Sunday, October 18, 2009

Afghanistan: the Next Step

Since the President is in a listening mood, I thought I'd throw in my three cents regarding what to do with Afghanistan. There is no doubt that the single, clearest goal in all military and security efforts since 2001, and from now on, had to be, should have been, and should be, to bring to justice those responsible for 9/11 and those conspiring to bring about similar crimes.

The initial invasion of Afghanistan had decent prospects of achieving that goal in short order. However, the military execution raised the question of credibility: why was Osama bin Laden cornered, then allowed to escape? Moreover, the invasion of Iraq was a distracting error that should never have happened.

The mission in Afghanistan should never be confused with stabilizing or in any way changing or influencing that country's internal functioning.

Afghanistan is, after all, a country slightly smaller than Texas, with only 12 percent of its territory containing arable land. No one quite knows the population of Afghanistan (estimates range between 28 and 33 million) and it is easily one of the three or four poorest and most backward nations in the world. This is not a country with a few minor problems.

One journalist who was there recounted that Afghan villagers asked why U.S. troops had arrived. He explained 9/11 and people laughed at him in disbelief: airplanes flying into buildings how tall? Remember, most Afghan villagers don't have TV or radio or newspapers (most can't read, anyway) and have likely never seen an airplane or a building higher than three stories, if that.

Developing Afghanistan, bringing roads, schools and modern technology may be high minded, but that is a task to accomplish over generations. Let's not get too cocky about this, either: It took the United States 381 years to go from a primitive settlement on Plymouth Rock, Mass., to the launch of the iPod.

Besides, how do we know that our kind of society is really an advance? Do we want to export to Afghanistan our American clogged freeways, drug problems and obesity?

As to making change by military force ... forget about it!

The mountainous Central Asian nation has been the burial ground of the hordes of Genghis Khan, the quicksand of British military expeditions in the 19th century and in the 20th swallowed whole entire divisions of the very same Red Army that defeated Hitler. What makes any American even think that the U.S. military would experience anything less?

Overthrowing the Taliban, despite its religious affinity with Al Qaeda, was most likely a crass error. Sure, it provided images and headlines of "victory" similar to those of World War II, but it also landed Afghanistan on our laps.

A more realistic view would be to let "the Afghan bastards," in George Patton's salty language, deal with the problems of Afghanistan. If Afghanistan is a base for Al-Qaeda, let's get them there; if Osama and his gang are elsewhere, let's go where they are and capture them there.

Let's leave fixing all the world's problems for another post, another policy.

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