When Both Sides are Wrong About Afghanistan

Mark Perry’s piece about the conflict between Stanley McChrystal and Karl Eikenberry over how to proceed in Afghanistan–a conflict little documented in our myopic press–makes for riveting reading:

The State Department’s frustration extended into the embassy in Kabul, where the US ambassador, Karl Eikenberry, was having his own problems with McChrystal. The appointment of Eikenberry in March of 2009 had been greeted with skepticism in the State Department because of his background as a West Pointer, a retired lieutenant general and a US security coordinator in the country. But if anyone would be sympathetic to McChrystal, it was now thought, it would be Eikenberry.

But that’s not what happened: Eikenberry won friends among professional diplomats for his easygoing manner and quick understanding of their problems – and for his open irritation at McChrystal’s imperious manner. “McChrystal came in and he just thought he was some kind of Roman proconsul, a [Douglas] MacArthur,” an Eikenberry colleague notes. “He was going to run the whole thing. He didn’t need to consult with the State Department or civilians, let alone the ambassador. This was not only the military’s show, it was his show.”

The problem here is that both “sides” (in this case the State Department vs. the Pentagon) are wrong.

The idea that we can build a nation in a tribal, nepotistic and fractious society like Afghanistan in the same way we have a nation here (for the moment at least) doesn’t correspond with reality.  Easiest solution here is to annex the place, make it a state, and allow it to send representatives to Washington to mooch large amounts of pork to buy everybody off.  It’s worked for the Old Confederacy and Appalachia, so why not here?  But as long as we have this romantic idea that institutions and laws will tame people who can’t afford the luxury of these and have no experience with them, we’ll have failure, especially with the money-favouring coming from Saudi Arabia via al-Qaeda.  (Same problem applies to the western areas of Pakistan, too.)

As far as a “surge” or military solution is concerned, we’re not prepared to send enough of our people and kill enough of theirs to make it stick.  Back when the Italians invaded Ethiopia, Rodolpho Graziani told his boss that he’d take the country with or without the Ethiopians.  That wasn’t necessary (and the Duke d’Aosta’s colonial rule wasn’t the worst thing, either, but explicit colonies are out of fashion) but the idea is there.  The surge in Iraq was successful but it was simply a delaying strategy so we could make a creditable exit, and that’s the best we can expect from McChrystal’s plan or the modification that was adopted.

All of this being the case, one pined for the disciple of William Ayers and Saul Alinsky we have in the White House to just pull the plug on the whole operation.  But he didn’t.  Now we have the worst of both worlds, and the results will speak for themselves.

One thought on “When Both Sides are Wrong About Afghanistan”

  1. Afghanistan is a multi-faceted problem that requires special handling for each problem and their resolution will be multi-generational.

    The country does have a large, mostly untapped reserve of natural resources (aside from poppy production) Natural Gas, Oil, ore and mineral deposits and these should be developed.

    The economy has stabilized and grown steadily since 2002, yet further growth is dependent on improving literacy and education among the Afghan population. The large and mostly illicit poppy trade could be the basis for a new pharmaceuticals industry to spur-on further development.

    None of these developments can make serious progress until all of the “Baddies” are killed, captured or won-over. As un-PC as this sounds Mohammedanism and tribalism are Afghanistan’s biggest handicaps, an anathema to progress and freedom.

    So, both military and diplomatic work needs to be done and the two principals should get-over their little personality (I am sure that Eikenberry’s ego is as big as McChrystal’s) spat or be replaced by those who can get the job done.

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