60-Second Expert: Afghanistan

Despite the Obama administration’s repeated assurances to the contrary, the war in Afghanistan has taken a turn for the worse since the troop surge. Public opinion in the United States, NATO countries, and Afghanistan itself increasingly oppose the war. Corruption remains rampant, President Karzai’s influence barely extends beyond Kabul, and the military’s “counterinsurgency” strategy has translated into stepping up aerial bombings and night raids. At $8 billion a month, the war is bankrupting the United States with very few results to show for it.

The Taliban’s safe havens in the border regions of Pakistan are unlikely to be disrupted. Pakistan, with its catastrophic floods and simmering tensions with India, is already stretched to the breaking point and cannot significantly hamper insurgent activities along the border. Furthermore, security has not notably improved in Kandahar and Helmand provinces, and the situation looks increasingly bleak in the northern and eastern sections of the country. Increasing civilian casualties and rampant corruption keep trust in the Karzai government low and call into question how committed the military is to “winning the hearts and minds” of the Afghan population.

Diplomatic efforts, never fully employed before, have been allowed to disintegrate almost entirely. Rather than focusing solely on killing Taliban fighters, the administration must be prepared to negotiate with its leaders. Poll numbers show that both the U.S. and Afghan publics support negotiations and an earlier, rather than later, withdrawal date. Instead of pouring money that we don’t have into a war we can’t win, the administration must be prepared to bargain. Failing to do so will make the United States the next of the great powers to fail in the “graveyard of empires.”

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Conn Hallinan is a Foreign Policy In Focus columnist. He also writes the blog, Dispatches from the Edge.