On War #121
The Other War
By William S. Lind
In view of the steady stream of bad news from Iraq – five dead Marines in Saturday’s paper, two more in Sunday’s and four soldiers in Monday’s, along with the Baathist element of the resistance so “weakened” it is now striking targets in Iran – it is easy to forget that we are fighting, and losing, not one Fourth Generation war but two. Five U.S. troops were killed in Afghanistan last week. On June 9, the Washington Post reported that
As recently as April of this year, the senior U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Lt. Gen. David Barno, said he envisioned “most of (the Taliban) collapsing and rejoining the Afghan political and economic process” within a year. He seems to have projected the winter’s quiescence as a trend, forgetting that Afghan wars always shut down in wintertime, as war did everywhere until the 19th century. Afghanistan is not so much Iraq Lite as Iraq Slow, the land that forgot time. Our defeat will come slowly. But it will come.
The reason we will lose is that our strategic objective is unrealistic. Neither America nor anyone can turn Afghanistan into a modern state, aka Brave New World. In attempting to do so, we have launched broadscale assaults on Afghanistan’s rural economy and culture, guaranteeing that the Pashtun countryside will eventually turn against us. Afghan wars are decided in the countryside, not in Kabul.
The Pashtun countryside’s economy depends on opium poppies. Columnist Arnaud de Borchgrave, an old Afghan hand, recently wrote that poppy cultivation generates 12 times more income than the same acreage planted in wheat. 400,000 acres now grow poppies.
Opium is the Pashtun economy. Yet we are now waging a war against it, a war where every victory means impoverishing the rural population. A story in the March 25 New York Times, “Pentagon Sees Antidrug Effort in Afghanistan,” reported that
Our assault on traditional Afghan culture is also guaranteed to unite the rural Pashtuns against us. A story in the May 10 Christian Science Monitor began,
This was on Kabul’s new Tolo TV, which was established with a grant from U.S. A.I.D. The story goes on to note that “Modesty in male-female relations and respect for elders are two important parts of Afghan culture that Tolo is challenging.” Not surprisingly, in March Afghanistan’s senior Islamic council, the ulema shura, criticized such programs as “opposed to Islam and national values.”
In consequence of these blunders, assailing rural Afghanistan’s economy and its culture, de Borchgrave reports that “Britain’s defense chiefs have advised Tony Blair ‘a strategic failure’ of the Afghan operation now threatens.” That term is precisely accurate. Our failure is strategic, not tactical, and it can only be remedied by a change in strategic objective. Instead of trying to remake Afghanistan, we need to redefine our strategic objective to accept that country as it is, always has been and always will be: a poor, primitive and faction-ridden place, dependent on poppy cultivation and proud of its strict Islamic traditions.
In other words, we have to accept that the Afghanistan we have is as good as it is going to get. Once we do that, we open the door to a steady reduction in our presence there and the reduction of Afghan affairs to matters of local importance only. That, and only that, is a realistic strategic objective in Afghanistan.
Word document available upon request.
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Phyllis Hughes ()
The Free Congress Foundation, is a 28-year-old Washington, DC-based conservative educational foundation (think tank) that teaches people how to be effective in the political process, advocates judicial reform, promotes cultural conservatism, and works against the government encroachment of individual liberties.