Feminist ideology wins in Afghanistan

By William Lind

The interesting question about the war in Afghanistan is not what its outcome will be—the “Coalition” will not be the first foreigners to conquer the country—but why it continues.

The establishment’s answer remains 9/11. But al-Qaeda now has little or no presence in Afghanistan. Its bases in Pakistan are more useful than any potential Afghan camps. Unlike Washington, al-Qaeda understands that Pakistan is strategically a vastly more important prize than Afghanistan. Reportedly, the Taliban have already offered to keep al-Qaeda out as part of a peace deal. (Osama and company were neither easy nor grateful guests.)

So why are we still fighting?

I suspect the question can be answered in one word: feminism. One of the better recent pieces on the war, a column by anthropologist Scott Atran, “Turning the Taliban Against Al Qaeda” in the October 27, 2010 New York Times, stated:


Washington’s goals officially remain those stated by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: to strengthen Afghan Army forces and to ‘reintegrate’ the supposedly ‘moderate’ Taliban, that is, fighters who will lay down arms and respect the Afghan Constitution, including its Western-inspired provisions to respect human rights and equality of women in the public sphere.

All of these conditions are fanciful, and together they represent a diktat that a victorious America might impose on a beaten Taliban—an unlikely situation. But the important question is not which conditions the Taliban might accept. Rather, it is which stipulations the Obama White House regards as domestic political requirements. One leaps from the page: “the equality of women.”

No Democratic administration would dare say to feminists, who are a key component of the Left’s coalition, “Sorry, but feminism doesn’t travel well to Afghanistan. Pashtun women will continue to have two options: they can be in their home, or they can be in their grave.” The banshee wails would rise to the heavens.

American feminists are no doubt willing to see the war go on indefinitely in pursuit of their fantasy. After all, most of the American dead are male soldiers and Marines, a type of man feminists particularly loathe.

But what might be the public reaction if flyover-land Americans, who provide most of our armed forces’ recruits, figured out that their kids are coming home in boxes because we are at war for feminism? Many of them are less than enthusiastic about that ideology here at home.

Meanwhile, as feminism blocks any prospect of a negotiated peace, time is working against us over there. Thus far, the Afghan War has offered us an advantage unusual in Fourth Generation conflicts. We have someone with whom to negotiate.

Normally, the endless fragmentation characteristic of Fourth Generation forces leaves no one with whom to sit down in Paris and make peace because no local leader can deliver more than a splinter of the enemy. In contrast, Mullah Omar can probably supply something that resembles peace, at least by Afghan standards.


In his column, Atran warns that our tactical military success may be eroding that strategic advantage. As U.S. special-operations forces succeed in killing or capturing mid-level Taliban leaders, enemy ranks are being replenished by younger fighters who are less likely to take orders from Mullah Omar. Atran writes:

As with the older Taliban, their ideology—a peculiar blend of pan-Islamic Shariah law and Pashtun customs—is ‘not for sale,’ as one leader told a Times reporter. But the new cohort increasingly decides how these beliefs are imposed on the ground: recently the Quetta Shura sent a Muslim scholar to chastise a group of youthful commanders in Paktia Province who were not following Mullah Omar’s directives; they promptly killed him.

It is often the case that governments make decisions on military and foreign policy based on domestic political considerations rather than realities on the ground. Unfortunately, by subordinating the realities in Afghanistan to political factors, the Obama administration leaves our armed forces playing for time when time is working against them. The consequences could be worse than the Kilkenny cat howls of jilted feminists, for the country if not for the Democratic Party.

William S. Lind’s column “On War” appears every month in The American Conservative. If you enjoyed this month’s column, please show your support and make a gift today.