Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Obama and Afghanistan

I actually have a fundamental problem with our war in Afghanistan. I don't think we should be trying to do in Afghanistan what we have done in Iraq. Iraq, while it has its own divisive history, is a place that has been governed centrally, and is more modern. Afghanistan is a geographically isolated, 19th century place. With the exception of Kabul, Afghanistan is not modern at all. Iraq has interesting natural resources. Afghanistan, as far as I know, has little in the way of natural resources. Furthermore, while Iraq has three tribal groups, Afghanistan has five or more. We cannot occupy Afghanistan. Physically, it is impossible. You would need literally millions of troops to even try. I would like to see a very limited mission to Afghanistan, concentrated on the mountains where Al Qaeda leaders are hiding, in cooperation with Pakistan. We will not try to train Afghan troops. We will not try to build a nation out of this mess of rocks, dirt and mud. We will get the people that got us, and still pose a threat to us, and then we will get out of Dodge. That's what I'd like to see.

What we are going to get is something that won't satisfy anyone. Can we find Osama Bin Ladin with this plan? Can we really train Afghans in a real way in the short time we've given ourselves? Can anything we might help some Afghans do stand up to the Taliban and Al Qaeda onslaught that is sure to come after we leave? I'm afraid that more blood and treasure will be spent in a useless way the longer we stay in Afghanistan without a very narrow and specific mission. Then we will leave without having accomplished much of anything.

Here is the money quote in the speech for me: as commander-in-chief, I have determined that it is in our vital national interest to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan. After 18 months, our troops will begin to come home.

We will surge. We will go home. Will we have any accomplishments for our efforts? I hope so, since there will be a price paid.

To get more of a feel for Afghanistan the place, I highly recommend reading "The Places in Between" by Rory Stewart. He took a slightly insane walk across that country in 2002 and this book, published in 2006 recounts his journey. It gives the 21st century western reader a little bit of an idea what Afghanistan is like. Here is the New York Times review.

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