In a better time, when the burdens of war were shared by an engaged nation and not shouldered exclusively by military families making up less than 1 percent of the population, the high farce that is the Afghanistan mission would have been obvious before President Obama uttered one word on Wednesday night. All you’d need to know is the story that came to light the day before.
Turns out that the U.S. government has embraced a core tenet of sharia — that archaic corpus of Islamic law that Mitt Romney recently assured us would never gain traction in America. Patrick Poole reported at Pajamas Media on Tuesday that the secretary of the army has just granted “conscientious objector” status to Pfc. Nasser Abdo, a Muslim American soldier who refused to deploy to Afghanistan. Heeding the admonitions of CAIR and other Muslim Brotherhood operatives, the Pentagon accepts the claim that sharia forbids Muslims from assisting infidels in a war against Muslim forces in an Islamic land.
News Flash One: The war in Afghanistan, an Islamic land, is a war waged by infidels (that would be us) against Muslim forces — the Taliban, al-Qaeda, the Haqqani network, etc.
News Flash Two: The operating theory of the American counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy in Afghanistan is that the hearts and minds of the population of this tribal sharia society will side with us non-Muslims in a war against their fellow Muslims, most of whom are also their fellow Afghans.
Which is to say, our strategy is insane.
That does not mean our troops cannot kill a goodly number of jihadists. They have done that, and they will no doubt continue to do that as long as U.S. and allied forces remain in Afghanistan. Naturally, the number of terrorists we manage to get will dwindle as we draw down, while our diminishing numbers will make our own troops increasingly vulnerable to attack. But, sure, we can stick around forever, killing pockets of jihadists and overtaking their strongholds, however temporarily.
That, however, is not victory. It is an ever-worsening stalemate. Victory, under our chosen strategy, can never be achieved. That is why Obama, Gen. David Petreaeus, and COIN enthusiasts everywhere resist mention of the V-word.
“Victory” has been downgraded to “success,” but even success is not much discussed — and that is because, as conceived, success is a pipedream too. The idea is that we stay and hold the Taliban et al. at bay until we have finally trained enough Afghan soldiers and police officers to fight the Taliban for us. Because once we win over their hearts and minds, the theory goes, these Afghans will believe they are actually fighting the Taliban for themselves — fighting “their war,” not ours, as the heady plan was explained by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the former theater commander and Kennedy School fellow who now teaches international relations at Yale. It’s all very cerebral, psychological, and sophisticated, the kind of war professors could love.
There’s just one problem with it. Okay, there’s a ton of problems, but let’s get to the big one: If we acknowledge that sharia is a valid reason not to send an American Muslim to fight against his fellow Muslims in Afghanistan, what on earth makes us think the Afghan Muslims are going to fight their fellow Afghan Muslims in furtherance of American national-security interests?
The sharia objection Private Abdo successfully posed to his deployment is not frivolous. To the contrary, from the perspective of a devout Muslim, it is ironclad. The animating theme of Islamic law is the supremacy of Islam and the imperative that it reign over the earth, that Muslims overcome non-Muslims. Consequently, infidel forces are generally regarded with hostility in Islamic countries (particularly if they are pursuing their own, rather than Islamic, interests). This is why politicians in the new Afghan and Iraqi “democracies” get such mileage out of America-bashing. Their populations, which are nearly 100 percent Islamic, despise America. In these places, the very thought of Muslims helping non-Muslims make war against Muslims is anathema.
Reliance of the Traveller, the classic manual of Islamic law accepted throughout the ummah, instructs believers that there is nothing “more heinous in Allah’s sight” than “the killing of a believer.” How, you may ask, are we to convince Afghans that when we kill Taliban operatives we’re not killing believers, and that when they kill them for us, they won’t be killing believers either? Here, our Beltway solons get downright Jesuitical, maintaining that these Taliban characters are not really Muslims but, yes, “violent extremists” who have perverted Islam. But behold: Even in the West Wing faculty lounge, they don’t really buy this fairy tale. That’s why such pains were taken to give Osama bin Laden a fastidiously Muslim funeral, during which American naval personnel actually prayed for Allah to pardon him and grant him every blessing of paradise before feeding him to the sharks.
