Our Schizophrenic Afghanistan Policy

Tom Friedman’s column on Afghanistan epitomizes the shouting match over our policy with respect to the conduct of the war there among isolationists, foreign policy realists, and interventionists:

I confess, I find it hard to come to Afghanistan and not ask: Why are we here? Who cares about the Taliban? Al Qaeda is gone. And if its leaders come back, well, that’s why God created cruise missiles.

But on the other hand:

In grand strategic terms, I still don’t know if this Afghan war makes sense anymore. I was dubious before I arrived, and I still am. But when you see two little Afghan girls crouched on the front steps of their new school, clutching tightly with both arms the notebooks handed to them by a U.S. admiral — as if they were their first dolls — it’s hard to say: “Let’s just walk away.” Not yet.

There’s something that unites these two apparently contradictory quotes that bracket the column. Sending little girls to school in Afghanistan or Pakistan is just as deadly to the traditional cultures there as a cruise missile and I strongly suspect that those who want to preserve and promote those traditions understand that very well.

It’s not just the U. S. troops they want out of their countries but the Christian missionaries and the women’s rights groups and the other foreign NGO’s promoting technological, economic, and social change, preventing them from realizing their own ideas of paradise which seem to many Westerners a lot more like hell.

FILED UNDER: Afghanistan War, General, ,
Dave Schuler
About Dave Schuler
Over the years Dave Schuler has worked as a martial arts instructor, a handyman, a musician, a cook, and a translator. He's owned his own company for the last thirty years and has a post-graduate degree in his field. He comes from a family of politicians, teachers, and vaudeville entertainers. All-in-all a pretty good preparation for blogging. He has contributed to OTB since November 2006 but mostly writes at his own blog, The Glittering Eye, which he started in March 2004.


  1. Bill H says:

    Except that social causes should be pursued by social means. This whole “I’m going to send my som to Afghanistan to die so that little girls can go to school.” thing is beyond insane. That is the kind of nonsense that one begins spouting when the “fighting for America’s freedom” thing has utterly broken down.

  2. I’m starting to come around on the futility of Afghanistan. Al Qaeda suppression is the strategic goal. Saving Afghanistan from itself might be worthy, too, but it’s hard to rationalize that against American casualties.

    Partly I’m reassured by the effectiveness of Predator drones. They make the need for large in-country forces less important for suppressing terrorist activity.

    I assume we have a next generation drone in the planning. There’s no reason a next-gen drone couldn’t be launched and retrieved by aircraft flown from fairly distant bases.

    For that matter there’s no reason drones can’t eventually be used at eyeball level and deploy smaller more directed weapons.

  3. So there are no easy obvious answers. Wow. Deep thoughts from Mr. Friedman.

    … that’s why God created cruise missiles.

    News flash, God didn’t create cruise missiles, the US military-industrial complex did. And besides, that’s a deeply, deeply cynical foreign policy. I do have a question for Mr. Friedman, if he really believes that, where do we stop using cruise missiles as the easy, painless (at least for American soldiers) way to deal with tough problems. This runs so counter to the counterinsurgency strategy being employed these days. Gosh, I thought every time we killed a terrorist we created ten more.

    Anyway, boots on the ground are the only way to take and hold territory. Always have been, always will be. You can break things with cruise missiles, but that’s about it. Hearts and minds are never going to be changed or won with cruise missiles. You can make an argument that we shouldn’t worry about Afghanistan, but I don’t think you can make an argument that we’ll walk away and bounce the rubble with cruise missiles if there’s a problem. Can you imagine getting a UN resolution to support that?

    Before we ask, “Why are we in Afghanistan?”, perhaps we should be asking, “Why are we in Germany?”

  4. Eric Florack says:

    Let’s talk about that “traditional culture” shall we? Hell, indeed.

    Let’s not make the usual noises PC about how all cultures are equal or should be respected.

  5. Mike says:

    We are in Germany for strategic reasons. Don’t try to act like our forces in Germany are anything in remotely like in Afghanistan. When I was stationed there, I could drive around town without a weapon or kevlar. You are trying to compare apples and oranges.

  6. Legion says:

    Well, if you _truly_ don’t care about the Taliban, then you’re a moron with no short-term memory. Aside from the inhuman treatment of pretty much everyone in the Afghan countryside (especially women), they used their influence to take over the country and provide a safe have for AQ – that percieved immunity from ordinary reprisal gave AQ the confidence and, frankly, the resources to attempt something as grand as 9-11. Yes, I know Bin Laden had tons of money, but it’s hard to spend that kind of cash without a permanent address to ship the goodies to…

    As for why we’re still there now? Well, it appears it’s a lot harder to root out that kind of influlence with just “cruise missiles” and a few tens of thousands in patchwork coalition troops. I have never for a moment believed that Islam was a threat to the US, Western civilisation, or Christianity in general, but the Taliban is a different story, and we simply don’t have the manpower in place to actually get rid of them. We may not have the resources at all (I don’t know what it would truly take), but while they’re still around, military presence is the _only_ way those social changes – the ones that actually do take the Taliban’s power and influence away – will occur and stay.

  7. Eric Florack says:

    We agree to a ceratin extent, Legion.
    For the most part in fact, in this.

    I’m not comfortable, though, with the seperation you propose between AQ and Islam in the region, thinking you prostulate a seperation where there is none. Look at the link I put up in the last post. Are we to assume that the abuses documented there, are AQ in action? If so, their infleunce is Iran is more powerful than even I envisioned, since the thing takes on the appearence of the abuses being meted out by the Iranian government, or some arm thereof, not AQ per se’.

    In the end, I suspect the bigger enemy is the ideals of extremist Islam… and as history shows us an idea… and ideal… however twisted… is a hard thing to stamp out.

  8. We are in Germany for strategic reasons. Don’t try to act like our forces in Germany are anything in remotely like in Afghanistan. When I was stationed there, I could drive around town without a weapon or kevlar. You are trying to compare apples and oranges.

    1. And we are in Afghanistan for strategic reasons too. It’s not an either or hypothetical.

    2. I’m not trying to act like anything, though your sentence is a little confusing. I also never said Germany is like Afghanistan in any way whatsoever. You imagined that. But are you making an argument that we should only position troops were there is little to no danger? Is that our priume directive?

    3. Not apples and oranges. The whole point is that there are costs to keeping troops anywhere and in theory, at least, benefits for doing so. I’m speaking in terms of a cost benefit analysis. So tell me again, what is the cost/benefit ratio of having troops in Germany vice Afghanistan?

  9. Legion says:

    I think you may be confusing some terms… AQ is a terrorist group, while the Taliban are an extremist and violently conservative sect of Islam, split from the Sunni side of the aisle. Both the Taliban and the gov’t of Iran have given support to AQ, but there is a very definite difference between AQ and the others – unless you propose no real separation between something like the IRA and the Catholic Church.

    And as for extremist Islam, I find cause to worry about any form of religious extremism, since it invariably leads to the dehumanization of & violence against anyone who isn’t of that religion (and in later stages, those who aren’t of that exact sect). But again, there’s a significant divide between the players mentioned, and each has to be dealt with differently…

  10. Mike says:

    Charles – my point is that our forces are in Germany and they train to do their wartime mission – this is sustainable and has been for 50 years.

    The forces in Iraq/Afghan are not training and this is not sustainable (don’t take my word for it – look at GEN Casey’s and every other experts’ thoughts on it) – now there is a benefit to the Army to the real world mission and the lessons our military learns, however, it is not sustainable to sit there at 60,000 plus until things get better. we can sit in germany, Korea, and other overseas installations b/c it is not burning out the forces AND there are strategic reasons for being there.