I don’t have a well thought out view of Afghanistan. But General McChrystal’s counter-insurgency plan never made much sense to me. The plan by definition requires a government which the people can trust. But all reports are that Hamid Karzai is not trusted by the people in Afghanistan. The election last year was a total fiasco. That kind of seems like a big gaping hole in the middle of the counter-insurgency plan. You can’t build trust in a government whose leader stays in power by fraud. McChrystal was reportedly trying to build trust in Karzai by travelling with him and boosting his position, but since frankly I can’t see why the Afghan people would trust McChrystal or the U.S. either, that seems like a flawed plan.
So now McChrystal is out amid reports of bickering and infighting. But we’re still going to follow the same plan under General Petraeus. The basic dynamic of the situation is unchanged. How is this not going to be a disaster?
The U.S. made progress in Iraq, against my expectations, by showing that people had more to gain by participating in politics than they did by staying out. In particular, the Iraqis showed themselves what a civil war would look like, and many of them backed away. Iraq remains a long way from normal, and the former middle class remains largely outside the country, but it’s hugely better than it was four years ago.
Afghanistan is a much bigger country than Iraq with a much smaller population. The political dynamics are by necessity quite different. The political class is much smaller. I don’t see why one would expect the same process to work.
It’s also worth questioning what the U.S. has to gain from Afghanistan. Al Qaeda has relocated into Pakistan. No reasonable person would want to let the Taliban regain control, but there is no U.S. national interest in Afghanistan. There is no oil. The recently trumpeted minerals wealth has little national interest to the U.S., no slouch in mineral wealth itself. What is going to keep us there for the time it takes to turn Afghanistan into a modern society?
At this point I think the military approach is entirely wrong. I think an economic approach would be much more effective. Maybe we should try to make Kabul as secure as we can and as rich as we can, and open its gates to anybody who will enter without weapons. Hand out radios and food. Let the Taliban fight for the rest of the country, but show most of the people that a better way is available. I don’t know if this would work at all, but it would be cheaper in lives and money than the current approach.
Since we’re not going to do that, I just hope that I’m wrong again, and that something useful comes out of this, even if I can’t see what.