Foreign Policy

Failing in Afghanistan

Why the U.S. must shift the focus in the Afghan war

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Some countries exist for no apparent reason, but not Afghanistan. Its function in the world has long been clear: to show great powers the limits of their power.

First it was the British, who in 1842, at the height of empire, were defeated and expelled. The Soviets invaded in 1979, only to encounter a fierce insurgency that forced their withdrawal. Now it's America's turn to marvel at Afghanistan's immunity to outside control.

Afghanistan was once among our sterling military successes—a war, predicted by skeptics to be a certain quagmire, that produced a swift and stunning victory. The triumph came in 2001, in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks mounted by al-Qaida, which had enjoyed a safe haven in this corner of South Asia.

But that was a long time ago, and the longer we stay, the worse things get. 2007, the deadliest year of the war for the American military, gave way to an even bloodier year 2008. Extremist attacks are on the rise, and the Taliban now has "a permanent presence in 72 percent of Afghanistan, up from 54 percent a year ago," says a report by the International Council on Security and Development.

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has predicted things will get worse this year. President Hamid Karzai's government is widely seen as weak and corrupt. And, not least important, Osama bin Laden is still at large and issuing taped calls for jihad.

President Obama has pledged to give new priority to Afghanistan, with plans to send up to 30,000 more troops, which would double our numbers there. But his administration "does not anticipate that the Iraq-like 'surge' of forces will significantly change the direction" of the war, according to The Washington Post. The point is to buy time to formulate a new strategy, which currently qualifies as a failure.

The change of heart appears to be based on the reality that we can't remake the country without a much bigger and more costly commitment that would mire us in Afghanistan for years to come—and still might not succeed. Lately, the Pentagon has been defining success down, without the world-saving rhetoric of the Bush administration.

A classified report from the Joint Chiefs of Staff has recommended that the president shift the focus from nation-building to destroying Taliban and al-Qaida targets in Pakistan. Defense Secretary Robert Gates recently said that "our primary goal is to prevent Afghanistan from being used as a base for terrorists and extremists to attack the United States"—not "creating some sort of Central Asian Valhalla."

Unlike Iraq, Afghanistan was a war we had to fight, and one that served vital national interests: punishing enemies who attacked us on American soil and making sure they couldn't do it again. The original invasion accomplished the first mission and went a long way toward the second. But once Bush turned his attention to Saddam Hussein, he let the Afghan war become an afterthought, lacking sufficient resources and a clear policy.

So what should the policy be? The one identified by Gates and the Joint Chiefs. It makes no difference to our security if Afghanistan is a republic, a monarchy, or a theocracy—as long as it is not a haven for Islamic radicals bent on our annihilation. That's lucky, since there is no reason to think we have the wisdom or the patience to mold the country into anything resembling a prosperous democracy.

Our main power is military, but it has been unable to realize our outsized ambitions. The obvious next step is to try to peel various Taliban factions away from Bin Laden and Co. by offering them a share of power if they give up the fight. Under that approach, we could concentrate our energies on wiping out terrorist camps along the Pakistan border. It also holds the promise of letting us leave in the not-too-distant future without undue risk.

Does it sound like appeasement? Only to those who forget a big key to our recent progress in Iraq—essentially paying Sunni militias, our onetime enemies, to abandon al-Qaida in Iraq and join with us.

It may be a disappointment to settle for what is merely vital in Afghanistan after the heady days of the early war. But expanding our mission invites disaster, which is worse than disappointment.

COPYRIGHT 2009 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.

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  1. don’t forget Alexander the Great

  2. Didn’t Alexander get a wife out it? Not that she got a lot of attention.

  3. Another Monday, another bowl of mush from Steve Chapman.

    You know, I’ll bet LoneWacko or Dave W would be happy to write a weekly column. It would be just as insightful and ten times more entertaining.

  4. Stopping to burn Afghan farmers’ opium might also help us.

  5. Alexander did have an Afghan wife, but he also got an Afghan arrow in his lung. The wife turned out to be a bitch, but he preferred boys anyway.

  6. Chapman is the go-to guy, when you’re talking failure.

  7. Chapman never meant a disaster he didn’t love. No wonder he thinks Barney Frank is cool.

  8. Afghanistan is just like Vietnam or Korea, or for that matter, 90% of the countries we get involved in. If we keep sticking ourselves in the middle of it *iraq,korea,israel etc* we get bit more. But if we pull out 100% *vietnam* things tend to go along much smoother.

  9. Bin Laden is dead. Been dead for years.

  10. It is unfortunate that Mr. Mahmood was murdered right before September 11th. He was the guy who could’ve put Afghanistan together. It might not have been a progressive utopia, but it would have been a coherent entity to the rest of the world with actual sovereign control within its borders..sigh.

