I ll say a bit about my view about Afghanistan. I think about US actions in Afghanistan in two different frameworks, a moral one and a national interest one.Message 1 of 6 , Oct 10, 2009View SourceI'll say a bit about my view about Afghanistan.
I think about US actions in Afghanistan in two different frameworks, a moral one and a national interest one.
First the moral framework. Afghans have never had a great life. Contrary to one of many oft-repeated mistakes about Afghanistan, the place has been conquered all the time. (Sarah Chayes lays this out quite well in her book.) The conquerers often got chased out, but the population suffered a lot in the process. Afghanistan did fairly well in the mid-20th century, but then they once again got conquered by the Soviets, supporting the Afghan communists. The US government decided this was a good opportunity for a proxy-war, and thus we started sending money and weaponry to Afghans through Pakistan. By the 1990s there were Afghan warlords with lots of very modern weapons, and a lot of money. Many of these warlords were religious extremists. But after the Soviets had given up and left in 1989, the US government stopped paying attention to the effects our actions were having. We did nothing while the warlords used their modern weapons to maim and kill and kill population, as they all tried to take control. No wonder that the Taliban were actually a better alternative in the mid-1990s. They offered a trade -- if the people followed a very strict extreme version of Islam, they could live without the fear of the random violence they had suffered for years. And so the Taliban came to power. I know I was not paying attention to any of this. I don't know how many people were. Of course, we all started paying attention on September 11, 2001, and a lot of US citizens agreed that it made sense to send in the US military to get rid of the Taliban government and their Al Qaeda guests. When the US military first went into Afghanistan, I thought that meant we would help the Afghans set up a non-extremist, non-warlord government. It seemed only fair that we help them get on their feet, after we used them for our purposes in the 1980s and abandoned them in the 1990s. But I don't think the US government ever put in the resources necessary to do this properly. Less than 1.5 years after invading Afghanistan, our military was sent into Iraq. The troops and resources that should have been focused on Afghanistan went to Iraq instead. In the 8 years that the US government has been in Afghanistan, we never have put in the troops and resources that we should have if we were serious about helping the Afghans get a decently safe and stable country. So from a moral framework, it seems that we ought to do a serious effort in Afghanistan at least once. We haven't yet.
But perhaps there are people who think that a moral obligation is irrelevant, or at least not enough. If we decide it is not in our national interest to ensure that the Afghans have a half-decent living situation, does it make sense to risk more troops' lives and spend more money? I have no idea if the US could be safe if we left Afghanistan to its own devices. Perhaps we could ensure that the inevitable suffering and chaos there doesn't affect us in the US. I would think that the US's standing in the world will be quite low if we follow that route.
I don't have much to add to Paul's ideas about the mechanisms for making a reasonably working country. I do think that our public discussion about private security organizations is light on information. If we want diplomats to get out to talk to people, if we want development workers to get around to discuss, plan, and implement projects, then the civilians need to be protected by security. That's usually not going to be military people. It's usually going to be private security companies that act as bodyguards. We're going to need a lot more of those bodyguards, with a lot more armored vehicles for the diplomats and development workers. Otherwised the civilians will remain stuck in walled compounds, being ineffective.
That's how I see it, but it's certainly not consistent with what I usually hear among the chat-erati.