Time magazine's latest cover is causing some controversy in the blogosphere:
Our cover image this week is powerful, shocking and disturbing. It is a portrait of Aisha, a shy 18-year-old Afghan woman who was sentenced by a Taliban commander to have her nose and ears cut off for fleeing her abusive in-laws. Aisha posed for the picture and says she wants the world to see the effect a Taliban resurgence would have on the women of Afghanistan, many of whom have flourished in the past few years. Her picture is accompanied by a powerful story by our own Aryn Baker on how Afghan women have embraced the freedoms that have come from the defeat of the Taliban — and how they fear a Taliban revival.Now of course this photo is meant to be emotionally manipulative: how could you not feel sorry for this woman? What was done to her was truly reprehensible and horrible and I don't mind admitting that I would be quite happy to see something equally as horrible happen to her attacker in return. This sort of thing happens to women far too often in that part of the world and our troops are doing good work by trying to prevent further violence being perpetrated upon innocents. That said: do you consider this to be a form of exploitation? In their defense of running the cover Time claims that they neither endorse nor oppose the war effort but as I said, it's clearly meant to support an agenda of remaining in Afghanistan and I think this claim of objectivity would seem equally transparent if the cover photo featured the dead mutilated corpse of an American soldier instead.
We've occupied Afghanistan for nearly a decade now. Credible military experts and historians agree almost universally that it will be several more decades before any sort of functional civilized government will be able to run the country and maintain some semblance of peace in the face of Taliban aggression. As I've said before I see only two options for us in this war: either get out now largely on our own terms or else wait until a lack of money, troops and equipment slowly drains us dry before forcing us to leave in defeat. I'm sympathetic to the plight of people like Aisha and I wish the United States could stop all suffering on the planet through shear force of will but that's obviously logistically unrealistic and economically unfeasible.
So, how do we define "victory" in Afghanistan? Should we remain there indefinitely until it is achieved? Should we spend an infinite amount of money to achieve it? What about all of the other countries whose people endure equally appalling levels of suffering and cruelty, should we commit ourselves just as fully to achieving "victory" in those places as well? Should we truly become Team America: World Police? I think the short and inevitable answer is that we simply cannot, and I believe that President Obama was mistaken in doubling our military down on the war in Afghanistan. Just as important as striving to win a war is being able to recognize when that cannot be done, even if doing so leads to an increase in human suffering. That's a hard truth for Americans to accept but we must do so if we wish to avoid bankrupting our nation and retain the ability to help people around the world like the poor girl pictured above.