President Bush’s presidential library hosted a conference this week in Dallas focusing on promoting women’s freedom in Afghanistan and “advancing their economic opportunity.” Promoting the conference on Fox News last night, Bush said that the U.S. should stay in Afghanistan to protect women’s rights:
VAN SUSTEREN: It is a big event isn’t it, sir?
BUSH: It is. It is big because it will have an impact over the years. The idea of liberating women, empowering women, encouraging women, educating women in Afghanistan is all part of laying a foundation for lasting peace.
My concern of course is that the United States gets weary of being in Afghanistan, it is not worth it, let’s leave. And Laura and I believe that if that were to happen, women would suffer again. We don’t believe that’s in the interests of the United States or the world to create a safe haven for terrorists and stand by and watch women’s rights be abused.
So it seems that Bush — who started the war in Afghanistan nearly 10 years ago and took much needed resources away from it to start the strategic blunder in Iraq — thinks it should continue on, endlessly, to protect the rights of Afghan women.
While protecting women’s rights in Afghanistan is laudable, especially considering women there have been severely repressed and brutalized by men for decades, committing the U.S. military indefinitely to do it is another story. As Gen. David Petraeus noted when assuming command in Afghanistan, the U.S. military is there to advance political and security goals, not to promote social and cultural norms.
This debate surfaced last year when Time Magazine published a photo of a Bibi Aisha, an Afghan girl defaced by the Taliban for violating social customs, on its cover with the caption: “This is what happens if we leave Afghanistan.” Time received widespread criticism for the cover, with some calling it “emotional blackmail” and even “war porn.” Moreover, the attack on Aisha occurred with U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan. Their presence there didn’t prevent the attack and moreover, these kinds of local customs aren’t limited to the Taliban either. “The Taliban’s poor treatment of women often comes up as a sub-point here to illustrate the theme that the Taliban are bad,” Matt Yglesias noted last year. “But actually altering social conditions in southern and eastern Afghanistan isn’t on the list of war aims.”
There are other ways to promote the social and economic well-being of Afghan women, but deploying military divisions indefinitely isn’t one of them.