Monday, February 05, 2007

Afghanistan: The Forgotten War

How many voters went to the polls in 2004 believing Iraq was behind 9/11 and didn’t give Afghanistan a second thought? The oxygen of our political discourse is consumed by Iraq. Some of America’s most prestigious citizens collaborated on the Iraq Study Group. Politicians from both parties are proposing alternatives from supporting President Bush’s escalation, to partition and even cutting off funding.

Understandably, Iraq merits our attention. We were criminally misled into a war of choice that has jeopardized America’s geopolitical position and undermined our moral authority. Iraq is largely responsible for the Democratic Party’s congressional majority and they’ve promised intense oversight. Why I wonder doesn’t Afghanistan merit similar scrutiny? I’d be curious to learn what an Afghanistan Study Group might come up with.

It seems not enough people with power or influence give a damn about Afghanistan beyond vague references to redistributing troops from Iraq. Sloppy negligence of our war against the Taliban is too important to ignore. As important as ending the war in Iraq is, we also must demand accountability about the depth of failure in Afghanistan and properly assess whatever options we have left.

On January 27th, Dan Restrepo from the Center of American Progress, observed in an opinion piece submitted to the Boston Globe, that the Bush Administration regarded Colombia as a model for Afghanistan. President Bush even nominated our ambassador to Colombia, William Wood, to be the next chief envoy in Kabul.

I suppose we shouldn’t be too surprised. It wasn’t so long ago delusional conservatives compared Iraqi society with El Salvador in the 1980s. So why not regard the nation of Colombia, currently in the throes of scandal as a model for Afghanistan? In the Bush Administration’s peculiar logic, disaster is a model for replication.

Colombia’s experience with narco-trafficking and insurgencies is certainly worth studying as Restrepo acknowledges. Drug trafficking became Colombia’s most viable economic sector and the individuals behind the narco-trade are typically ruthless and homicidal. Without viable economic sectors beyond drug trafficking, the state of Colombia has teetered on the abyss.

Restrepo also acknowledges the Colombian government may finally have the upper hand in their enduring struggle against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC). However, as Restrepo also notes, unlike the FARC, the Taliban are enjoying safe haven in Pakistan. Restrepo closes his op-ed with this,

“The Colombianization of US-Afghanistan policy is rife with peril, not the least because it is unclear that US policy in Colombia has been a success or that Colombia is the shining example the administration would like to believe.”
While the Bush Administration pursues their policy of “Colombianization,” the Taliban are ascending. Robert Burns reported in Time Magazine that the Taliban are exploiting their recent peace with Pakistan to increase attacks on U.S. and allied forces in eastern and southeastern Afghanistan. Most disturbingly, Burns reports that,

“Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, said in an interview that Taliban attacks surged by 200% in December, and a U.S. military intelligence officer said that since the peace deal went into effect Sept. 5 the number of attacks in the border area has grown by 300%.”
Currently, they’re 20,000 troops in Afghanistan and they obviously can’t pacify the metastasizing crisis. Financed by the opium trade as well as donors in the Persian Gulf and enjoying a base of operations in Pakistan, the Taliban remain formidable. As recent history suggests, blowback in Afghanistan equals calamity.

It’s fashionable to say we need more troops in Afghanistan and our forces should be diverted from Iraq. Recently, I interviewed Congressman Jerrold Nadler and he offered that opinion. Caroline Wadhams from The Center for American Progress also supports a surge in Afghanistan:

“It is not too late for America to respond. Troop levels in Afghanistan should be doubled to 40,000 from the approximately 20,000 U.S. troops deployed there today. These troops should be sent from Iraq to Afghanistan under NATO leadership as reinforcements. The United States must also provide more equipment and training for Afghan security forces.”
Yet I can’t help but wonder if a surge in Afghanistan is just as wrongheaded as the current one in Iraq. Are 20,000 additional troops really going to reverse the downward spiral in Afghanistan? Wadhams does note a troop surge by itself is insufficient:

“Many of the problems in Afghanistan, as in Iraq, will not be solved by military means alone. Greater investment in Afghanistan’s economy and its reconstruction is also essential to creating a stable state. The United States and the international community need to commit to a well-funded and well-managed long term economic development effort, and the government of Afghanistan should take the lead.”
We can’t do squat in Afghanistan without an international consensus on how to move forward. Any consenus may also require an understanding with the Iranians who are not fond of the Taliban. Deploying additional troops is simply wasted bloodshed until we can formulate a strategy of economic development, combined with fostering alliances among Afghanistan’s most effective tribal leaders. Managing relationships inside Afghanistan’s tribal culture and their brutal rivalries is tricky business – even more complicated than initiating a rapprochement with Iran. These are not exactly Jeffersonian Democrats and the leaders harbor ambitions about emerging as top dog.

Our response in Afghanistan since 9/11 has only diminished our geopolitical position. Going forward requires sophisticated presidential leadership and sagacious oversight from the legislative branch. Otherwise, Afghanistan will join Iraq as twin failures of American statecraft. Two-more years of the Bush Administration, presidential candidates offering little beyond platitudes about Afghanistan and a congress pre-occuppied with non-binding resolutions for Iraq doesn’t imbue me with confidence.


Anonymous said...

I would love to having you discussing on the topic I post on my blog
which talks about NATO in Afghanistan.

Take care,

Jon Weiss said...

The question aske here at the beginning of the Blog is..."How many voters went to the polls in 2004 believing Iraq was behind 9/11 and didn’t give Afghanistan a second thought?"

A more pertinent (albeit Never asked) question is "How many people who ask the questions about an Iraq-9/11 connection actually realize that there are terrorists in the world. There seems to be a mindset among some that the only terrorist act in history was 9/11. I have to wonder about these folks grip on reality and ask the question Do you ever come out of your house and stop watching CNN long enough to get the facts? Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, North Korea, and several other nations have sponsored or are sponsoring Terrorist activities, or if not sponsoring them, they are giving refuge to those who are perpetrating such acts.

Just because Bush doesn't have video of Saddam teaching a class on bomb making, does not prove that Iraq as a nation under Saddam didn't support terrorists. Just as the fact that our troops didn't find a full production lab churning out nerve gas during the invasion, does not prove that Saddam never had WMD's. The fact that Saddam had and used chemical weapons on the Kurds in the past does prove that he did have them at one time and the fact that the Iraq government could not account for massive amounts of these weapons during the interim between the 1991 and 2003 wars points to the fact that Iraq was not fully truthful and was hiding something. Whether Hussien did or did not have a hand in 9/11 is irelevant to the fact that Hussein was an enemy of the U.S. and that Iraq did support terrorists.