Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Afghanistan: Is It Time to Leave?

Joe Klein has a hard-hitting, gut-wrenching article on the Afghan situation in Time Magazine. Personally, I would have found this type of article defeatist, and distasteful two or three years ago. However, at this point, I think it's fair to examine the situation. It seems hopeless. The Aimless War, Why Are We in Afghanistan?
And then there were the daily frustrations of Armour's job: training Afghan police officers. Almost all the recruits were illiterate. "They've had no experience at learning," Armour said. "You sit them in a room and try to teach them about police procedures — they start gabbing and knocking about. You talk to them about the rights of women, and they just laugh."


We know what the mission used to be — to kill or capture Osama bin Laden and destroy his al-Qaeda command. But once bin Laden slipped away, the mission morphed into a vast, messy nation — building effort to support the allegedly democratic Karzai government. There was a certain logic to that. The Taliban and al-Qaeda can't base themselves in Afghanistan if something resembling a stable, secure nation-state exists there. But the mission was also historically implausible: Afghanistan has never had a strong central government.


The current Western presence is the most benign intrusion in Afghan history, and the rationale of building stability remains a logical one — but this war has become something of a sideshow in South Asia. The far more serious problem is Pakistan, a flimsy state with illogical borders, nuclear weapons and a mortal religious enmity toward India, its neighbor to the south. Pakistan is where bin Laden now lives, if he lives.

After 9-11, I was as fired up as anybody about the Afghanistan campaign. We couldn't sit back while Osama and Mullah Omar were laughing at us. The camps and safe harbors needed to be rooted out. But, who was talking about nation building and democracy? Seven years later, the idea is getting old. It's not going to work.

Obama had better articulate why this mission is so critical, and gain popular support. If not, pull out and blame the whole mess on the previous administration. Here in Canada we're bugging-out in 2011 regardless. It's getting harder to explain the commitment in these tough economic times.

Anti-Americans, jihadis and lefties will point their fingers and say, 'see, another Empire gets humiliated in Afghanistan.' It's foolish to let your pride get in the way of clear thinking. We chased the bad guys out, realized we were in a bad neighborhood, and didn't want to stick around. It's the armpit of the world. Time to go home. Hopefully the Afghans can benefit from the infrastructure improvements.


  1. And then go back to square one, more or less take down the pakistani border and then allow the Heroin Warlords to rent out terrorist training grounds again?
    I would be inclined to agree if Afghan didn't happen to also be the Wild West. It's the frontier man. We've always been attracted to the frontier. No one runs Afghanistan. That's why it's so imperative that we try to establish a presence there. If we don't someone else will.
    Right now, we know where the trouble spots are and you wanna take our eyes off them? We need to remain close to the enemy and not run away.

  2. The Afghan people are all just warring tribes that hate each other. The only time they unite and fight together, is when an invader comes to Afghan. Fydor thinks someone else will establish a presence in Afghanistan. Well for the last 2500 years no one has been able to do it. Alexander The Great, the Brits, the USSR, and now NATO, will all have to learn the same lesson.

  3. The Taliban did a pretty good job of establishing enough of a presence to cause the civilized world trouble. They didn't control the whole country either.

    It's not about creating a rock-solid central govt. It's about denying long-term sanctuaries. Right now the only sanctuaries are in Pakistan.

    They're not uniting and fighting together. They still fight as tribes. The US regularly joins with tribes and other tribes joins the Taliban, it's whatever suits that particular tribe at the moment. Just like a drug dealer pays off the cops.

    I'm not saying we need a soldier on every mountain and a McDonalds in every village to make this work.

    The situation could be fluid for many years, but it's better that we have some influence rather than none.

  4. Anon: Alexander was able to conquer and subdue Afghanistan. Messy work though.

    Fydor: I think with the main terrorist organization safe in Pakistan, and us trying to prop up Karzai and build schools it starts to seem a little pointless.

  5. It's not pointless, it's a necessary step in order to address the Pakistan issue. If we weren't staged in Afghan/Pak we wouldn't even be in the conversation. And, I know so people think the US should never leave their borders, but that world is long gone.

  6. I think it is very reasonable after 7 years for the public to start questioning the mission and possibly expore ending it. That's what democracy is about. Obama needs to use his popular support and make the case to the people to continue.

  7. The US can`t even make South Chicago a safe place.
    How many more billions of dollars before they realize Afghan is a hopeless mission. Also you guys think its about the Taliban, that is just the US label. The US wants a central Asian presence, to enable access to large Asian oil reserves.The shortest central Asian pipeline route to the ocean, would run right through Afghanistan.

  8. Anon: Canada can't make Jane/Finch a safe place, or downtown Ottawa on a Saturday night, what's your point?
    Anons right about the central Asian thing. And the US is right to want a presence there. There is no conspiracy. How about leaving that land as lawless and then showering it with money. And not just our money, but anyone's.

    The mission implies a global responsibility to strive for some sort of stability there. Either that or the warlords get more warlordy.