In the first part of this essay, I suggested that our keeping troops in Iraq was a dangerous exercise, one that was likely to fail. A similar situation is in place in Afghanistan. That country has a long history without a central meaningful government, run by tribal leaders, warlords, narcotics industry moguls and, lately, by religious fanatics and extremists. The people have no history of that which we would consider basic civil liberties. The Soviet Union tried, in its own version of Vietnam, to win the Afghan “hearts and minds” and had the same lack of success as we did in Asia.
And in Afghanistan….
One of the lead stories in the New York Times last week is a fair and accurate summation of the results of our efforts in Afghanistan where President Obama, to my regret, has adopted the Bush rationale in that country as his own. The Times article reported that the Obama people were growing disenchanted with the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, whose supporters allegedly stuffed ballot boxes in the recent elections, while Mr. Karzai struck deals with accused drug dealers and warlords, one of whom is his brother, for political gain. The article added, and this is more significant than the fact the Afghan government was corrupt and venal (we already knew that!) President Karzai “has surprised some in the Obama administration” by turning their anger with him “to an advantage, portraying himself at home as the only political candidate willing to stand up to the dictates of the United States.”
Thomas Friedman, writing in the New York Times:
If this is how our “allies” are treating us in Afghanistan, after eight years, then one really has to ask not whether we can afford to lose there but whether we can afford to win there.
It would be one thing if the people we were fighting with and for represented everything the Taliban did not: decency, respect for women’s rights and education, respect for the rule of law and democratic values and rejection of drug-dealing. But they do not. Too many in this Kabul government are just a different kind of bad. This has become a war between light black – Karzai & Co. – and dark black – Taliban Inc. And light black is simply not good enough to ask Americans to pay for with blood or treasure.
The very able General in charge of the war in Afghanistan, Stanley McChrystal, is requesting additional troops to create something that does not now exist there – a reasonably non-corrupt Afghan state that will serve its people and partner with America in keeping Afghanistan free of drug lords, warlords, the Taliban and Al Qaeda. His plan calls for clearing areas of Taliban control, holding those areas and then building effective local, district and provincial governments – along with a bigger army, real courts, police and public services. Because, as Mr. Friedman points out, only with all that can we hold the support of the Afghan people and avoid a Taliban victory and a re-strengthening of al Qaeda.
That may be true, but one expert, Anthony Cordesman, in a column in The Washington Post, it would require “a significant number” of U.S. reinforcements and time to do what the Kabul government has failed to do, because it remains “a grossly over centralized government that is corrupt, is often a tool of power brokers and narco-traffickers, and lacks basic capacity in virtually every ministry.”
Is that really where we want to send our kids? Is it worth having them killed or maimed?