Reselling Afghanistan

By Anonymous

It’s time to resell, not withdraw, from the war in Afghanistan.

The United States and its NATO partners have been in Afghanistan for some 17 years. They originally fought with the Northern Alliance to liberate the country from Taliban rule as part of the War on Terror. Soon afterwards, they embarked on the gruelling and disappointing process of state making.

Since 2001, the patchwork of tribes, religions and ethnicities in Afghanistan itself has once again intertwined with the players at the fringes of the nation: Pakistan, and to a lesser extent, Russia, flirt with the Taliban; Iran eyes off potential partners; and India is broadening its support for the government in Kabul.

The Belt and Road Initiative — a Chinese Initiative which seeks to connect the two ends of Eurasia through the construction of regional infrastructure projects such as Gwandar port — has also rolled out across Central Asia. China has an especially heavy presence in Pakistan — a long time meddler in Afghan politics — by virtue of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, a slew of infrastructure projects sponsored by Chinese firms in Pakistan.

Afghanistan has gained political and economic significance in the region since the United States invaded in 2001. However, US policymakers still remain narrowly focused on defeating the Taliban and forging another peace process without consideration of other regional stakeholders. Furthermore, the US does so with the knowledge that their current troop presence is insufficient to achieve such a goal.

Map of Afghanistan.

Strangely, the most dangerous consequence of the ‘War in Afghanistan’ has not been the waste of money and resources or the loss of political will to undertake Western-style nation building in far flung places.  It has instead been the way in which the United States has shorn Afghanistan of its regional identity and characterised the country as a military problem which could, and still can, be solved via the surge of troops and resources.

The US presence in Afghanistan is not, and never will be, enough to defeat the Taliban or those entities that wish to destroy what little is left after 17 years of US and NATO occupation. However, it is enough to prevent the central government from entirely collapsing; prevent regional players from filling a power vacuum left by the United States; and to project US hard power in a region afflicted by instability, state failure, but which has a bounty of economic opportunity.  

Given the region is awash with investment but lacks definitive security commitments to secure these investments the United States could use its existing military resources stationed in Afghanistan to take on a role in Central Asia that it has played globally over the last century—as a guarantor of security and stability in the absence of other nations with the will or the resources to do so.

This role would complement the growing presence of China and other nations that support the Belt and Road Initiative, while staving off attempts by other states to muscle themselves into Afghanistan militarily. This is because while China and other regional players have poured billions of dollars into regional infrastructure projects, they have not bothered (nor do they have the ability) to provide the counter-terror, institutional, and military support to secure these investments. Hence the United States has an opportunity to resell its Afghan presence as a platform from which it can provide security and assistance to the region: A region that has binged itself on infrastructure development without the commensurate stability, security, and institutional fibre.

Reselling US presence in the region would provide a practical basis to positively engage with China’s Belt and Road Initiative, which has drawn the suspicion of many states because of the assumption that its projects will inevitably have geopolitical significance. It would put to bed those suspicions by reinserting US military presence in the region without threatening what China claims to be an economic project. It would also put those projects on a more secure footing and present a win-win for all regional stakeholders, the United States and China included.

To do so would require the United States to resell its Afghan mission and abandon its former ambition to build a democracy and liberate the entire country. To do otherwise would be disingenuous, and risk losing public support for something that is in the national interest.

One cannot deny that 15 years of US occupation, the growth of China, India and other regional players and the roll out of the BRI, has created a reality of its own. In this context, it is not necessarily in the Trump administration’s interest to give up its presence in Afghanistan and forsake its role in a region that offers immense economic opportunity.

By staying, the United States will have avoided making the decision to withdraw, a decision which, ironically, would share the same narrow mindedness that got the United States in Afghanistan in the first place.

Rule Americana

By Anonymous (Art: Guy Exton)

The 2002 congressional mandate authorizing the invasion of Afghanistan by United States troops reads: ‘The President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001.’

The US has succumbed to the historically common but potentially unconstitutional problem of mission creep in Afghanistan. It has, over the past 17 years, been the subject of changing objectives and consequent troop surges over the course of three administrations.

Cartoon of Lady Liberty holding a rifle, with a lion behind her.

The Taliban are now in control of more territory than in 2001, yet there is little to show for the roughly $45 billion per year the US government spends on maintaining its troop presence in Afghanistan. Hence, it is time for the Trump administration to have the moral and strategic courage to finally withdraw from the country.

Perhaps the initial instinct of the average American voter is to believe that US troops must be there for a purpose. Because who spends that kind of money — and American lives— for no reason?

Unfortunately, Bush, Obama and Trump have done, and are doing, just that.

The original objective in Afghanistan was to eliminate a refuge for Islamic terrorists who had the power to launch attacks against the US (this, and a healthy dose of revenge for 9/11).