Like the army secretary, the administration was just following sharia, under which bin Laden was a Muslim, through and through. As the Prophet Mohammed decreed, any man “who testifies that there is no god but Allah and that I am the Messenger of Allah” is a Muslim. Mass-murder is not disqualifying.
Under sharia, believers may not join non-Muslims in killing Muslims, even if those Muslims, like the Taliban, are not particularly popular. According to Reliance of the Traveller, it is unlawful to shed the blood of a Muslim “unless he be one of three: a married adulterer, someone killed in retaliation for killing another, or someone who abandons his religion and the Muslim community.”
Wait a second, you say: If sharia permits retaliatory killing, can’t Muslims help us against these assassins from al-Qaeda and Taliban? No, with exceptions that are not relevant to this discussion, only when the murder victims are Muslims is retaliatory killing permitted. Muslims who kill non-Muslims are expressly protected. Moreover, non-Muslim forces in Islamic countries are deemed “occupiers,” the term the detestable Afghan president Hamid Karzai has taken to calling American troops. Occupiers (like any non-Muslims who fight and kill Muslims) are seen as oppressors and enemies of Allah. The Koran sternly warns Muslims not to take such non-Muslims as friends or protectors (e.g., Suras 4:139, 60:01), and most certainly not to take up their cause against fellow Muslims. As Sura 4:144 puts it, “O, ye who believe, take not for friends Unbelievers rather than Believers: do ye wish to offer Allah an open proof against yourselves?”
Private Abdo may not approve of al-Qaeda. He may not want to see the Taliban retake control of Afghanistan. But that is not the point. They are Muslims. He, like the Muslims of Afghanistan, sees himself as a Muslim first. He is not going to side with us over them. It doesn’t matter that he may privately believe they are reprehensible. Since they are Muslims, he sees it as Allah’s place, not his, to condemn them. In this life, in the sharia schema of Muslims versus non-Muslims, he is with his fellow Muslims — and would risk grave peril, both here and in the afterlife, were he to cross over to the other side.
On the Corner this week, Iraq vet David French complained that counterinsurgency had developed an undeserved reputation for being “touchy-feely” because of its close association with nation-building. His point is well taken. COIN, as he attests, involves “intense fighting” under conditions that are exceedingly dangerous — made intolerably dangerous, I would add, by the stringent rules of engagement imposed on our warriors, given the impossible task of wooing the Islamic population with one hand while they battle the Islamic enemy with the other. That our forces make such progress in the constraints under which they operate is an astonishing testament to their bravery and competence.
The problem is that COIN and nation-building, if they are to have a prayer, cannot succeed until after the enemy has been defeated. What wins hearts and minds is not showing how virtuous and decent we are — especially in a confrontation between civilizations with very different ideas about virtue and decency. Hearts and minds are won when the enemy’s will is broken. COIN and nation-building worked in postwar Germany and Japan because complete victory was achieved first. As Jed Babbin recounts, it did not work in Vietnam, where, as in the War on Terror, the enemy was never conquered and its state sponsors were permitted to fuel the fighting with impunity.
Victory is not a step that can be skipped. Its stark absence cannot be disguised by miniaturizing the enemy, by pretending it is an aberrant fringe of violent extremists. The Taliban enjoys broad popular support — or, at least, sympathy — because the Afghan public is more aligned with its beliefs than with ours. That makes the population the enemy. There is a reason why so many U.S. and allied troops are being attacked and killed in sneak attacks by the Afghan recruits they are trying to train. There is a reason why the Obama administration is negotiating with the Taliban — conceding that the Taliban won’t be defeated and must be accommodated — even as Americans are told that battling the Taliban is the reason our young men and women must remain in harm’s way.
It is madness.
— Andrew C. McCarthy, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, is the author, most recently, of The Grand Jihad: How Islam and the Left Sabotage America.
Andrew C. McCarthy