A Proposal For Afghanistan
Part One: Two Op-Eds
There were two op-eds on Afghanistan in this morning's Times. Predictably, Boot, Kagan, and Kagan's "How to Surge the Taliban" is, as the physicists say, not even wrong. I'll leave it to others to pick the article apart; I have far more intellectually challenging things to do today, like spending an hour or so meticulously shaving the pith from a pile of navel orange skins. (I want to make mock chicken orange sometime soon.)
Leslie Gelb's "How to Leave Afghanistan" is both impractical and strangely clueless about the law of unintended consequences. For example, Gelb proposes:
India in particular wants to combat extremism in Pakistan. It could do that by reducing its forces on the border with Pakistan, for example, thereby allowing Pakistani moderates to focus their attention more on the growing and already formidable extremist threat within.About two seconds of serious thought - can you say "Kashmir conflict?" - should make it quite apparent that, barring an unlikely diplomatic rapprochment between India and Pakistan - completely unspecificed by Gelb, and for good reason, because it is unimaginable on the scale he's talking about - this isn't going to happen. Obviously, if India reduces troop levels, Pakistan won't concentrate on their west but instead will increase their efforts to annex Kashmir. And then, India will react, Pakistan will respond and...
And then there's this:
The more the Taliban set up shop inside Afghanistan, the more vulnerable they will be to American punishment. Taliban leaders must have good reason to fear America’s military reach. Their leaders could be hit by drones or air strikes. The same goes for their poppy fields, from which they derive considerable income. This is part of the exact same fallacy that created Bush/Iraq. People, especially leaders of fanatical movements, don't think this way. They fight back. Hard. In other words, what Gelb is suggesting here - bombing the Taliban into compliance - will increase terrorism against Americans and also inevitably lead to the troop escalation he claims to deplore.
Finally, Gelb lapses into incoherence:
Withdrawal need not mean defeat for America and victory for terrorists, if the full range of American power is used effectively. Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger proved that by countering the nasty aftereffects of Vietnam’s fall to communism in a virtuoso display of American power. They did this by engaging in triangular diplomacy with China and the Soviet Union; brokering a de facto peace between Israel and Egypt; and re-establishing American prowess in Asia as a counterweight to emerging Chinese power. By 1978, three years after Saigon’s fall, America’s position in the area was stronger than at any time since the end of World War II.I have absolutely no idea what Gelb is talking about here. For example, exactly what "area" is Gelb talking about? Could he possibly mean Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos in 1978? Is Gelb making some kind of sick joke about American prowess? That area was devastated by American foreign policy. Also, what's Egypt and Israel got to do with Asia? Furthermore, the last I checked, Richard Nixon wasn't president in 1978 and Kissinger, thank God, was no longer in the US government.
Gelb has not thought clearly about the problems for the US in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Part Two: An Alternative
I will now propose an alternative solution to the situation in Afghanistan. Gelb glancingly discussed something similar in his article, but didn't have either the intelligence or intellectual courage to place it front and center. I propose we revive an idea that was raised by some of us in the frenzied month after 9/11, when the rest of the country, including Bush, was eagerly signing up for war on bin Laden's terms and on his turf.
I propose we bomb Afghanistan. I propose we carpet bomb Afghanistan. With butter and silicon.
In other words, I propose a massive program of economic and technological aid to Afghanistan, unprecedented in scope and ambition, dwarfing the Marshall Plan. I propose building schools by the thousands and hospitals by the hundreds to win over the hearts and minds of the people. I propose a massive infrastructure project to connect even the most isolated areas of Afghanistan by modern highways and sustainable energy sources, thereby providing Afghanis with the opportunity to grow their economy. I propose paying the poppy farmers large subsidies to grow other crops. I propose establishing factories to manufacture the latest chips and high tech gadgets.
Of course, there's a very ugly word that succinctly describes my idea. But simply because I'm suggesting what might be described as out-and-out bribery is no reason to dismiss it out of hand. Had we bribed Saddam with, say $50 billion, he almost certainly would have left Iraq, and countless thousands of Iraqis, not to mention some 4257 Americans, would still be alive. And we would have saved some $150 billion.
Besides, bribery works, at least it has in Iraq, To the extent that the "surge" had any positive effect, much of it was due to the bribes we doled out to Sunnis - who were fighting the US presence - so that they would instead attack the terrorist group called "al Qaeda in Iraq."
Butter and tech, hearts and minds. That, and not force, represents the best hope to meet the confounding challenges for American security that today's Afghanistan represents.
Part Three: Discussion
Now, there are a few wee problems with my proposals, not the least of which are these: the United States is broke, busted, disgusted, and our agents can't be trusted. Another bunch of problems: there is a pile a mile high and wide of corpses, all inadvertent victims of American largesse and intervention. There are damn good reasons why this great book was written.
And there's another problem. Everything I proposed - well, nearly everything - is stuff we should doing here, in the US, and can't, for a variety of reasons, mostly going under the rubric "Republican."
But before you dismiss my idea as pure poppycock, I want to ask you: Is it any less reasonable than Boot, Kagan, and Kagan's utterly absurd ideas? Is it any less full of unwarranted assumptions, bad analyses, and foolish misplaced hopes than Gelb's?
That is my point. As bad as the idea I've proposed is - and yes, I really don't amy faith in it - it really is only slightly worse than those of the so-called experts. And maybe, in some ways, it's a better idea. You should be afraid, very afraid:
First, Gelb's stupefyingly bad op-ed and the neocon idiocies of Boot, et al, are as good as it gets in the upper reaches of American foreign policy wonkdom.
Second, that will not prevent the rest of the foreign policy mucky-mucks from discussing these terrible ideas in sober, reasoned tones.
Finally, and most importantly, the problems George W. Bush and his irresponsible gang of fools left the world with are unbelievably dangerous. Even a foreign policy establishment filled with geniuses - which is never the case - would find many of the holes Bush dug nearly impossible to climb out of.
We live in interesting times. Very interesting times.