    Pakistan will always be the problem with Afghanistan for the USA. There just is not enough intrinsic self-interest for Pakistan to toe our line in regards to their northern neighbor. We will continue to muddle around with Pakistan much the way we did with the South Vietnamese government in the Vietnam War. Can’t live with them, can’t live without them. This is especially acute given we’re all buddy-buddy with India at the same time. We will eventually have to choose our ultimate friend between those two rivals.

    The more we stay there though, the more our chances of being caught up in a major regional war with possible nuclear combat grows. Eventually, some Pakistani-sourced attack on India will precipitate such a conflict, and there we’ll be.

  11. So what should the policy be? The one identified by Gates and the Joint Chiefs. It makes no difference to our security if Afghanistan is a republic, a monarchy, or a theocracy-as long as it is not a haven for Islamic radicals bent on our annihilation.

    Technically this is probably true. But if we end up with another theocracy in this Sunni majority country, there will be an ideological temptation for the government to let the country become “a haven for Islamic radicals bent on our annihilation” after coalition forces leave.

    Also, a theocracy would be a humanitarian disaster (more so than the current state of the country). Of course the US and its allies don’t have the ability to “mold” Afghanistan into fully secular, liberal republic. But they do have at least some influence, and it would be nice if they used it to leave behind an improved human rights situation in Afghanistan.

    And for goodness-fucking-sake, stop destroying opium crops, which are one of the few ways Afghan farmers can obtain a decent standard of living. It alienates ordinary Afghans and drives potential allies into the arms of the Taliban.

    Set up some system in which they can sell to western pharmaceutical companies (or better yet legalize adult drug use); with the provision that there will be a monitoring system in place to ensure that no profits from this trade go to the Taliban, Al-qaeda, or any of their allies. (I think Christopher Hitchens proposed something like this.)

  12. “Set up some system in which they can sell to western pharmaceutical companies (or better yet legalize adult drug use); with the provision that there will be a monitoring system in place to ensure that no profits from this trade go to the Taliban, Al-qaeda, or any of their allies. (I think Christopher Hitchens proposed something like this.)”

    That would probably be the best option for dealing with Afghanistan. You can’t fight money. But you always win when the money is on your side.

    But there is no way this could happen. We’ve essentially committed ourselves to de-stabilizing three countries with our prohibition adventures (Colombia, Afghanistan, and now Mexico). If one of these countries were treated differently along the lines you proscribe it would generate something the drug-warriors absolutely cannot tolerate: a comparison of strategies.

    The Warriors know Afghanistan would seriously mellow out at the tactical level in probably six-to-eight months. The Taliban would be on the ropes financially and politically within a single growing season of the stuff. If such an example were out there in reality, the natural question would be “How do you apply this strategy of success to other problematic ‘narco-states’?” Warriors cannot tolerate that, no more than Iran’s mullah’s would experiment with freedom in one city, knowing the coming tsunami of success would invalidate their horseshit.

    It also de-links drugs from terrorism, another apostasy in the Temple of the Warriors. No way would they let this happen. Obama has too much political support from that crew, from the prison-guard unions to the coercive social-modification complex currently employed to “fight” this stupid “war” domestically. Even the piss-test biz is big enough to have some serious lobby-power at this point. Not gonna happen.

  13. “if we end up with another theocracy in this Sunni majority country, there will be an ideological temptation for the government to let the country become “a haven for Islamic radicals bent on our annihilation” after coalition forces leave.”

    This wouldn’t matter if we would stop our meddling foreign policy. It’s only our meddling foreign policy which creates annimosity towards us.

  14. Also, a theocracy would be a humanitarian disaster (more so than the current state of the country).

    A theocracy is the inevitable result of Western meddling. (see Iran after the US imposed Shah, Iraq and Sistani, and Saudi Arabia after Britain’s “help” – among others)

  15. “It’s only our meddling foreign policy which creates animosity towards us.” –idiots’ proverb.

    Got news for you, shrike and bookworm: free trade necessarily involves a lot of “meddling” in other countries. And in case you’ve been living in a cave in Pakistan or something recently, you might want to check your TV: we’re already living in a theocracy.

    Whose “meddling” foreign policy do you blame for that, O ye castrated catamites fresh from Ahmadinejad’s harem? How is it that you fail to draw the obvious connection between Al Qaeda’s meddling in the USA’s affairs and the fact that Bush and the military just handed those losers their asses in Iraq?

    Yeah, yeah, I know: you were too busy sucking off your aPauling moRon Messiah to notice that the Islamonazis have always been and will always be the meddlers, their publicly stated goal being that most meddlesome of all foreign policies, world domination. Now close your mouth and wipe your lips and stop swallowing his lies, faggots. His piss isn’t perfume, and neither is yours.

  16. Congratulations Mr. Chapman, you don’t know shit.

  17. This wouldn’t matter if we would stop our meddling foreign policy. It’s only our meddling foreign policy which creates annimosity towards us.

    A lot of the “meddling” that is at the heart of Al-Qaeda’s grievances involved US actions in response to Saddam’s annexation of Kuwait. This includes the mere presence of US troops Saudi Arabia and Kuwait during and after the conflict with the consent of those governments in territory bin Laden considers “holy”.

