"The Cup of Lawfare"

By Benjamin Wittes
Saturday, May 14, 2011, 9:01 AM

I was inexpressibly moved yesterday when I opened a surprise package that showed up in my office from a military base in Afghanistan. The package contained this cup, along with a note from Brig. General Mark Martins, whose amazing posts about the Rule of Law Field Force and its work readers will remember from last Fall (and which can be found here and here and here and here and here for those who are new to the blog).

Gen. Martins' note seems to me a fitting coda to those posts, which were among other things an extended meditation on the nature of lawfare and whether the United States is engaged in it in Afghanistan. His note reads, in part, "I have used one [of these cups] in almost every contested province. It is the cup of Lawfare."

I could get very maudlin here, but I will refrain. I will content myself, rather, with observing that the men and women who are using this cup--the soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, and civilians of the Rule of Law Field Force--and the Afghans who, Brigadier General Martins reports, courageously put their lives on the line to work with them, are engaged in a notable endeavor we should all keep in our thoughts. They are committed to the proposition that building functioning legal institutions plays an essential role in countering insurgency, terrorism, and instability--in other words, that law is not merely a constraint on modern forms of warfare but must also be an immediate civil-military mission in restive theaters of operations.  Remarkably, our military in Afghanistan regards the establishment of minimally effective institutions of justice and dispute resolution to be an essential and very practical objective for transition of security responsibilities there--not merely a lofty idea. And it is putting an organization, resources, and leadership behind that objective.

The readers of this blog disagree about a great many things; its very purpose is to engage debates. But I would hope there will not be a dissenting voice when I say the world will be a much better place if the ROLFF can demonstrate in the long term the vitality of these sorts of practical field efforts in armed conflict and when, on behalf of everyone associated with this site, I thus lift the cup of lawfare in grateful acknowledgement of those efforts. If you agree, please take a metaphorical sip from it and use the buttons below to "recommend" it on Facebook or pass it along on Twitter.