Two Sets of Questions
It seems to me that there are two sets of questions to ask about Afghanistan.
One set are foreign policy questions from the U.S. side: What is the goal there? What has the American policy been, and what has it achieved? What should the policy be and what are the possible consequences of changing it? What are the larger regional implications of America’s involvement in Afghanistan. Where does this war fit into America’s global goals?
From the Afghan Side
From the Afghan side, a whole different set of questions obtains. Who are the people of Afghanistan today? How can they reconcile their history with each other? How can Afghanistan embrace progressive modernism without embracing the Communist conquest of the 1980s, which scarred the country so badly? How can Afghanistan reject the violent Jihadism of reactonary Muslims today without rejecting Afghanistan’s deep and abiding roots in Islam? Where is the country coming from, where is it now, and where could it go–at best and at worst?
It’s All Very Complicated
And I’ll be trying to untangle some of these issues in the weeks to come; but this much seems obvious from the git-go. The presence of U.S. troops in Afghanistan is not dampening the insurgency but fueling it.
Recently, in the San Francisco paper, I saw a map of Afghanistan in which “the parts the Taliban have succeeded in taking over” was shaded in red. Those parts included pretty much the entire southern half of the country. The phrase “the parts the Taliban have succeeded in taking over” isn’t mine; that’s how the newspaper put it. I think it’s more accurate to look at the area shaded in red on that map as the part of Afghanistan that has turned definitively against the United States.
What difference does the phrasing make?
Well, if you think of it the first way, you’re operating with a picture of a small determined group dominating a reluctant population, and it then makes sense to say: “We had better put in more troops and roll back these thugs.”
Pouring Gasoline on Fire
But if you think of it the second way, calling for more troops may well be like saying, “The fire is spreading! Quick! More gasoline!”
I have to say I am very nervous about Obama’s plan for the country. The President says that U.S. troops will begin leaving Afghanistan in the summer of 2011. The implication is that, by that time, the situation will be under control, and America will be able to depart from Afghanistan with confidence that everything will be okay.
But, instead of rolling anything back, all the extra troops going to Afghanistan may only be turning more Afghans against the American presence. If that’s the case, by next summer we’ll find that the insurgency has spread to a good deal more of Afghanistan–which will make it politically difficult to begin the pullout Obama is envisioning. Instead, there will be pressure to increase the troops strength again.
And that way lies the Vietnamizing of Afghanistan, a process that is already alarmingly well along.