Research Paper: War in Afghanistan From Different Theoretical Perspectives

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Theoretical Perspectives on the War in Afghanistan

As the sun rose over New York and Washington D.C. On what began as a quite, pristine, lovely early fall, beginning of September morning, the citizens of New York, the nation's capital, the United States and indeed the global community were unaware of the magnitude of horror that would befall not only these two illustrious cities but how these actions would alter the geo-political landscape for years to come. The actions of September 11th, 2001 did more to change the very nature of international relations than any other global event-save for World War II and the dropping of the Atomic Bomb. Although one could argue that September 11th, 2001 influenced the evolution of geo-politics more than either WWII or the a-bomb in that the United States came under direct attack, taking the lives of 3,000 innocent Americans.

The stark demarcation or "line in the sand" to use the vernacular indicating an abrupt shift in U.S. foreign policy grown out of the reaction for the actions of September 11th was rendered demonstrably clear when then President George W. Bush stood in the well of the house and stated that nations were to chose sides; they would either be with us or the terrorists. This represented a blunt warning to all nations that the United States would make no distinction; no separate explanation between the terrorist groups themselves and the nations that harbored them. This was the newest plank in the "Bush doctrine." The first outpost or this doctrine would be Afghanistan.

The war in Afghanistan was viewed, correctly, as revenge, justice, retribution and retaliation for the unjust and unwarranted murder of innocent civilians. Sending U.S. troops into Afghanistan was met with near unanimous approval in the House and Senate. The American people stood firmly behind the President, Defense Department and most importantly the troops. Many reasons were given as justifications-although the American people needed none, they found their justifications in the smoldering ruins of the World Trade Center, Pentagon and on a lonely, windswept field of southeastern Pennsylvania.

The war has dragged on for over ten long, frustrating and bloody years. The United States has effectively rendered Al Qaeda inoperable within Afghanistan and has created an environment wherein the Taliban is marginalized- for now. Recent events have demonstrated that the U.S./Karzi relationship is not as strong as once thought. Furthermore, Karzi's administration and the Taliban have begun to negotiate-something that is undoubtedly not tolerated within the United States government. The recent breakdown in the Afghan-U.S. relationship on a diplomatic level has caused some Americans to voice concerns over the continued presence within that troubled nation. The growing corruption scandals, questionable election results and a variety of missteps where the Afghan government appears to be in bed with the Iranians are all lending themselves to the discussion as to whether or not it is time for the United States to return home.

There are numerous theories that are discussed to explain the continued use of U.S. resources and man power to assist, what is quickly becoming, a corrupt and patronage filled administration that runs the risk of becoming weakened, unable to enforce laws throughout the remote regions of Afghanistan which further exacerbates the environment of lawlessness and ineffectiveness. Analyzing these various theories tend to bring to the fore the philosophical constructs supporting the decision to remain in Afghanistan and why the United States views it as imperative to stay until the job is finished. Understanding these theories and their implications are integral to comprehending the nature of the war in Afghanistan. These theories are akin to a patient being diagnosed with a strain of virus that doctors have yet to fully understand; in order to treat the patient there must be a ground-up research of the nature of the disease- the various perspectives must be addressed and examined to arrive at a comprehensive picture. This analogy holds true with the war in Afghanistan; the various theories pertaining to International Relations and their interactions with each other both in concert and contrast are essential to diagnosing the problem that is Afghanistan and offer a cogent solution to dealing with this problem. This is the subject of this analysis.

The premise of this analysis is to examine the three main theories of International Relations as they pertain to Afghanistan; the Realist, Liberal and Identity. Each of these theories has their individual components which lend themselves to analyzing the conflict in Afghanistan and each attempts to offer a rational explanation as to why the struggle continues. Each of these theories will be explained, in turn, to provide a foundation for greater analysis. The war in Afghanistan will then be placed within the rubric of each of these theories and the conflict's anatomy will be given a post-mortem level of analysis to discern the impact each of these theories have had regarding the continuation of the war. This analysis will then conclude with an overall assessment of each theory and attempt to discern which theory posits the best explanation for the continued United States involvement within Afghanistan.

Discussion

The Realist Theory focuses on war in terms of the geo-political framework. Those who are entrenched in the Realist camp do not favor war under any circumstances but rather use the advent of war as a lesson in avoidance (Nau, 2009). According to the realist theory, war is a direct result of anarchy, which is defined as the decentralization of power in the international system (Nau, 2009). This broad context can be applied within the context of Afghanistan. A critical component of the Realist definition of anarchy is the inability of the center of power to establish a critical level of legitimacy; within a specific structure, no one leader can monopolize the power of a centralized government and therefore is rendered inherently weakened (Nau, 2009). The structure of Afghanistan with the Taliban as their executive head is a classic example of this type of anarchy.

In his book "At the Center of the Storm," former CIA director George Tenet describes a lawless nation-state wherein deals could be accomplished and support from the populace could be ascertained by less than diplomatic means (Tenet, 2007). This level of "anarchy" naturally resulted in a diminished capacity of any centralized government, turning instead, to the focus of real power within Afghanistan, the tribal regions. Tenet recounts a meeting he had the day after September 11th with President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Secretaries Rumsfeld, Powell and Rice regarding the impending nature of what had to be done in order to wage a successful campaign in Afghanistan.

The briefing was titled "Destroying International Terrorism" the heading on the first page was "Dismantling Al Qaida and Closing the Safe Haven" (Tenet, 2007). The crux of this briefing was not the dealings with the Afghan government, which would be the normal course of action when it comes to dealing with a terrorist group within a state; rather the main focus of the briefing, according to Tenet, was to work with the various tribal groups and rough coalition forces that formed the Northern Alliance -- the Taliban's main opposition (Tenet, 2007). Furthermore, Tenet describes to the President that courting support within the Pashtu tribes of Afghanistan would be a critical element in the successful endeavor of any Afghan campaign (Tenet, 2007). CIA director Tenet's description of the necessities that must be included in any war-plan for dealing with the Taliban is demonstrable evidence that Afghanistan is implicitly built upon a culture that exacerbates the state of "anarchy" that has been defined within the Realist perspective. This construct is one of the more powerful reasoning's as to why the United States remains in Afghanistan. This idea of "anarchy" and strong decentralization of power causing rifts in Afghanistan is brought to the fore in Seth Jones' work "The Graveyard of Empires" (2009) that discusses the United States war in Afghanistan from both a historical and theoretic perspective.

Jones details how Afghanistan devolved into a patchwork of competing groups, ethnic and tribal, after the withdrawal of the Soviet Union in 1988 (Jones, 2009). Jones states that one of the common scenarios debated in the Reagan White House in the late '80's was that following the Soviet withdrawal, Afghanistan would inevitably become an 'uneasy coalition of traditionalist and fundamentalist groups and its control will not extend far beyond Kabul' (Jones, 2009). This seems to be the exact scenario that played out-if one combines Tenet's observations in his September 2001 briefing with President Bush at Camp David. This post-Soviet structure is the exact reason behind the Realist argument for continuing to stay in Afghanistan, despite over a decade of conflict. They portend that any vacuum left by the United States, post-evacuation, would ultimately result in a substantially weakened Afghan central government that may fall to more hard-line fundamentalist groups that have the backing of whatever tribe they have managed to "pay-off." This, according to the Realists would further lead the supposition that Afghanistan would descend… [END OF PREVIEW]

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