Guardian: No Nation-Building in Afghanistan!
The Guardian has come out against the current conduct of the war in Afghanistan:
The empty rhetoric has to stop. State-building from the ramp of a Chinook is a fantasy, a folie de grandeur. The war against militants will not be won by expanding the battle-space. The resolution to this “good war” will not come from Kabul alone, but will be dependent on every neighbouring country with a stake in the conflict. The directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence made a telling point to the New York Times yesterday when it warned that a push by US marines in southern Afghanistan would force militants into Baluchistan. We have to stop thinking of Helmand as the frontline in a war that ends on the streets of London or Manhattan, and start thinking of what the growing conflagration is doing to Afghanistan’s immediate neighbourhood. There are no good options after eight years of warfare, only least worst ones. We should stop pouring more oil on to this fire and start thinking of realistic outcomes. And we should be doing this now.
Hat tip: Steve Hynd
The Guardian is the first British newspaper to come out in opposition to current policies, a reversal of editorial position for the newspaper.
The best Afghan policy would be to reduce the number of foreign troops from the current level of 90,000 to far fewer — perhaps 20,000. In that case, two distinct objectives would remain for the international community: development and counter-terrorism. Neither would amount to the building of an Afghan state. If the West believed it essential to exclude al-Qaida from Afghanistan, then they could do it with special forces. (They have done it successfully since 2001 and could continue indefinitely, though the result has only been to move bin Laden across the border.) At the same time the West should provide generous development assistance — not only to keep consent for the counter-terrorism operations, but as an end in itself.
A reduction in troop numbers and a turn away from state-building should not mean total withdrawal: good projects could continue to be undertaken in electricity, water, irrigation, health, education, agriculture, rural development and in other areas favoured by development agencies. We should not control and cannot predict the future of Afghanistan. It may in the future become more violent, or find a decentralised equilibrium or a new national unity, but if its communities continue to want to work with us, we can, over 30 years, encourage the more positive trends in Afghan society and help to contain the more negative.
Stewart is an authority on Afghan culture and society and has lived there and traveled extensively throughout the region, frequently on foot.
Stewart’s view sounds remarkably similar to my own. Counter-terrorism activities, including preventing Al Qaeda and the Taliban from resuming their control over Afghanistan, are consistent with our interests. A complete withdrawal from Afghanistan is not consistent with our interests. Counter-insurgency which requires the possibly unachievable objective of creating a coherent nation state in Afghanistan capable of preventing Al Qaeda and the Taliban from reasserting control over the country, the course on which we are now embarked, is not within our interests because it is probably outside our grasp. The more modest counter-terrorism activities can be accomplished with a signficantly smaller commitment of troops and other resources.
At the very least our policies with respect to Afghanistan deserve serious review. Such a review must go beyond campaign promises and sound bites and hold American interests as the yardstick against which our policies should be measured rather than Republican or Democratic interests or their effect on the next election campaign.