OK, if my country had planes fly into my skyscrapers in the heart of New York City, I would be pretty bitter too. So, even though I disagree with the means, I can understand the intended end.

Seventeen years later, however, the objective is to rebuild, establish, defend and legitimise the US backed government in Kabul. Further, the aim is to reinvent Afghani political culture such that women will be granted basic human rights.

In short, the US is now engaged in nation building. But why on Earth would the US taxpayer care about any of that?

I will concede that the current situation will get worse if the US leaves Afghanistan tomorrow. The Taliban, Iran, and Pakistan will fill the vacuum left by the US and compete against each other for influence. The quality of life for women, those employed on US and NATO bases, and US collaborators will crater, and the current civil war will rage on.

So yes, it would be morally questionable to suddenly abandon the entire US commitment to Afghanistan. However, the Pentagon will soon be having to deal with bigger problems than rouge Islamic fundamentalists; namely China and Russia. Better for the US to save her strength for the wars to come than spend billions in a desert.

The larger point I’m trying to make is that there are, believe it or not, countries in worse shape than the US and Australia. North Korea, Yemen, and Afghanistan are not on my holiday list. The US doesn’t need them to be. The withdrawal from Afghanistan is the perfect opportunity for Trump to prove his ‘America First’ ideology is not just rhetoric and can actually be applied to policy.

Historians will look back on America’s most recent episode in Afghanistan as just the latest in a series of failed attempts to occupy the country — just like Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, the Mughal Empire of India, the Persian Empire, the British Empire and the Soviet Union did before it. Unfortunately, the United States’ time in the country has only been as exceptional as these previous empires believed theirs to be.

The Pentagon is stubbornly trying to disprove the rule that Afghanistan is the graveyard of empire – but it can already hear future historians saying ‘I told you so.’

Australian-Style Gun Control Won’t Work for America

By Charlotte Maybery-Reupert

We must stop telling grief-stricken Americans that the Australian model of gun control is the solution to their mass shootings. While the Australian policy is undoubtedly effective, its implementation and reforms are completely unsuited to the American context. Instead, we need to start listening to the teenagers who have achieved more in the last few weeks than the Democrats have achieved in years.

There are several key reasons why the United States doesn’t fit the Australian gun control mould. The obvious example is the American legal institution that is the Second Amendment, which created the ‘right to bear arms’. Practically, it provides a blanket protection from common-sense gun control regulations.

Another barrier to American gun control reform is the complicated relationship between State and Federal governments. In Australia, the reforms were clearly within the States’ prerogative, as the Federal Government did not have the Constitutional power to enact gun laws. However, in America, federal statutes regulate the manufacturing, possession, and destruction of firearms. In addition, each State also has separate laws governing those permitted to possess or own firearms, and the associated background check requirements (or indeed, lack thereof).

Hand holding a pistol.

It is also important to note the vast divide in gun cultures between the two countries. As per the stereotype, a vast proportion of Americans love their guns and value their Second Amendment rights, whereas most Australians are terrified of them. These divergent relationships to guns stem from different historical contexts. The American founding fathers needed an armed population to overthrow an oppressive imperial power, and fight foreign troops. The Australian founding fathers, in unifying the colonies, were not worried about an oppressive government – indeed, the British army provided security in Australia until we peacefully achieved independence.

Our switch to anti-gun policies was swift and relatively all-encompassing. On the 28th and 29th of April 1996, Martin Bryant shot and killed 35 people in Port Arthur. Afterwards, it only took John Howard twelve days to introduce the National Firearms Program Implementation Act. This reform banned the sale of all automatic and semi-automatic rifles and shotguns, and required potential buyers to provide legitimate reasons for purchasing a weapon. It also implemented a 28-day waiting period. Despite significant backlash from some State governments, the reform also called for a mandatory gun buyback scheme, whereby the Federal Government confiscated and destroyed approximately 640,000 firearms.

Since these laws were passed, there have been zero Australian mass shootings.

However, while it is tempting to suggest similar success will be seen in the US upon similar reform, the American context is different. Consequently, this is not an appropriate model for gun control reform in America. Our gun-control policy has been presented as an answer to each mass shooting that has reared its ugly head over the years, to no effect. The Australian solution is too simplistic to be applied to the American situation, where the Second Amendment and complexities of gun legislation at State and national levels make swift and effective reform unlikely.

The broader cultural mindset about guns in the US also cannot be reformed overnight. The only thing that has worked, or at least started to work, are efforts by survivors. Students who survived February’s harrowing massacre in Parkland, Florida, are one such example. Many of them have begun targeting politicians who are funded by the National Rifle Association (NRA), and are forcing donors to cut NRA funding. They are organizing a National School Walkout on 14th of March. These students represent the only hope for American gun control. Australian style reforms are too foreign, too different. But these kids – they are not going away.


