20 June 2010

The U.S. cannot create peace in Afghanistan

In an otherwise insightful and thought-provoking article on The Seminal blog entitled “Afghanistan: Has Karzai Already Joined the Taliban?” Josh Mull makes a grave mistake by suggesting that the United States recast its policies from war-making to nation building. According to Mull:
"If the US has any interest in seeing a different outcome for Afghanistan, troops, special forces, or any kind of war are simply not an option. Rather Afghanistan’s post-war tyranny can be undermined through other ways, such as developing Afghanistan (Everything from roads to education to a free press) to the point where extremist ideologies, as well as the endemic corruption and oppression, like those of Karzai and the Taliban will no longer be tolerated or sustainable. The US can also push for free and fair elections in Afghanistan, allowing a credible test of legitimacy for Afghanistan’s government, to allow for more ethical international trade activities. And the US can engage directly with the civilian government of Pakistan, allowing peaceful Pakistani citizens to set and implement their own foreign policy…"
Afghanistan’s problems are enormous. There is virtually no legal economy and so no tax base exists to fund an even skeletal government, there are no public works or public health infrastructures, the educational system is thoroughly inadequate, the state has no ability to provide for its most basis security needs, the multi-ethnic society has been traumatized and demoralized by three decades of war and brutality, there is inadequate home-grown human capital, and there is no national consensus on anything, save that Pres. Karzai is an embarrassing failure. “Fixing” those problems will require a generation of internationally financed development and regional cooperation among nations and peoples, many of whom despite each other. This is a task far beyond the financial capability and political will of United States, a nation with few consistent foreign policy priorities other than making the world safe for U.S. economic dominance.

In recent decades, the United States has demonstrated no ability to operate cooperatively or equally with other nations. Washington’s idea of consensus occurs when its allies capitulate to whatever the United States desires. Bullies, by definition, don’t play well with others.

A more peaceful and prosperous Afghanistan requires that the nations that have manipulated its internal and external affairs in recent decades (e.g. Pakistan, India, Iran, Russia, and the United States) and its Central Asian neighbors sit at the same negotiating table. If and when those nations can reach some agreement that balances their self-interests while allowing Afghan sovereignty, then some new chairs can be added for other nations willing to invest in Afghanistan’s development. But until an equitable regional agreement is reached, it is impossible to imagine an end to the nation’s trouble,

The best thing the United States can do is pull all of its military troops out immediately and withdraw every civilian development programs that is unwilling to answer to a truly regional leadership in which Afghanistan is the first among equals. The sad truth is that private contractors, many of which are nothing more than war profiteers, and civilian employees have been the primary beneficiaries of U.S. development assistance. Sad truth no. 2 (and the list could go on) is that many of the United States’ development efforts are riddled with corruption, a reality that is conveniently forgotten by U.S. pundits and politicians who choose to see only Afghan corruption, which is admittedly rampant.

I am not convinced the United States is capable of learning from history or of cooperating with others nations on any kind of a equitable basis, but those changes must occur if beleaguered and war-weary Afghanistan to have any chance at a future.

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