Let’s be Realistic About Afghanistan
By: Craig Chamberlain
Opinions on Afghanistan run the table from hopelessly optimistic to dangerously pessimistic, with most commentators falling into the latter category. Men like Ralph Peters of the New York Post, and Tony Blankely of the Washington Times insist that our mission in Afghanistan is hopelessly flawed, victory is impossible, and that it’s no real big deal if the Taliban, or Al-Qaeda, retake the country and use it for a base of operations once more.
We should admit that Afghanistan is, and always was, the more difficult mission. The country had been completely destroyed by coup’s, invasions, factional fighting, civil war, Islamic extremism, and drug violence. The infrastructure wasn’t just dilapidated, it had been completely destroyed. Roads, bridges, irrigation canals, communications, and education had been left in tatters.
It was never going to be an easy task building a feudal, tribal, society and midwifing it into a country where there is some form of stable, democratic, government. It’s certainly not a Jeffersonian vision, but Jeffersonianism was never the goal in the first place. The fact that in 10 years we’ve come from a Taliban controlled terror state into a democratic nation, even if an illiberal one, is something to be noted. Mullah Omar no longer issues edicts from Kandahar, and Bin Laden no longer plots terror attacks from the safety of his network of terror training camps.
There are challenges ahead for American forces, but defeat is not guaranteed. We have a President who doesn’t take his responsibilities as commander in chief too seriously, a build up of troops with a built in expiration date, with the draw down beginning next summer.
We’ve announced when and where we will launch our offensive on Kandahar, which ties the hands of our soldiers because we have a political class that does not understand military operations, and it is terrified of bad press. But our troops have established peace over most of the country, our efforts tin win the Afghan people is working, and would work even better if the Afghan people were not convinced that we weren’t going to throw them to the wolves as we leave the country.
Still, the goal of bringing peace and stability to Afghanistan is not achievable through military means alone. While every dead Taliban is a good thing the more serious, and more difficult, task is convincing the people of Afghanistan that there’s something more than growing poppies, and carrying out acts of martyrdom to get into Paradise. The people of Iraq turned on the terrorists when they realized that the Al-Qaeda way wouldn’t work and wasn’t in their self interest. The Afghan people need to be convinced of the same thing.
The discovery of vast mineral wealth, nearly one trillion dollars worth, can help achieve that goal. Most Afghans don’t want the Taliban in control of the country, and don’t want to work for them. If there is any real alternative all but the most committed jihadists will take it.
It has been discovered that Afghanistan is rich in iron, gold, and lithium. Lithium being a rather rare element is rather valuable and necessary for many high tech industries. This is no guarantee. There are many countries rich in natural resources that are still miserably poor, and wracked with violence. Just look to the Congo. But if gives Afghanistan an opportunity where none existed before.
The U.S. must be careful, and help the Afghan government see that any mining operations are legitimate, and help the Afghan people out of their poverty. This cannot be achieved given the current state of corruption in Kabul. If the US doesn’t take appropriate action corrupt officials will give the mining rights to the Chinese and the Russians who will just move in and take what they want.
Such a scenario doesn’t benefit the people of Afghanistan, and it doesn’t benefit the United States. If we want success in Afghanistan we must be realistic about the challenges we are facing, and realize that while victory is possible, it’s a fragile thing.