Consider Afghanistan

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WaPo editorial page staffer and columnist Sebastian Mallaby invites us to "Consider Afghanistan. In many ways, nation-building there has been mishandled. The early peacekeeping effort was restricted to the capital; the resulting power vacuum allowed regional warlords to dig in; the opium trade has boomed, bolstering criminals who work against the state and corrupting government officials. Despite these errors, however, Afghanistan is at least partly a success. Three years ago, the country featured medieval zealots and large terrorist bases. Today it features an enlightened constitution, 3 million exiles who have felt confident enough to return home and an election that attracted a remarkable turnout, whatever the flaws in administering it.

"The same is likely to be true in Iraq," believes Mallaby, "if America shows enough determination."

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  1. Here’s hoping …

  2. I don’t think people fully appreciate the extreme difficulty of nation-building. I have a B.S. degree in it and am working on my M.S. in Post-Conflict Development and I don’t fully understand the complexities of it. There certainly is no formula that can be applied carte blanche to any random non-democratic state. Furthemore, figuring out the right mix of policies before the war is over is near impossible. Knowing just how much force to use and when and where to apply it further complicates the issue. That having been said, what I do know is that security is key. Without security, there can be no development and in this arena we have made many fundmental errors. (Not stopping the looting, not securing the borders, etc.) It, however should not come as a suprise that in a country as complex as Iraq in a region as dynamic as the Middle East that a certain amount of trial and error is required for success.

  3. I don’t think people fully appreciate the extreme difficulty of nation-building. I have a B.S. degree in it and am working on my M.S. in Post-Conflict Development and I don’t fully understand the complexities of it. There certainly is no formula that can be applied carte blanche to any random non-democratic state. Furthemore, figuring out the right mix of policies before the war is over is near impossible. Knowing just how much force to use and when and where to apply it further complicates the issue. That having been said, what I do know is that security is key. Without security, there can be no development and in this arena we have made many fundmental errors. (Not stopping the looting, not securing the borders, etc.) It, however should not come as a suprise that in a country as complex as Iraq in a region as dynamic as the Middle East that a certain amount of trial and error is required for success.

  4. I don’t think people fully appreciate the extreme difficulty of nation-building. I have a B.S. degree in it and am working on my M.S. in Post-Conflict Development and I don’t fully understand the complexities of it. There certainly is no formula that can be applied carte blanche to any random non-democratic state. Furthemore, figuring out the right mix of policies before the war is over is near impossible. Knowing just how much force to use and when and where to apply it further complicates the issue. That having been said, what I do know is that security is key. Without security, there can be no development and in this arena we have made many fundmental errors. (Not stopping the looting, not securing the borders, etc.) It, however should not come as a suprise that in a country as complex as Iraq in a region as dynamic as the Middle East that a certain amount of trial and error is required for success.

  5. Apparently posting on this board is nearly as difficult as nation-building. My apologies…

  6. The elections are a good thing, but imagine how much better off Afghanistan would be today if we had not diverted money and manpower to Iraq, and instead used that money and manpower to secure the entire country, and then hired as many Afghanis as we could to build roads, schools, electrical grids, sanitation facilities, and housing. I do believe we could have turned that extremely poor country into a show palace that would inspire the Muslim world. All the good things mentioned would still be true, only more so, plus, we would have lost a lot less than a thousand soldiers in the process. To me, the lost opportunities in Afghanistan compound the tragedy of the unnecessary invasion of Iraq.

  7. Dan,

    While I can understand your desire to see more money thrown at the problem (though this can often be hit or miss), more manpower would have come at a significant cost. The more high-profile the US troops were, the bigger a target they were. You seem to assess that by putting the troops we had in Iraq into Afghanistan (or even a significant portion of them) there would have been fewer casualties. I disagree. The Russians tried the heavy handed game in Afghanistan not too long back, and lost about 1,300 troops a year over ten years. Simply put, Afghanistan is not Iraq. Additionally, starting a budding democracy in Afghanistan will have far less of an effect on the rest of the middle east than doing so in Iraq, based simply on Iraq’s status prior.

