Some thoughts on Afghanistan, now that the election’s come and gone.
I don’t usually find inspiration in the pages of the Washington Times, are rarely if ever in the writings of Tony Blankley, the former spokesman for Newt Gingrich, but his recent column on the mess in Afghanistan struck me as intelligent and provocative. It’s called “Empower the local tribal chiefs,” and it makes sense to me. Blankley says that the United States is fast making enemies in Afghanistan of the very tribesmen who expelled the USSR, and he makes this essential point about the faulty thinking behind US strategy there:
“It would appear that a policy that calls for substantially increased troop strength for both the American and Afghan forces implies a policy that aspires to build a strong central government in Kabul capable of permanently suppressing the Taliban. But the long history of Afghanistan suggests that, unlike Iraq (or Japan and Germany after World War II), Afghanistan is not likely to accept a strong central government.”
Blankley, whose right-wing credentials are impeccable, adds:
“We are not hated quite yet. But we need to leave soon, or we will be.”
He suggests that we simply buy up the poppy crop (cost: $2 billion to $3 billion), stop “trying to prop up an inevitably corrupt and feeble Kabul central government,” and “support the tribes that have cheerfully and courageously driven out all foreign intruders for thousands of years, not try to build a national government that they will equally cheerfully massacre.” I’m not sure what Blankley means by “support” them, since it appears to me that the most effective thing we can do is leave them to their own devices. But he’s on the right track that if the choices are either to spend decades, and hundreds of billions of dollars, creating a democratic Valhalla based in Kabul, or start winding down our presence while allowing some sort of province-by-province, warlord-based (and in the south, Taliban-leaning, Pashtun) local fiefdoms to emerge, then I’d pick Option Two.
Over at the AfPak Channel, an interesting debate between Steve Walt and Peter Bergen is underway. A few days ago, Walt — the ultimate, thoughtful realist and co-author of The Israel Lobby — made the admirable point that there is reason to question the almost universally acceptable notion that we have to fight in Afghanistan because that country would otherwise become a “safe haven” for terrorists and Al Qaeda, who would then attack us again. (His piece was called “The Safe Haven Myth,” and you should read the whole thing.) In it, Walt suggests that the Taliban and Al Qaeda are not the same thing, that the Taliban has no interest in “following us home” or attacking targets abroad, and that even if Al Qaeda could reestablish itself in Afghanistan, it would still have to operate underground, under constant threat of US attack. And he adds: