This post caught my attention. The argument that Jeffrey Goldberg makes is that Afghanistan isn’t really a “central front” in any kind of war on terror. (An aside, once again, why are we fighting a tactic?Using current nomenclature we should call the Cold War the “War on Missiles, Tanks, and Submarines” or something.) Anyway, my quibbles with Goldberg’s wording aside, I think he raises a salient point: Afghanistan is a place where al Qaeda could train, but most of al Qaeda’s members come from elsewhere.
What this means is that NATO is caught in a place where there was little native impulse to attack NATO countries because the preceding regime had allowed al Qaeda to hide out there. NATO troops may be able to make some temporary improvements in the lives of women, but these seem not to withstand NATO’s withdrawal from any particular area. Reforms do not extend beyond the range of NATO arms.
It should now be readily apparent that all we are doing in Afghanistan is propping up a budding dictator in Hamid Karzai while creating native anger at the West by bombing weddings and destroying the poppy crop that provides a livelihood for many farmers.
Today we have further confirmation of the longstanding suspicions of many progressives, namely that the NATO mission in Afghanistan is likely doomed to failure. The report leaked to WaPo indicates that US Gen. McChrystal has serious doubts about the ability of NATO to overcome the Taliban insurgency. The one caveat he does give is that success (however he is defining it) could be secured by adding troops.
More troops from where?
Most NATO countries, including Canada, are lukewarm to the idea of pouring more forces into Afghanistan and the US itself still has major commitments in Iraq. In the meantime the accusations of corruption inside Afghanistan likely do little to invigorate anyone in NATO with the idea that democracy or human rights are being defended. Karzai is looking more and more like your average Western-backed pseudo-democratic puppet dictator.
We need to seriously ask what, if anything, we can do for Afghanistan.
It appears as though Canada is having difficulty finding another NATO country to take our place in the dangerous Kandahar province. Predictably, right-wingers think our only course is to play the sucker for NATO and stay in the worst part of a troubled country in the vague hope that will modernize an ancient tribal society in 5-10 years. They tout the “stay the course” line – one wonders if the insignia of Canada’s hawks ought to be the captain of the Titanic – unprepared to play hardball over this. Ask some questions you guys:
Should anyone be occupying Afghanistan?
Will it result in any long-term positive social change?
If so, why should Canada be stuck in the worst part of this job?
I thought we had matured as a nation past the point where some imperial idiot like Douglas Haig could simply order us to be cannon fodder. Now some people ensconced the National Post’s editorial office would have us volunteer.
It appears as though an American air strike has killed a number of Afghan construction workers. The coalition has said that it is looking into this incident. One imagines that the result will be that something like “faulty intelligence” or “communications failures” will the the cause. No one will really be reprimanded and it will go on at before – at least for the coalition.
For Afghans that see no justice done for the sake of these innocent construction workers, this will confirm whatever suspicions they have that the coalition is full of hypocrites who decry the Taliban but let every non-Taliban warlord join the government, who demand a constitution and rule of law but scoff at the idea of holding any of their own to account.
NATO’s conduct in situations like this matter, I have no doubt that everyone in the village, even the province, where this incident happened will remember it, but we here will forget it in a day or two and then furrow our brows as we try to comprehend why so many of them do not like us after all we’ve done for them.
I think that has to be the net effect of poppy-eradication in Afghanistan. Barnett Rubin continues his excellent series of posts on the matter. This insistence (mainly on the part of the US according to Rubin) on bringing the drug war to Afghanistan and making it a significant part of the West’s policy for the country will surely be one of the things that undoes whatever goodwill NATO has left among the Afghans. By eradicating poppy crops in country where there is precious little that can be grown is surely a way to turn a farmer into a terrorist or terrorist-sympathizer.
It now appears that the Canadian government “respects” the Afghan government’s decision to reinstate mass executions. The very same Afghan government is now reaching out to the Taliban. In what way are NATO forces actually improving the country? If these sorts of things are allowed to happen, one wonders where the limit is. What would be so bad that NATO would actually threaten to withdraw or take some other serious measure?
In an effort to prop up the mission in Afghanistan and somehow prove it isn’t an imperial enterprise, the pro-war Torch insists that we listen to ordinary Afghans on the NATO mission there. After quotes from four honest-to-God Afghans, The Torch rests its case. In a country of 30 million they found four people who like ISAF. Game, set, and match.
Okay, calm down, I’m using a literary device here known as sarcasm. What’s really silly is the conclusion that the Torch draws from these four possibly representative Afghans:
“They’re asking for our help. That’s all they want: a hand up. It baffles me why so many Canadians want to deny them that.”
The question that this reasoning begs is whether we are even able to offer the Afghans anything. It doesn’t take a great many of them remaining sympathetic to the Taliban to really undo our efforts such as they are. Remaining sympathetic to the Taliban need not be a religious position, it could be interwoven with Pashtun tribal identity. Additionally we risk alienating a great many opium farmers by going along with the American fusion of the war on drugs with the war on terror.
There are so many ways that we can get this badly, badly wrong, there are so many things that we do not know about how to deal with Afghanistan that the idea that this mission is akin to lending the Afghans (or at least four of them) a cup of sugar is absurd. I don’t wish to “deny” my “help” to anyone, I’m just not convinced that we have any real, longterm help to offer, I’m not convinced that girls won’t be kicked out of school as soon as we leave, I’m not convinced that bans on beard-shaving won’t be reinstated. Do we really think that a few years of NATO will undo centuries of tribal culture amongst subsistence farmers in a harsh, remote region?
I guess this may be getting lost in the midst of the war on terror, but, uh, the terrorists of al Qaeda are doing better organization-wise than they have since 2001. The response of the West and NATO in general and the US in particular to terror threats in the first decade of the 21st century may long be studied as the textbook case of what NOT to do.
Once again today the story is the same: Canadian troops killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan.
Except it’s not the same, this time they were in the Nyala, a vehicle that was supposed to be best-in-class for protecting against IEDs and the like. They had Scott Taylor of Esprit de Corps on the radio this afternoon and he opined that Afghanistan is not a place were we can “win” in any conventional military sense. He then went on to say that this recent attack had occured in any area that had been pacified last fall and was thought to be friendly to NATO forces.
While the supposed aims for any NATO mission sound noble I just cannot believe that we can accomplish them in any meaningful fashion. So what good are we doing if the Taliban (or whoever else dislikes us) can operate with impunity outside the perimeter of NATO’s bases?
Dennis Perrin has a compensation plan.