Will confining NATO to its own backyard and scaling back its mission could spell the beginning of its end?
Turning Afghanistan over to the Taliban may actually be a win-win situation for the United States.
“I need a little space.”
When lovers utter these words, it’s usually a bad sign for the relationship. They feel suffocated. They’re reexamining their commitment. They’re checking out other options. But they don’t have the courage to make a clean break.
Almost nine years after the United States invaded Afghanistan, public support for a continued military presence has wavered and many politicians have called for an exit strategy. However, some observers believe a withdrawal of U.S./NATO troops would create a dangerous vacuum in the region. For those who opposed the invasion from the start, there is further debate: Can the “Out Now” position the antiwar movement has advocated for Iraq also be valid for Afghanistan? Or should activists voice a more nuanced stance that addresses, in particular, the prospective plight of Afghan women under Taliban rule?
I’m in overall agreement with the “going local” spirit of David Castonguay’s piece. If the overriding objective of U.S. policy is to end the war in Afghanistan as quickly as possible — as it should be — then the United States can’t wait on the central government for permission to promote local reconciliation. A key component of local reconciliation is giving locals greater responsibility for local security, regardless of their relationship with the central government, and regardless of what their relationship to U.S. forces has been in the past.
The United States helped develop and gradually train the Afghan National Forces (ANF) to defeat the resurgent Taliban. The Obama administration is stepping up this effort. The United States plans to makes the ANF the basis of a strategy that will allow the gradual turnover of tasks in July 2011. However, the United States is banking too much on the ANF. A better approach would be to empower the tribes, their elders, and the local militias to reject insurgency and play a greater role in the politics of their country.
If Barack Obama showed up one afternoon in front of his own statue in Jakarta, he would almost certainly feel embarrassed. Erected at the end of 2009, the three-foot bronze statue depicts a young boy in shorts with a slightly loopy grin on his face. His left hand, on which a butterfly is landing, points toward the sky.
The Afghan problem can’t be addressed, let alone solved, by force. Nor can it be solved through negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban. The conflict, after all, is not between two distinct segments of the population. Negotiation is an appropriate strategy when there is indeed a two-party conflict—as in a civil war—and both sides have support among different factions of the population. But neither the government nor the Taliban has much popular support. The problem is not the presence of the Taliban; it’s the absence of good governance.
The United States has spent nearly a trillion dollars over the past seven years, fighting two wars in vastly different places. A small portion of this effort has been dedicated to what has commonly been called nation-building. In fact, our mission has been a mixture of both state-building, which further develops the institutions of government, and nation-building, which constructs roads, schools and other projects. This approach is not entirely new, but these initiatives have become an important and accepted paradigm for the conduct of war in this century.
A headline for a recent McClatchy news story suggests that the decision of Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah not to contest the second round of the Afghan presidential election will have a major impact on whether the Afghan government is perceived as legitimate: “Challenger’s pullout leaves Afghan government of dubious legitimacy.”