Pacifying Afghanistan: a dangerous dream
Does President Obama realize the difficulty of the task faced by America’s young men and women there?
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Everything is negotiable for a price there – except loyalty between fundamentalists. Prepubescent girls are bought as brides for between $500 and $7,000.Yet Osama bin Laden managed to escape US forces largely because Washington naively thought the almighty dollar would compel Afghan tribesman to sell out a Muslim brother.Skip to next paragraph
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Washington's chief purpose for staying the course is to keep terrorists from returning and reestablishing bases in Afghanistan. These fears do not stand the test of reason. Al Qaeda already has hotbeds of sympathizers in Karachi, Pakistan; Marseilles, France; Yemen; in British mosques; and perhaps in the Detroit suburbs, as well.
History offers few examples of advanced cultures transforming primitive ones; mostly conquering forces just subsume them. After the Soviet loss in Afghanistan, a Russian analysis estimated it would have required 750,000 to one million troops to pacify and occupy that country. McChrystal thinks he can do it with just over 100,000?
Mr. Obama surely realizes that after more than 30 years of nearly continuous war, Afghanistan is a failed state. Short of half a million troops, the US will not be putting Humpty Dumpty together again. Adding another 40,000 US troops, as McChrystal wants to do, would probably just plunge Afghanistan's tribes into further chaos and suffering.
US generals pushing for more troops need to publicly acknowledge certain realities. First, that Afghanistan is unlike any challenge Washington has ever taken on. Second, that what's happening there is in many respects a civil war. Third, that indigenous resistance is likely to grow, not diminish, as the US presence intensifies.
Afghanistan's emergence into modernity must come from internal reform of its own religious and cultural traditions, not from an American diktat. Perhaps the best thing the US can do for Afghans is to withdraw. The precedent is there: Vietnam, Lebanon, Somalia.
Obama should consider having a private chat with Matthew Hoh, a former combat Marine Corps officer in Iraq who later served the State Department in Afghanistan. Mr. Hoh resigned recently because he came to believe that increasing troop levels is wrong. Speaking to The Washington Post, Hoh urged Americans to call their member of Congress and say, "Listen, I don't think this thing is right."