U.S. must decide the cause is worth finishing the war

By 1st Lt. Matthew Spartz
Updated 7/5/2010 4:14 PM

Editor's Note: Army Lt. Matt Spartz, a lifelong Lombard resident, is a 2008 journalism graduate of University of Illinois. He recently was deployed to Afghanistan with the 101st Airborne Division. From there, he will be submitting occasional reports for the Daily Herald.

The real problem with the war in Afghanistan has nothing to do with rogue generals or defunct, grandiose policy. The real problem has nothing to do with finding the Magic Solution and extolling COIN (counter insurgency) to the far corners of Asia. The real problem is whether the U.S. can decide that the cause is worth doing whatever it takes to finish.


We can "win." We can make Afghanistan a better place for its citizens. We will come home. But it's going to take time and money. Do we have enough of both? Yes, if we decide to do whatever it takes.

Some say "bomb 'em to hell!" and others say we should leave them to their own devices.

But we cannot afford to lose sight of the reasoning behind the war. Our nation was attacked by a defined group of terrorists, one that continues to threaten violence within our borders. Unlike previous conflicts directed against the U.S., this group is not a recognized nation or formal coalition. But that does not mean we can afford to ignore them.

People should not confuse the pursuit of the utmost legal, proportionate, and moral action against these "new" threats as weakness, or the inability to overcome a nonstate militia movement. Could we use the extreme, violent tactics of Sherman to wipe out all opposition to the iron will of the U.S.? Of course. If the Taliban et al had a recognizable military, it would be decommissioned by the unrivaled force of joint U.S. military might in less than a week.

Could we button up our borders and hang a "closed" sign on the Statue of Liberty? We sure could, and with units like the 82nd and 101st Airborne divisions at the border, Arizona would cease to have an immigration problem.

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But we're better than that. We know the only way to win a moral battle for justice is to take the moral high ground, the classic warfare equivalent of key terrain. The issue is not can we beat the Taliban, but do we have the combined moral wherewithal to do what is necessary in an asymmetrical war of morally right vs. morally wrong.

Regardless of how we got here or why, to think it unworthy to squash a group that bombs its own people, sprays acid in the faces of girls for attending school and uses public hangings and brainwashed human explosives to instill terror is to question all of human morality.

I'm not saying the U.S. has to go in and oust every questionable regime in the world. But there are times in history when a precedent can be set; the pursuit of justice cannot have a price tag. It would be dubious to think during World War II anyone would suggest ways to win the war by spending less, deploying less, and fighting less.

Yes, the U.S. seems to be dabbling in some gray areas, like using unmanned drones for interstate targeted killings. But as the United Nations' "Report on Targeted Killings" has stated, the international community at large has yet to explicitly state what is black and white in the usage of this new technology and power.


As counter insurgency expert T.E. Lawrence prophetically wrote, learning to fight in this war is like learning to "eat soup with a knife."

Is the goal of Islamic extremists to have a stable, peaceful Afghanistan? No, it is to destroy Western influence, and the West itself, if necessary. If coalition troops leave Afghanistan will all of our domestic problems go away, and we'll all be safe and cozy once again? We thought so before Sept. 11, 2001. And the Underwear Bomber is only another example of why we need not think so comfortably from podiums and ballot boxes.

Perhaps it's not time for people to ask what victory in Afghanistan can do for us, but what else can we do to bring victory to Afghanistan. And in turn, victory for what is right.