Afghan Realism


As both liberals and neocons push for a greater American commitment to nation-building in Afghanistan, Benjamin Friedman disputes their premises:

Democrats argue that Bush has neglected Afghanistan and that its stability and US security require a bigger, better state-building effort. This is backward….

Defending American interests in Afghanistan requires nothing more than ensuring the absence of a haven for international terrorists and making an example of those who provide one. Those two reasonable goals justified the war in Afghanistan, unlike the Iraq war.

If the latter goal should fail, US forces can target terrorist camps and supporters through raids and airstrikes guided by intelligence, even if Taliban militias gain power in some regions. Those missions do not require a huge force structure, or that Afghanistan become a modern nation, a democratic one, or even stable.

Friedman isn't optimistic: "Instead of this realistic approach, the next president will probably move to expand a never-ending war meant to assert the control of a statelet in Kabul over an unruly territory. Afghanistan is full of arms and grievances. It lacks the basics of statehood: a road network, a working national energy grid, widespread patriotism, and tax collection. The notion that a 25 percent increase of Western forces and investment is enough to transform Afghanistan into a peaceful, centralized state shows idealism of stunning tenacity."