Thursday, October 22, 2009

America's Long War in Afghanistan

"You can kill Taliban forever because they are not a finite number". Gen. Stanley McChrystal.
Without question, the greatest challenge the United States has faced since Vietnam is the current war in Afghanistan. The war in Iraq was a walk in the park by comparison. Iraq was a modern nation with modern infrastructure and a literate and urban population. Afghanistan is none of these things. At best, one if four Afghans can read, and in many parts of the country, almost no one can read. In Helmand province, where the British were tasked with training police recruits, not one of the recruits could read. How do you train a police recruit who is illiterate and can't complete a simple incident report?

In casual conversations about Afghanistan, an American arrogance often pops up, especially from Conservatives, that by simply providing more American firepower, the sea will part, rainbows will sprout, and I guess the illiterate will read. The failure of Vietnam, they will explain, (58,000 American dead, 2,000 missing and 303,000 wounded, millions of tons of bombs dropped) was a lack of US Military commitment.

The Sunday NY Times Magazine has an excellent article that explains in reasonable detail exactly what Gen McChrystal and through him, the American people, are up against in Afghanistan. and it is daunting.
The magnitude of the choice presented by McChrystal, and now facing President Obama, is difficult to overstate. For what McChrystal is proposing is not a temporary, Iraq-style surge — a rapid influx of American troops followed by a withdrawal. McChrystal’s plan is a blueprint for an extensive American commitment to build a modern state in Afghanistan, where one has never existed, and to bring order to a place famous for the empires it has exhausted. Even under the best of circumstances, this effort would most likely last many more years, cost hundreds of billions of dollars and entail the deaths of many more American women and men.
And a lot of serious people think it's folly to even consider taking on this task of nation building.
George F. Will, the columnist, recently said as much. So did Rory Stewart, the British scholar-diplomat who has spent years in the region. Vice President Biden is said to favor such a choice.
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...Richard Haass,... president of the Council on Foreign Relations. (Before that, through June 2003, Haass was director of policy planning at the State Department under President George W. Bush.) ...is particularly persuasive, in part because he does not pretend to have easy answers. After eight years of mismanagement and neglect, Haass says, every choice the United States faces in Afghanistan is dreadful. The weight of the evidence, he says, suggests that curtailing our ambitions is the option least dreadful.
Nevertheless, I think it's worth a try, but only if we have the aid, financial and otherwise, of the rest of the developed world. We must stop believing that as America we can make miracles through the sure force of our will and with enough guns and bombs. The mission in Afghanistan will only succeed if we modernize this stoneage country with roads, schools, wells and electricity. Of course safety and security come first, but that is only the beggining.

Read the article and tell me what you think.

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