Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Afghanistan

I know only enough to be dangerous and possibly look stupid but here goes:

I know we are in for another "surge" as Obama/McChrystal plan to add many more soldiers to the mix and they are already planning their withdrawal. Here's my overall take.

I'm reading a book right now by former NRP reporter Sarah Chayes called the Punishment of Virtue. I'm about 1/3 thru but it at least confirms what I've felt for some time: we can not win in Afghanistan. Distant and more current history there should confirm this.

I have no idea how a rag-tag bunch of mujahadeens could somehow survive and eventually force the Russians to give up but they did. How we think we can possibly do better? The first way (Bush 43) was mostly to bomb the daylights out of them. And for what?

The Obama way seems to be the "Hearts-and-minds" strategy. I've heard plenty of comparisons to Vietnam and this one seems to ring true. Maybe we can just win them over to our way of thinking.

News flash - these people will never think like we do. They have centuries of culture that just don't mesh with ours. Much like the factions in Iraq that made/make it so difficult, the tribal culture in Afghanistan is nothing like ours, it is not and has never been a democracy.

I heard another report this morning about our military training their police force. One thing they were working on was teaching the future Afghan soldiers to read so they could ID the #s on their rifle butts.

If much of the young populace can't read (we already know perhaps most women can't since the Taliban didn't allow women to go to school), how can we expect them to understand our way of government? This is a multi-year process of just getting people up to speed on so many things, then we teach them how to govern, keep the peace, etc.

And I'll make a risky statement, democracy doesn't always work like we want it to and doesn't always work everywhere.

We are spending billions every year in Afghanistan to do what? We have to drive out the Taliban. Al Qaeda. Replace the commerce around Opium. Take care of two major borders (Iran on the west - Pakistan on the east) that allow for the flow of said opium, terrorists, you name it. Pakistan doesn't seem to be able (or want) to fix that the problem - some of what I've read show they benefited from the way things were.

I don't think we can just pull out, but I'm not sure what we can accomplish by staying. Eventually Great Britain became not quite so great. Pax Britannica or whatever it was called proved to be too great a burden and the world changed around their empire.

The United States can't fix the problems in every country around the world. We can't keep our heads in the sand either.

But in a similar vein I heard someone describe how Obama's approval rating was the lowest of any President at this time in his first term ever and one major reason was he hadn't done anything to fix things here at home. More than 10% are still out of work but the focus seems to be on the climate or Health care. Neither one of these is minor but neither one will put people back to work and food on the table.

I don't have a good answer for Afghanistan but what we are doing there doesn't seem to be working. Most of us (self included) likely don't recall we started things up there in 2001. More than 8 years ago. From my limited vantage point it doesn't seem like things are much better 8 years and billions of $ later and how ever many American lives (not to mention civilians) lost.

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