Afghanistan: The Internet is Mightier than the Bullet
Citizens Oversight (2011-05-14) Raymond Lutz
This Page: http://www.copswiki.org/Common/M1166
Media Link: http://lamesa.patch.com/blog_posts/afghanistan-the-internet-is-mightier-than-the-bullet
The Afghanistan conflict has been going on for nearly 10 years now, and we now hear that Osama bin Laden has finally been killed. According to the website http://costofwar.com
, the Afghanistan war has cost over $400 billion dollars. We unfortunately also spent nearly $800 billion on the Iraq war, a war we now know was based on faulty intelligence -- one of the biggest military blunders of all history.
Indeed, the entire military campaign of the past decade can easily be argued as a complete waste. We spent nearly $1.2 trillion, thousands of lives and injuries on these wars, and the situation in those countries is far from what many envisioned. The military solution, including midnight raids on homes looking for the Taliban and collateral deaths and destruction rising out of Predator cruise missile strikes and mercenary attacks will do nothing but build animosity against the United States and help to recruit Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters. If we had to choose the worst option, it is probably the one we chose. Al Qaeda gets stronger with every midnight raid Predator missile strike, and Blackwater blunder.
The world was shocked by the events of 9/11, and we wanted revenge. We were told, without hard evidence, that a gang of terrorists flew planes into the buildings and bin Laden was the "mastermind." Although I don't believe we know the true story of the events of 9/11, it may just be too painful to uncover what was behind those events and the (never explained) anthrax attacks that occurred shortly thereafter. Bin Laden was the perfect patsy, and killing him may be satisfying, but it seems a step that will again do nothing to improve matters. The good news is that regardless of the truth of 9/11, now that the primary target has been killed, we may have the collective will to extricate ourselves from the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Nearly ten years ago, we were faced with the decision to go into Afghanistan. There was a loud uproar for retaliation for the losses of 9/11. Even if we did not hit the right target, the president needed to show he could act in some decisive way. Sure, there is oil in Iraq and a need for a new pipeline in Afghanistan, providing a second level of rationale for the military involvement in those areas. And there is such a thing as Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and people in this world that would like to see the U.S. hurt.
The question is: What is the best way to deal with these problems? No one believed me nearly ten years ago when I said attacking Afghanistan and Iraq would do us no good. But what should we do? Drop pallets of food and humanitarian aid? No, I have a better plan, and I hope we can implement it.
Looking back at our own revolution and formation of our democracy, it can easily be argued that the prevalence of the printed word and the easing of control of newspapers was key to getting the thirteen colonies on the same page with a spirit for independence. Without the anonymous writings of Benjamin Franklin and the Common Sense
of Thomas Paine, the uprising of early American patriots probably would not have occurred, at least not when it did.
We just witnessed an "Arab Spring" of peaceful uprisings in multiple countries made possible by the printing press of today: new communication technologies like the cell phone, Internet, and messaging tools like Twitter and Facebook. The substantial nonviolence of these uprisings combined with the absence of the U.S. contributed to their success. More was accomplished in a matter of weeks by local revolutionaries than our advanced military could do in ten years with $1200 billion. The activation energy was not just being able to carry on a mobile phone conversation. More important is the ability to send one text message to hundreds or thousands of followers, or post a page on Facebook so millions of people could read it.
We need to learn this lesson. Force from outsiders only galvanizes and strengthens the resistance. Internal and nonviolent change is the key, and these communication technologies will expedite that change. Instead of providing military training, rifles, and ammunition to the downtrodden in Afghanistan, I submit it would be much more productive and certainly less expensive (and dangerous) to provide free cell phones to the population, with the phrase "A Gift from the U.S." indelibly written on it in both Arabic and English.
There are about eight million families in Afghanistan, based on a quick check with the CIA World Factbook
. If we gave every family a $50 cellphone, we would spend about $400 million dollars. Not too much when we recall that we spend $2 billion per week for military engagement. Perhaps more than any other single technology,
cellphones can help lift people out of a cycle of unending poverty. Buying a cell phone for every family and installing the necessary cell-towers to provide coverage in urban areas would probably cost about $1 billion -- what we spend for only about four days of military engagement today. Plus, they can't shoot us with a cell phone.
It's a good idea even if we just wanted to help the Afghans escape poverty and run their economy better. But we also know that these communication devices will provide the means for them to learn, organize, communicate, and eventually create their own Arab Spring.
We have to get out of the way, stop the midnight raids, drone strikes, and mercenary attacks. Forget propping up corrupt governments that only line the pockets of the greedy figureheads. Allowing the people to get on their own feet will take time, but we must trust the wisdom of crowds, and the inherent sensibility of empowering people at the lowest levels.
Truly, the Internet is mightier than the sword, the AK-47, or the entire U.S. military machine.