Pride Before The Fall: Expanding Nation Building Efforts In Afghanistan

by Tommy Brown

Apparently, we have decided to double down our bet on building a “new democratic” Afghanistan. For the life of me, I can’t figure out why. From Newsweek International:

The U.S. has some 33,000 troops in Afghanistan battling a resurgent Taliban, but Obama is expected to send up to 30,000 more this year as his administration shifts its focus from the war in Iraq to Afghanistan.

Speaking in Pakistan, NATO’s Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said the new troops will take the fight to “places where it was not, or insufficiently, possible up till now.”

Scheffer said other NATO allies should also boost troop levels in Afghanistan if possible, but also increase the number of civilian experts to help with reconstruction and development in a country brought to its knees by decades of war.

“I do see the need for the military surge President Obama is proposing, but it should be met with a civilian surge,” he told reporters. “Let us not be under the illusion that extra U.S. force (alone) will do the trick.”

Now, I’m not happy at all with the whole idea of an Afghanistan surge, which is basically pointless and counterproductive. But to attempt to try to form Afghanistan into some kind of pluralistic Western democracy not only tops the stupidity meter, it causes it to explode. Now, don’t get me wrong, I have no issue with MEDCAPS (medical civic action programs, where the natives are given free medical care by our military) or Provincial Reconstruction Teams as long as American troops are in-country, to help tamp down the inevitable explosion. But the fact is, and always has been, that the Afghans, whether Pashtun, Uzbek, Kazakh or whatever, are probably the most antiauthoritarian people on Earth. They are not down with the whole good governance ideal, outside of being a good warlord for your people. The idea of a central Afghani government, even before the Soviet War, was always more theoretical than actual.

So the idea of a creating a democratic Afghanistan is sheer folly at best. President Karzai is basically the mayor of Kabul and the Afghan National Army is loyal to him, not to the country. The minute we pull our troops out, there will be a big throwdown between the major warlords and the Karzai government to see who gets to run the nicest parts of the country. It will be settled the traditional Afghan way, with one warlord emerging on top after killing his rivals to the throne. This is going to happen no matter what, and there’s really no point in delaying it with American lives. Really, if we were smart, we would let Karzai eliminate his rivals before we leave, to give him a better shot at staying El Presidente.

Now, I’m sure this idea will be met with a hue and cry about how Afghanistan is the real war and we need to finish it. The fact remains, though, that as long as the Taliban and Al Qaeda have contiguous safe haven in the Pakistani border regions and the Afghan government is a bunch of competing warlords whose allegiances shift with the wind, they are basically untouchable. And the real fact of the matter is, with David Petraeus taking over the Afghan occupation as well, it is pretty much a guarantee that he is going to cut a deal with the Taliban to force a wedge between them and Al Qaeda, just like he did with the Sunni Arabs and Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia in Iraq.

And it’s not just a good idea, it’s a great idea. The Taliban harbored AQ before 9/11, but having bad house guests is no reason to kill people for almost a decade, and it’s pretty much a guarantee that if they would retake southern Afghanistan, they will not be building any camps there (because they already have plenty in Pakistan). And for those filled with moral outrage about brokering a truce with the Taliban, if we can deal with the secular Sunnis in Iraq (read: former Ba’athists) against the Islamists, we can deal with the Talis.

The only way I could ever buy that the Afghan surge is a good idea is if it will be run along the lines of the Iraqi surge: Giving the American military the upper hand, however briefly, to have a better bargaining position with the locals. A surge for that purpose would be worth the cost; one simply to expand our nation-building presence is unacceptable. Pakistan is the real issue, the real central front of the “War on Terror,” and the sooner people realize it the better off we’ll be.<–>

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