Change Of Season

by dday

I know that the media can only focus on one thing at a time, but this is a very sensitive moment for Afghanistan. US commanders and international diplomats alike are seeing a scenario that is very close to being lost.

The cable, written in French, paraphrases the 53-year-old British ambassador as saying:

The security situation is bad and getting worse.

The Afghan people have lost all trust in their current government, partly because of corruption.

The presence of foreign troops in the country is part of the problem, propping up the current regime and thus slowing progress toward Afghans putting a more effective government in place.

Sending more military reinforcements to Afghanistan would have a "perverse effect" on the country's stability and future, sending the message that an occupying force is in control of the country and widening the number of targets for insurgents to attack.

That last two are important. Many have this view that adding forces is all that's needed to stabilize a security problem. Call it "the Iraq delusion." John McCain has outright said this, that we need a "surge" in Afghanistan the way we surged in Iraq. Of course, the commander of NATO forces on the ground knows that the two countries aren't even remotely comparable:

First of all, please don’t think that I’m saying there’s no room for tribal engagement in Afghanistan, because I think it’s very necessary. But I think it’s much more complex environment of tribal linkages, and intertribal complexity than there is in Iraq. It’s not as simple as taking the Sunni Awakening and doing the Pashtun Awakening in Afghanistan. It’s much more complex than that.

But there are countless other differences between Iraq and Afghanistan. In Afghanistan, it’s such a poor country, by any set of metrics you can imagine. A country that has very harsh geography. It’s very difficult to move around, getting back to our reliance on helicopters. It’s a country with very few natural resources, as opposed to the oil revenues that [Iraq] has. There’s very little money to be generated in terms of generated in Afghanistan. The literacy rate — you have a literate society in Iraq, you have a society that has a history of producing civil administrators, technocrats, middle class that are able to run the country in Iraq. You do not have that in Afghanistan. So there’s educational challenges, challenges of human capitol that I mentioned earlier.

So there are a lot of challenges. What I don’t think is needed — the word that I don’t use in Afghanistan is the word “surge.” There needs to be a sustained commitment of a variety of military and non-military resources, I believe. That’s my advice to winning in Afghanistan. It won’t be a short-term solution.

Of course, McKiernan also wants more troops, so while he doesn't use the word "surge," he at least thinks that adding forces can only have a salutary effect on the country. There is Afghanistan as we knew it in 2002, when a grateful nation was happy to have help in getting rid of the Taliban, and there is Afghanistan today, where the public has lost faith in the government, the Taliban is controlling major sections of the country, and those who have endured six years of aerial bombing don't see NATO troops as saviors.

... I don’t think it’s reasonable to say that six or seven years later, we can just roll up our sleeves and rededicating ourselves to achieving the goals we were told we achieved years ago. The situation has changed, windows of opportunity open and close, and our mission has gotten very murky. Oftentimes when this kind of operation goes on long enough the goal becomes “succeeding” — or, rather, doing something or other that whoever’s in charge of the operation could plausibly label success. But we need to think, instead, more concretely about what it is we’re hoping to achieve in Afghanistan — specifically, does preventing portions of Afghanistan from serving as a base for terrorist operation directed at the United States really require us to establish an effective central state in Afghanistan?

That is the key question that I don't think either Presidential candidate has answered. They are arguing for an intervention in Afghanistan circa 2002. Time has changed circumstances.