    But the US was morally justified in spearheading the liberation of Kuwait from annexation by a genocidal fascist regime and deterring any further aggression by keeping troops in place. I would argue it was in the US’s interest also, since the US has profitable trade relations with both. Also the US and the world benefit from a world order in which a country can not annex its neighbor over an oil drilling dispute and expect no consequence.

    Also the US is already involved in a conflict with Al-Qaeda. So even if this conflict might have been avoided by avoiding certain foreign policy actions, this is now a moot point. Now that the US is in this conflict, it should definitely try to kill or capture the top management of Al-Qaeda and similar organizations that are allied with it, and damage those groups enough so they can not carry out major operations.

    A theocracy is the inevitable result of Western meddling. (see Iran after the US imposed Shah, Iraq and Sistani, and Saudi Arabia after Britain’s “help” – among others)

    I don’t think I’d call present-day Iraq a theocracy (this should not be construed to imply endorsement of the 2003 invasion).

    Putting the Shah back in power, and supporting him afterwards, increased anti-US sentiment, and probably made some kind of revolution inevitable. But it is somewhat of a historical accident that the regime that came to power ended up being a Shiite theocracy. There were more secular/leftist factions who contributed to the revolution, but they were marginalized afterwards by the faction that favored sharia.

    And, as a counter-example to this trend, the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan ended a theocracy (and a particularly brutal one).

  18. This article is an endless string of contradictions. How does this guy get to keep writing around here?

    And, not least important, Osama bin Laden is still at large and issuing taped calls for jihad.

    Yeah man. Just go GET that bin Laden bastard. Because everybody knows that if you get him, terrorism both global and local will melt away over night. I mean bin Laden is the ONLY BAD TERRORIST in the whole f***ing world. I mean don’t we like, just already KNOW that or what?

    A classified report from the Joint Chiefs of Staff has recommended that the president shift the focus from nation-building to destroying Taliban and al-Qaida targets in Pakistan.

    And you know this precisely how? Do you mean that you’ve read that classified report, and now you’re telling the world? You either don’t know, or you’ll probably soon be in jail.

    But once Bush turned his attention to Saddam Hussein, he let the Afghan war become an afterthought, lacking sufficient resources and a clear policy.

    Ah! For a moment I forgot. God forgive me! We all know that all the world’s problems can be blamed directly on Bush. Bush is the anti-Christ.

    It makes no difference to our security if Afghanistan is a republic, a monarchy, or a theocracy-as long as it is not a haven for Islamic radicals bent on our annihilation.

    Yeah, just like we didn’t have to defeat communism in Vietnam. We just started shooting communists instead. It worked much better that way. You can always succeed when that’s your goal.

    The obvious next step is to try to peel various Taliban factions away from Bin Laden and Co. by offering them a share of power if they give up the fight.

    Well OBVIOUSLY. I mean, the Afghanis have run full-page newspaper ads that tell us this is all they’re asking for, is a share of power in a corrupt, near-non-existent, sure-to-be-annihilated government. You know, it’s just something that they really want, like they feel it in their souls.

    It also holds the promise of letting us leave in the not-too-distant future without undue risk.

    Yes, because in the not-too-distant future we’ll have shot all the communists. I mean terrorists. I promise.

    Besides, Bush is out of office so now the world can go back to being its warm fuzzy self.

    Bush may have been no saint, but his presidency proved one thing: liberals cannot deal with the realities of international politics and conflict, let alone war. At least 3/4 of the bitching about Bush amounted to a child’s rant. “Mommy mommy, he’s the reason the world is such a terrible place, please make him stop it.”

  19. “Bush may have been no saint, but his presidency proved one thing: liberals cannot deal with the realities of international politics and conflict, let alone war.”

    I thought it proved that “cowboy diplomacy” doesn’t work. I don’t think the wars had anything to do with things like fighting terrorism, and spreading democracy. It’s all about profitability. Isn’t that what Capitalism is all about? Profitability for a few select corporations. We all know who they are, and their relationship to the Bush administration. Just a coincidence?

  20. “liberals cannot deal with the realities of international politics and conflict, let alone war.”

    That’s about as ridiculous as saying the republicans are hell bent on world domination.

  21. Why bother? If they attack you, kick the shit out of them, go home and leave them to stew in their brainless bullshit. Make sure the CIA has plenty of funding for bribes and kick the shit out of them if they threaten you again. Cut the ‘nation building’ and ‘democracy for all’ crap! Defend Western interests (if you can be bothered to protect slimeball cowards) and American interests and let the rest of the world dig their own graves. Oh – and your national interests would be served in a big way if you sent all the nitwit American lefties and liberals to Cuba. Try and get a national vision again, and I don’t mean Obama’s visions, and watch America flourish.

  22. Ah! This is great. Just what I was looking for. Thank you!

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