I’ve been debating Afghanistan policy on my political blog and elsewhere, and here will reprint the post I did on that subject:
Politically speaking, it is not a viable position simply to suggest that we pull US and NATO forces out of Afghanistan, because that implies that we don’t care whether the Taliban returns to power and makes Afghanistan into a haven for Al Qaeda once again. Anyone who wants to talk about Afghanistan in a way that might be listened to has the obligation to show that a different strategy has at least as good a chance of fulfilling the objective of keeping the Taliban out of power as our current strategy. One organization that seems to be addressing this issue in those terms is CommonDreams.org, which suggests six alternatives to a troop build-up: (1) protecting civilians, (2) upholding women’s rights, (3) prioritizing development, (4) addressing underlying problems (unemployment), (5) supporting civil society, and (6) advancing diplomacy.
These are constructive suggestions. It seems to me, however, that they are not necessarily inconsistent with increasing military forces. In other words, NATO and the US can increase troop levels and use those forces to drive insurgents from populated areas, and at the same time use the military and other personnel in Afghanistan to protect human rights, assist in re-development, and promote civil society and the rule of law. I understand that there is an argument that an increased presence of foreign troops may sometimes be counter-productive to peacemaking efforts, and the military needs to be conscious that their presence is often resented. And to the extent that is true, it is all the more reason why attention should also be paid to re-building and creating a stable economic and political society in Afghanistan, at the same time as the military is working with the Afghan army to improve security.
(Photo from a story about the use of units of female soldiers to interact with women and children in Iraq and Afghanistan, from LA Times blog)
Like everything else, this subject of course ties in with the theme of settling lawsuits. There are plenty of lawyers who believe that the best way to get a favorable settlement is to prepare aggressively for trial. When the other side knows that you are not afraid to try a case, and that you have a good track record of winning at trial, they are more likely to come to terms than if they think you are bluffing. On the other hand, just as when we decide to send more troops to Afghanistan, there are certain litigation activities that have the potential for inflaming the other side, and sometimes make it more difficult to reach a settlement. So a lot of lawyers like to keep a settlement track open at the same time as they are working on a trial preparation track. It is also a good idea to consider whether litigation tactics will so increase costs or create a negative adverse reaction that they can make a case more difficult to settle. My job as a trial lawyer is certainly not to make the lawsuit a picnic for the other side. On the other hand, if I unnecessarily antagonize the other side or drive up their costs for no purpose, then they are likely to do the same thing to my client and everyone is worse off. I think that cases can be litigated zealously but at the same time with an eye toward cost control, preserving a professional relationship with opposing counsel, and keeping the settlement track open. That way you are fully prepared to defeat your adversary if necessary, or to make a fair deal with him.
I should note that you can only carry the analogy between fighting a war in Afghanistan and trying a lawsuit so far. I am not trying to suggest that we are in Afghanistan to make a deal with the Taliban. From what I understand of the Taliban leadership, they are not good candidates for deal-making. There has been an effort made, however, with some success, to lure Taliban fighters away from the Taliban forces, as these fighters’ loyalties only go so deep. (Dexter Filkins’s book The Forever War talks about how fickle are the loyalties of the various fighters in Afghanistan, whom he saw fighting for some warlord one day and for the Taliban the next.) The Taliban also have the option of laying down their arms and participating in the political process, but they know they are not likely to win an election, and so have always used illegitimate means to achieve power. But I am not suggesting that the legal positions of the various sides in the Afghanistan conflict are symmetrical, only that some of the considerations that apply to the use of the military can be analogized to the litigation process.