FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

How to "Win" in Afghanistan

Both presidential candidates support more troops, money, and materiel for the war in Afghanistan. The assumption behind the recommendation is that it’s been President Bush’s neglect of Afghanistan that has permitted the Taliban and other insurgents to regain much of the country. If only the US and NATO had kept up the military pressure (and not have been distracted by Saddam Hussein, argues Obama), Osama bin Laden would have been captured, the Karzai government would control more than just the capital city, fewer civilians would be dying, less opium poppy would be grown, etc.

There’s no doubt that Bush shamefully under funded reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan since 2002 (counteracted to some extent by Congress), and that this contributed mightily to the return of the Taliban. But it’s much less clear that additional or more extensive military action would have written a happier future for one of the poorest, least-developed, most corrupt countries in the world.

So what is to be done? Implementing the following six point program could create the conditions whereby NATO and the US can claim “victory.”  This will not be a victory where the enemy is completely vanquished. It will, rather, be a far more realistic victory given the present circumstances.

First, do not increase the NATO or US combat troop presence. More soldiers equals more targets for the Taliban. Afghanistan witnessed a “surge” in 2007 that fizzled. This is not a winnable war in the conventional sense, because it is not a conventional war. Instead, it’s winnable in the sense that the conflicts in Northern Ireland, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua were “winnable”: through negotiated, political settlements among former combatants. Is it not finally evident to all that Afghanistan is a place Empires go to lose? What is it about the Afghan failures of Alexander the Great, the British at the height of their global power, or the fearsome Soviet Union that we do not get?

Second, do not extend the war to Pakistan. As tempting as it must be for field commanders to hammer Taliban compounds across the border with drones or commando raids, it’s clear that the micro-benefits of these tactics are heavily outweighed by their macro-costs in public diplomacy. Surreptiously attacking a shadowy third party on the soil of a longtime US ally? This is surely playing with fire (even if the howling protests from Islamabad are insincere) given that this ally has nuclear weapons, an unstable government, and less than a month’s foreign exchange with which to buy petroleum.

Third, begin formal, direct talks with the Taliban immediately. The Bush administration was recently “surprised” when the Karzai government met with Taliban representatives in Saudi Arabia. President Bush takes North Korea off the terrorism list but his State Department cannot talk to the Taliban? How does this serve American or Afghan interests?

Fourth, focus “Operation Enduring Freedom” on basic development projects not combat patrols. If a school is blown up or a clinic burned down, rebuild it again and again using local materials and labor. It’s cheaper than warfare. Yes, security is and will remain a problem. But if health care, education, and the economy improve, and civilian deaths from US bombings decline, the number of “by default” recruits to the Taliban will shrink quickly.

Fifth, crack down on corruption. This will be extremely difficult given the chaos that reigns across most of the country, and the resurgence of poppy cultivation. It is nonetheless an essential step to win back the trust of ordinary Afghans. Karzai should consider legalizing, regulating, and taxing poppy cultivation. This will reduce the influence of organized criminals, insurgents, and warlords. It will produce a large revenue stream for the government, and be popular in the countryside.

Sixth, set a deadline for US and NATO troop withdrawal. Washington and Brussels can decide whether the phased withdrawal is tied to the direct negotiations or not. The new president must resist the urge to think he can do better than Bush in Afghanistan, and keep the war raging futilely for another four or eight years. There’s no going back to 2001-02.

None of this program precludes attempts to bring terrorists to Afghan national or international justice through paramilitary police efforts, or to protect infrastructure and development projects. The training of the Afghan police and army should move ahead quicker than ever. What the program does is soberly accept a difficult, unpleasant Afghan reality, and adjust our strategy to it. This adjustment made sense even before the financial meltdown. The new president will need fewer “foreign entanglements” than ever.

STEVE BREYMAN, a veteran of the United States Army, teaches political science at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He can be reached at breyms@rpi.edu

 

Your Ad Here
 

 

 

 

More articles by:

Steve Breyman was a William C. Foster Visiting Scholar Fellow in the Clinton State Department, and serves as an advisor to Jill Stein, candidate for the Green Party presidential nomination. Reach him at breyms@rpi.edu

July 18, 2018
Bruce E. Levine
Politics and Psychiatry: the Cost of the Trauma Cover-Up
Frank Stricker
The Crummy Good Economy and the New Serfdom
Linda Ford
Red Fawn Fallis and the Felony of Being Attacked by Cops
David Mattson
Entrusting Grizzlies to a Basket of Deplorables?
Stephen F. Eisenman
Want Gun Control? Arm the Left (It Worked Before)
CJ Hopkins
Trump’s Treasonous Traitor Summit or: How Liberals Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the New McCarthyism
Patrick Bond
State of the BRICS class struggle: Repression, Austerity and Worker Militancy
Dan Corjescu
The USA and Russia: Two Sides of the Same Criminal Corporate Coin
The Hudson Report
How Argentina Got the Biggest Loan in the History of the IMF
Kenn Orphan
You Call This Treason?
Max Parry
Ukraine’s Anti-Roma Pogroms Ignored as Russia is Blamed for Global Far Right Resurgence
Ed Meek
Acts of Resistance
July 17, 2018
Conn Hallinan
Trump & The Big Bad Bugs
Robert Hunziker
Trump Kills Science, Nature Strikes Back
John Grant
The Politics of Cruelty
Kenneth Surin
Calculated Buffoonery: Trump in the UK
Binoy Kampmark
Helsinki Theatrics: Trump Meets Putin
Patrick Bond
BRICS From Above, Seen Critically From Below
Jim Kavanagh
Fighting Fake Stories: The New Yorker, Israel and Obama
Daniel Falcone
Chomsky on the Trump NATO Ruse
W. T. Whitney
Oil Underground in Neuquén, Argentina – and a New US Military Base There
Doug Rawlings
Ken Burns’ “The Vietnam War” was Nominated for an Emmy, Does It Deserve It?
Rajan Menon
The United States of Inequality
Thomas Knapp
Have Mueller and Rosenstein Finally Gone Too Far?
Cesar Chelala
An Insatiable Salesman
Dean Baker
Truth, Trump and the Washington Post
Mel Gurtov
Human Rights Trumped
Binoy Kampmark
Putin’s Football Gambit: How the World Cup Paid Off
July 16, 2018
Sheldon Richman
Trump Turns to Gaza as Middle East Deal of the Century Collapses
Charles Pierson
Kirstjen Nielsen Just Wants to Protect You
Brett Wilkins
The Lydda Death March and the Israeli State of Denial
Patrick Cockburn
Trump Knows That the US Can Exercise More Power in a UK Weakened by Brexit
Robert Fisk
The Fisherman of Sarajevo Told Tales Past Wars and Wars to Come
Gary Leupp
When Did Russia Become an Adversary?
Uri Avnery
“Not Enough!”
Dave Lindorff
Undermining Trump-Putin Summit Means Promoting War
Manuel E. Yepe
World Trade War Has Begun
Binoy Kampmark
Trump Stomps Britain
Wim Laven
The Best Deals are the Deals that Develop Peace
Kary Love
Can We Learn from Heinrich Himmler’s Daughter? Should We?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Franklin Lamb, Requiescat in Pace
Weekend Edition
July 13, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Brian Cloughley
Lessons That Should Have Been Learned From NATO’s Destruction of Libya
Paul Street
Time to Stop Playing “Simon Says” with James Madison and Alexander Hamilton
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: In the Land of Formula and Honey
Aidan O'Brien
Ireland’s Intellectuals Bow to the Queen of Chaos 
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail