Afghanistan is Worth the Time


By: Craig Chamberlain

Afghanistan had its second Presidential election on Thursday. The first election where there was real opposition to President Karzai. We’ve been in Afghanistan now for 8 years, we’ve accomplished a great deal, and we still have a great way to go. The question is whether or not we will stay the course?

According to a recent poll 70% of Democrats are against the war in Afghanistan, and favor a withdrawal from the country. Funny, and they spent all that time lecturing us about how Afghanistan was the legitimate war, the good war, and how we botched things for Afghanistan by going into Iraq. There are also plenty on the right who think our mission in Afghanistan in an imperial adventure and not worth the time, money or lives that we have invested into the country.

Ralph Peters, for example, in today’s New York Post makes the argument that we don’t have a real strategy. That our goals are unattainable, and that we’re not getting a return on our investment. His argument was that we should have gone into Afghanistan, toppled the Taliban, and then left. Of course this was also his argument for Iraq. When the violence was at its worst he advocated the US leaving the country and putting a pro American Sunni dictatorship in charge to keep things quiet. In the wake of the surge, and record low levels of violence(despite renewed attacks by Sunni extremists) that seems like a weak argument, it’s like arguing that the Detroit Lions have a chance to win the Super Bowl.

The problem with that argument is that we have made gains in Afghanistan, relying on strongmen to act as our subordinates doesn’t help us any, and to go to his investment analogy, if you want a return on an investment you have to wait long term. People who want quick returns aren’t investors, they’re speculators. It’s true that we won’t be able to turn Afghanistan, a land that is intellectually in the middle ages, into a secular, peaceful, Jeffersonian republic. But we don’t have to. Building any sort of civil society, that isn’t reliant on warlords, and actually gives the people of Afghanistan some say in the matter is a big leap forward.

We Americans are an impatient group. We expect everything to be quick and easy, when it’s usually the opposite. We’ve been in Afghanistan for eight years and we’re ready to call it quits because things aren’t perfect. Is our national attention span so short that we’ve forgotten why we went into Afghanistan in the first place, and why it’s important that we stay?

Geography and culture might be working against by giving the Taliban a place to hide. But it’s better that they hide in the mountains only able to launch unsuccessful attacks, than leave and allow them to take over. Or have we forgotten what happened the last time they were in charge? If we leave it will allow the Taliban and their Al-Qaeda allies to establish a safe haven to plot more attacks against the United States and anyone else they don’t like.

No, things aren’t perfect and it’s going to take many years, perhaps decades, before Afghanistan really functions entirely on its own. Remember that when we went in, we didn’t just have to replace a bad government with a good one, we had to build a state from the ground up, that’s how decimated Afghanistan had been by decades of war. Yes, we’re still fighting the Taliban, the Afghan government is a disturbing combination of corruption and incompetence, and things aren’t moving along as quickly as we would like. Progress is a slow force, something that has to build up, not something that springs up over night. We should remember that, and remember that Afghanistan is about as different from America as you can get and still be on the same planet. They’re going to do things their way.

This does not mean, however, that the project should be abandoned. Doing so not only puts America in danger because there would be a new base of operations for terrorists(a base that they so desperately need in order to succeed) it put Afghans who want to live in some kind of freedom under the heel of a ruthless totalitarian theocracy, and says loud and clear to the world that it’s dangerous to be friends and allies of the United States, because when the going gets tough we’ll get going.

Afghanistan is worth it, the additional troops have helped secure more of the country. There has been progress even if it has been fragile. Yesterdays elections are proof of that. In a country with no history of real democracy or representative government the people of Afghanistan had a real choice over who they want to lead them. That could not have been possible without the American campaign that toppled the Taliban. Afghanistan still has a long way to go, but if we want a return on our investment we can’t sell our stock now.

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