Other Voices, Other Rooms
I guess there was a big confab of the War Council yesterday about what to do in Afghanistan, and clearly the team has split over a counter-insurgency or a counter-terrorism strategy. Now, in many ways that's two sides of the same coin, just a matter of how to explain the killing of foreigners. And I don't know if either strategy gets us closer to an exit - we're not going to kill every terrorist, as surely as we're not going to convert every Afghani into a tribune of democracy. But I do think it's clear that shifting away from a COIN strategy at least offers the possibility of getting us out of the region in a shorter period of time, and hopefully with less blood on our hands. So I'm rooting for the Biden faction. It appears that Bob Gates is the key swing vote here.
That said, the next War Council meeting could maybe have a representative of the people from the country whose destiny is being decided by men in suits half a world away.
Reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan - Take advice from locals instead of trying to impose your own ideas on a tribal society. Invite the Taliban to the negotiating table. Use traditional governing structures rather than reinventing the wheel. And spend a lot more money on plowshares than on swords [...]
Afghans interviewed in their shops and on the streets have plenty of advice for the U.S. president and his allies: Don't necessarily leave, but for your sake and for ours, you'd better get a lot smarter about what you do here.
Several said they welcomed the presence of U.S. and NATO troops, whom they view as far more benign than the Soviets who occupied the country in the 1980s. They fear that a rapid withdrawal of foreign forces could throw the country into another civil war.
But they don't necessarily think a foreign military buildup is the answer.
"I'm afraid the Taliban will only get stronger," said Obiadullah Zahir, 30, a dress merchant, standing beside a row of attired mannequins with broken noses and missing arms. "I'm afraid America will leave and war return." [...]
Either you try to get the Taliban to buy in, said Amin Khatir, 24, a student in the capital, or you face an enemy that is increasingly entrenched, organized and more broadly distributed. That's a big problem, no matter how many pieces of fancy equipment foreign armies may wield.
"The Americans only want to deal with those they meet with, who speak English, not the ones farther away," Khatir said. "An election can't solve more than 1% of our problems. We must find a new way, and the main issue is security." [...]
Rather than sanction some minimally acceptable election, he said, Afghanistan should convene a traditional loya jirga, or meeting of power brokers from around the country, as it did after the Taliban was ousted.
"If you pile more bricks onto an unstable house, the whole thing will collapse," he said.
Are any of these sentiments making it into the War Council?
Mr. President, you're being very deliberative about this process. Be sure to get some local perspectives, too. It's your bombs, but it's their county, after all.