It’s Time to Start Acknowledging Online Activism Can Be Effective

By Emilio Lanera

Emilio is a second year PPE/Arts student majoring in English and minoring in International Relations. Some of his interests include writing, reading, tennis and keeping up to date with international affairs.

In recent years, online activism has become a regular phenomenon, with millions of people using their Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts as platforms to address various social injustices and issues around the world. While we may not be able to fix all the world’s problems online, social media can still be an effective way to help contribute to a solution. Yet, despite the positive outcomes that it can generate, online activism is often cast as merely a ‘pseudo-attempt’ at helping.

Those who choose to address certain issues from their phones or computers – as opposed to tackling the issue in the real world – are often regarded as doing it for show, rather than doing something to bring about effective change. A key reason social media activism has such a poor reputation is due to the high-profile failures of earlier movements, which have set a negative precedent for future online activism.

Image of a computer keyboard with a gold key lying on top.

One specific social media movement that falls into this category is the Kony 2012 campaign. It was one of the first ever social media movements to appear on our screens and despite having some success early on it came to a catastrophic end. As part of the effort by the Invisible Children Incorporation, Jason Russell directed a short documentary titled ‘Kony 2012’. The film aimed to promote global awareness about cult and militia leader Joseph Kony, who was declared a war criminal by the ICC for kidnapping children and forcing them to become child soldiers. The video was viewed by millions of people worldwide and Invisible Children raised 28 million dollars soon after it was posted online.

However, the success of Kony 2012 was short lived. Ten days after the video was released, Russell was detained after suffering a mental breakdown in public. This had a detrimental impact on Invisible Children, who from 2013 onwards have struggled to raise funds to continue their search for Kony. Consequently, Kony remains at large in Uganda.

The failure of Kony 2012 not only harmed the reputation of Invisible Children but has also created a negative stigma for social media activism overall. It seems many people simply disregard online activism as a well-meaning but feeble attempt at dealing with the world’s biggest problems.

However, while Kony 2012 was a complete disaster, there have been some instances where using Facebook and Twitter to promote a cause has been successful. An important recent example is the #MeToo movement.

Last October, social media was inundated with Tweets, Facebook statuses and Instagram posts of women sharing their experiences of sexual assault. Alongside these heartbreaking stories was the simple yet effective hashtag #MeToo. The hashtag was inspired by Tarana Burke’s organisation of the same name. Burke created the program twelve years ago as a way to support women of colour who have experienced sexual abuse, and to create a safe space for them to share and recover from their trauma.

However, the #MeToo Program quickly shifted from a small community to a global phenomenon with the introduction of an online movement. It began with American actress Alyssa Milano tweeting in response to rape allegations against Harvey Weinstein. She said, “If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me Too’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.” From that moment onwards millions of women of different ages, races, nationalities and socioeconomic backgrounds began sharing their stories of sexual mistreatment. On Twitter, the hashtag #MeToo has been used by one million people across the US, Europe and the Middle East. On Facebook, 4.7 million people have participated in the #MeToo conversation.

One of the biggest struggles sexual assault victims face is actually reporting the crime. According to the US National Sexual Violence Resource Centre, 63% of sexual assaults are not reported, and of those that are, only 9% result in a conviction. The poor conviction rate only further discourages sexual assault victims from going to the police. Yet, #MeToo has been able to overcome this barrier of silence. While the hashtag may not serve to arrest offenders or end the occurrence of sexual assault, it is resulting in more victims coming forward and speaking up, which is a step in a positive direction.

However, #MeToo is not just a one-off success story. There have been other social media movements that have contributed to real world change. Last year, GoFundMe page Love Army for Somalia raised enough funds to send 60 tonnes of food and water to the famine-stricken nation. In addition, in 2014 the internet was bombarded with videos of people dumping buckets of ice water over their heads to raise funds and awareness for the motor neuron disease, ALS. While the concept may seem ridiculous, the money raised from the viral Ice Bucket Challenge funded numerous research projects. One of these projects successfully discovered a new gene associated with the disease, which is likely to aid in the development of new treatments.

For too long we have been associating online activism with the failure of movements like Kony 2012. We should instead be focusing our attention on projects such as #MeToo, The Love Army, and the Ice Bucket Challenge. The ice bucket challenge did not cure ALS. The Love Army did not provide a sudden fix to Somalia’s humanitarian crisis. And #MeToo did not bring an end to sexual assault. However, all three movements made noticeable contributions that helped millions of people.

It is these kinds of success stories that will, one day, eradicate the negative stigma associated with online activism, and instead encourage the development of further social media efforts to create powerful change.