Opinion from a Libertarian ViewPoint

It Still Doesn’t Get Worse Than Afghanistan – Foreign Policy

Posted by M. C. on July 11, 2018

It Still Doesn’t Get Worse Than Afghanistan


…These are all valid contenders — and there are no doubt others — but for my money (and yours), the single most indefensible and brain-dead aspect of U.S. foreign policy today remains the fruitless but never-ending effort to defeat the Taliban and achieve some sort of meaningful victory in Afghanistan. The United States has been trying to do this for so long that the arrival of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Kabul on Monday, on the heels of the country’s latest broken ceasefire, went unnoticed by most Americans. Many have probably forgotten (or never knew) how America’s involvement in Afghanistan even started — including some of the troops now being sent there…

…What does the United States have to show for all these sacrifices? Today, the Taliban control more territory than at any time since they were ousted from power. The number of civilian casualties peaked in 2017 and remains on a similar pace this year, and the number of insurgent attacks per year has been rising steadily too. Opium production is at an all-time high as well, despite the billions of dollars the United States has spent on various eradication plans. The Afghan government remains irredeemably corrupt, internally divided, and ineffective. In a further sign of internal disarray, last week the New York Times reported that government forces were attacking a militia controlled by an ally of exiled Afghan Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum, an anti-Taliban warlord who is at odds with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani…

Why did the United States fail? Mostly because the task it set for itself was really, really hard, and one for which the available tools were not appropriate. Driving the Taliban from power was the easy part, but replacing them with a modern, Western-style constitution and corresponding set of political institutions was a fanciful objective, especially in a distant society that bore little or no resemblance to that of the United States. The Taliban weren’t going to go anywhere, save for the sanctuaries they enjoyed in neighboring Pakistan, and the U.S. and allied military actions inevitably generated resentment throughout the country and aided Taliban recruiting. As a research team led by a former senior Defense Department advisor on Afghanistan subsequently concluded: “civilian harm by U.S., international, and Afghan forces contributed significantly to the growth of the Taliban … and undermined the war effort by straining U.S.-Afghan relations.”

Moreover, U.S. officials and commanders lacked the detailed local knowledge necessary for successful state-building: They did not know which local leaders to trust or support, did not understand the complex and subtle networks of allegiance in which they were trying to work, and failed to recognize that the social changes they were trying to introduce were often unwelcome. And even when some U.S. officials did acquire a modicum of understanding, their tours would end and their replacements would have to start the learning process all over again…

Wars like this continue in part because 1) no one wants to fess up and admit the United States is not omnipotent, 2) they are being fought by volunteers rather than draftees, 3) U.S. casualty rates are now quite low, and 4) because it is easy to get distracted by Trump’s latest outrage and forget about a distant war that is rarely mentioned on radio or TV and is mostly confined to the back pages of the newspaper. And so, the war drones on, no pun intended, with little hope of either victory or withdrawal…

Be seeing you




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