Tell Me Why We’re There?

The title above is not just the title of this post—it’s the title of a policy brief from the Center for a New American Security, an organization whose members seem to be exerting quite a bit of influence on the new administration. The brief is an explication of our enduring interests in Afghanistan and Pakistan and its authors include people whose work I admire quite a bit, e.g. David Kilcullen.

The brief identifies two interests for the United States in Afghanistan and Pakistan (from the abstract):

U.S. interests in Afghanistan may be summarized as “two no’s”: there must be no sanctuary for terrorists with global reach in Afghanistan, and there must be no broader regional meltdown. Securing these objectives requires helping the Afghans to build a sustainable system of governance that can adequately ensure security for the Afghan people—the “yes” upon which a successful exit strategy depends.

While I agree completely with the first sentence in that paragraph, its connection to the second sentence wasn’t entirely clear to me. To be brutally honest it reminds me a bit of the South Park Underpants Gnomes. In order to secure objectives that I agree are worth achieving we apparently must accomplish something that’s never been accomplished before, that may not even be possible, and that we’re not getting enough cooperation from the Afghans on to suggest that it might be possible. No one doubts that the present Afghan government is very corrupt.

Can we build up the Afghan government faster than the Afghan government can undermine itself?

The brief itself is only three pages long—read it in full.

FILED UNDER: 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.

Comments

  1. Brett says:

    I almost wonder if we’ve got our priorities right. We need to stamp out the tribalism in Afghanistan, not merely buy it off – that requires institutions that pull the next generation of young men and women into our orbit and away from the Islamist and tribal loyalties. Perhaps we ought to take a look at some of the style of organizations that the Soviet Union used in what are now the Central Asian republics to break down tribalism and create cadres of followers. That helped create nationalism in those areas.

  2. steve s says:

    Uh…have you ever heard of Chechnya? Those muslims have fought the occupying Russians for the last hundred years.

    Yeah, maybe you could break the, you know, multi-thousand year history of tribalism in afghanistan, forge a sense of nationalism, not only impose a western government on them but have them like and support it…

    Tell you what: you do that. I’ll check back in ten years from now, when you’ve spent over a trillion more dollars, lost a few thousand more lives, and made no progress whatsoever.

  3. Michael says:

    I almost wonder if we’ve got our priorities right. We need to stamp out the tribalism in Afghanistan, not merely buy it off – that requires institutions that pull the next generation of young men and women into our orbit and away from the Islamist and tribal loyalties.

    Wouldn’t it be easier to just remove people from their tribal areas, a big population shakeup if you will?

  4. Dantheman says:

    “Uh…have you ever heard of Chechnya? Those muslims have fought the occupying Russians for the last hundred years.”

    Try over 200. Tolstoy wrote some great stories based on his experiences as a Russian officer there.

  5. Stamp out tribalism? Hmmm… that’s like stamping Nascar out of the South.

  6. steve s says:

    Stamp out tribalism? Hmmm… that’s like stamping Nascar out of the South.

    LOL! I live in the deep south. I can assure you that if you tried to stamp out NASCAR here you’d indeed have an armed terrorist insurrection on your hands. You can’t go in from the outside and change people’s cultures without Herculean effort and resources. And since we’re not going to spend a trillion dollars a year for several decades we’re not going to change Afghanistan’s culture.

    George Will once said that conservatives understand that some problems don’t have solutions. Afghanistan is one such problem. Wasting blood and money there is pointless. The brits figured that out. The Russians figured that out. Why can’t we figure it out?

    “We Americans are a stupid people by and large.”

    –Detective Norris,
    The Wire

    Pessimism aside, I actually think we’ll do better than Britain or Russia. The brits lost tens of thousands in Afghanistan. The Russians lost 15,000. We’ve only lost 600. If Obama’s as smart as he seems to be he’ll figure out a way to cut our losses and leave. The wingnut brigade will call him a traitor and say he lost Afghanistan, but smart people will know better.

  7. Brett says:

    not only impose a western government on them but have them like and support it…

    Who said anything about a “western government”? I’d settle simply for having a non-Islamist nationalism and a centrally controlled state.

    Like I said, the Soviets did it in Central Asia, building up cadres of devoted followers who then attacked many of the older traditions and tribalism, and helped create a kind of nationalism in these areas (which the Soviets actually helped, by carving them up into various regions and encouraging the formation of patronage networks by local leaders). Look up the book Islam After Communism – it talks about this in much greater detail.

    Of course, you would need to offer money and rewards to pull away young men and women from their tribal loyalties, schools to inculcate a kind of secular nationalism virulantly opposed to the kind of Islamism that the Taliban advocates, and so forth. That’s more or less what the Taliban did, by setting madrassas for young men, offering rewards and training (much of it helped by Pakistan’s ISI), and so forth.

    In the meantime, we need to continue working to make it possible for the current central government in Kabul to effectively operate, by building roads, offering continued training and weaponry to the Afghan Army, and securing supply lines.

  8. steve says:

    Despite their disclaimers, I fear they try to translate too much from Iraq into Afghanistan. I am a Kilcullen fan also. I hope for more from him after he gets to spend more time exclusively on Afghanistan. The culture there is much different than Iraq. Iraq was more urbanized with a history of central government. The Afghans have less experience of central government and much distrust of it.

    Steve

  9. tom p says:

    A good synopsis, thanx Dave. Not much to say that I haven’t already said before.
    But I would add to this:

    Can we build up the Afghan government faster than the Afghan government can undermine itself?

    “and before this whole mess undermines the Pakistani gov’t any more than it already has.”

  10. davod says:

    “The Russians figured that out” – No they didn’t. They were driven out by a combination of bad pr at home and the defenders improved weaponry.

    “The Brits lost tens of thousands in Afghanistan”

    I doubt they lost tens of thousands of troops.
    There were very few times the Brits came off second during their expeditions to Afghanistan.

    Hal G.P. Colebatch, in his March 2, 2007 Spectator article “The Myth of Afghanistan”, says the following:

    “The relatively few British adventures in Afghanistan, apart from one-off punitive expeditions, were, like the allied campaign today, basically attempts to support or set up friendly governments and then get out, not to conquer and annex or occupy the country. They had limited objectives and were for the most part successful…”

    http://spectator.org/archives/2007/03/02/the-myth-of-afghanistan/2

  11. Dave Schuler says:

    In the First Anglo-Afghan War the British lost about 5,000 soldiers and about 12,000 civilians.