    We are currently doing both, and while the cost is higher, the benefit will be as well.

  8. SStaid,
    You neglect to mention that it was the US, starting with Jimmy Carter, that helped organize and supply weapons to the mujahidin to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan and that is why 1,300 Russian soldiers died every year in that war. The fact is that we are not losing near as many soldiers in Afghanistan today precisely because there is little organized resistance and little if any outside support designed to thwart our efforts in Afghanistan, i.e. kill our soldiers; therefore, having kept more troops in Afghanistan, rather than pulling them out in order to go to war in Iraq, would not de facto result in proportionally higher U. S. troop death. We went into Afghanistan to root out Osama and Al Qaeda. The Iraq war diverted money and manpower from that goal and our current goal of rebuilding that nation.

    ?We are currently doing both, and while the cost is higher, the benefit will be as well.?

    IMO, Iraq was a huge mistake; a waste of lives, both innocent Iraqi and US troops, and a total waste of money. Afghanistan was very ?doable?. The Iraq war has delayed the rebuilding of Afghanistan and created a seething hatred among the Moslem population that will give rise to more terrorism, not less. Due to our war in Iraq the benefits will not be greater, the benefits will be lessened.

  9. Afghanistan was very ?doable?.

    Well obviously it was doable; it’s been done.

    Now, would Afghanistan be even *better* off if we’d poured more money and troops into it? Maybe. But who cares? It isn’t our job to make Afghanistan into a paradise. Our goal was to make it reasonably stable and democratic, and to make it unattractive as a haven for terrorists. We’ve accomplished that.

    The Iraq war has delayed the rebuilding of Afghanistan and created a seething hatred among the Moslem population that will give rise to more terrorism, not less.

    There wasn’t a surge of anti-American Iraqi Moslem terrorism when we supported Hussein during the Carter and Reagan administrations. There wasn’t a surge of anti-American Iraqi terrorism when we obliterated Iraq’s infrastructure and destroyed their economy during the first Gulf War. So why would there be a surge of such terrorism now, when we’re pouring billions of dollars into the country and establishing a democratic government? Your argument just doesn’t make sense.

  10. Dan

    “There wasn’t a surge of anti-American Iraqi terrorism when we obliterated Iraq’s infrastructure and destroyed their economy during the first Gulf War.”

    Then, why is the Bush Administration (and their fans) keep insisting on linking Iraq with terrorism? Dan, you can’t have it both ways …

    “we’re pouring billions of dollars into the country”

    you are not pouring billions into the country (Iraq), you are pouring the money into the US military. The money that goes into reconstruction is appropriated from Iraqi oil.

  11. Then, why is the Bush Administration (and their fans) keep insisting on linking Iraq with terrorism? Dan, you can’t have it both ways

    I don’t recall the Bush Administration claiming that there were Iraqi terrorist groups. Hussein funded and assisted *other* terrorist groups, and provided a safe haven for them, if that’s what you mean.

    you are not pouring billions into the country (Iraq), you are pouring the money into the US military.

    We are doing both. Furthermore, since military engineers are handling a lot of the rebuilding work, money put “into the military” also has the effect of directly benefitting the Iraqis.

    The money that goes into reconstruction is appropriated from Iraqi oil.

    Well yes, obviously Iraq’s oil money is being spent on rebuilding and improving the country. I don’t see why the Iraqis would get angry about that, though. It isn’t like the average Iraqi-on-the-street is thinking to himself “gosh, I miss the days when our oil money was spent on Presidential Palaces and chemical weapons research”.

  12. And we are pouring many many more Billions into a war that did not need to be fought. Afghanistan would have been a bargain and done more to stop future terrorism in the process IMO.

  13. “So why would there be a surge of such terrorism now, when we’re pouring billions of dollars into the country and establishing a democratic government? Your argument just doesn’t make sense.”

    Do you have contact with the outside world at all? Somebody blew up 35 children at a ribbon cutting for a sewage plant last week. I’m guessing it was terrorists.

    If your premise is that nothing can happen if YOU aren’t capable of foreseeing it, I’m going to have to vote no.

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