more Aishas from having their ears and noses cut off.

This column appeared originally at on August 6, 2010


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