The Trouble With Afghanistan

The New York Times today had a list of the presidential candidates’ stands on various relevant topics. Of course, Iraq was near the top of the list. It was disappointing to see that the the Times only mentioned troop removal as the solution to Iraq’s problems. A more comprehensive plan that included an intensive re-building of infrastructure: education, sanitation, energy, health, transportation, and a judicial system would be more productive than just getting the troops home as soon as possible. And though this sentiment is on every Democratic candidate’s website, it was completely neglected in the Times article. Perhaps it is too complex an issue for Times readers to grasp?

The multiple failures following the West’s support of a mujahedeen insurgency against the USSR invasion of Afghanistan should be an enduring lesson that you can’t simply arm factions, then walk away to let them fight it out. There are good alternatives to a military occupation that can build an enduring peace. Afghans would not follow the Talibs one single step, if their basic human needs were being met by the Western coalition.

Even the U.S. military is taking this position more and more, but American politicians and media pander to the uninformed majority that see either “winning the war” or “getting out of the war” as the only solutions. Both are absurd: it is impossible to win or to ignore a war of insurgency. I would love to hear just one politician say “every soldier who leaves Iraq will be replaced by a doctor, lawyer, engineer, carpenter, mechanic, accountant, etc. etc. etc. and have the media repeat it.

Sadly, that goes against the grain of so much of American culture which says that winning only comes through force and submission. That may have been true in the pre-Internet, jet-plane, satellite, nuclear age, but we face a new paradigm where crazed men with a few sticks of dynamite become “Armies of One” (to borrow a U.S. Army recruiting slogan) with more power than a division of thousands—or a Humvee with a few unlucky soldiers. Hopefully our leaders will explore more solutions than running away or sacrificing its best for an impossible “victory.” Hopefully the media will support this, and not promote simplistic solutions.

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