In a brilliant essay in a recent issue of the London Review of Books (“The Irresistible Illusion, July 9), Rory Stewart, the Director of the Carr Center on Human Rights Policy at Harvard, writes that “Afghanistan..is the graveyard of predictions.” I’d add that is is also the graveyard of empires. Stewart is critical of President Obama’s “new policy,” which he explains “has a very narrow focus–counter-terrorism–and a very broad definition of how to achieve it: no less than the fixing of the Afghan state.”
Alternatives, for the moment, have been excluded. Yet too few are asking the tough questions that need to be asked about how we might better provide security — in the region and for the US — through a non-military regional strategy to stabilize Afghanistan. Why are too few pointing out that it is crazy to pour billions into a war whose mission we’re still unable to clearly define when the U.S. economy is in crisis and millions (here and globally) face joblessness?
While the newly arrived top commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McCrystal, champions a 21st century counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy, few in Congress have bothered to question the Administration about the fact that while this COIN strategy calls for a ratio of 80 percent political and 20 percent military, 90 percent of the recent war supplemental goes towards military expenses. And just last week, according to the Washington Post, McCrystal concluded that Afghan security forces will have to expand far beyond currently planned levels. Such an expansion would require additional billions beyond the $7.5 billion the administration has budgeted annually to build up the Afghan army and police over the next several years; it will also mean the deployment of 1000s of more US troops as trainers and advisers.
Obama has so far committed to building an Afghan army of 134,000 and a police force of 82,000. McCrystal now appears to be pushing for what some US generals have earlier spoken about wanting: a combined Afghan army-police-security apparatus of 450,000 soldiers. Such a force would cost $2 or $ 3 billion a year to maintain; as Rory Stewart points out, the annual revenue of the Afghan government is just $600 million. “We criticize developing countries for spending 30 percent of their budget on defense,” Stewart notes, and “we are encouraging Afghanistan to spend 500 percent of its budget.”