The Afghanistan Problem
The huge cultural misunderstandings between Western forces and the Afghan people make it unlikely any counterinsurgency mission in the countryside will succeed.
By Gilles Dorronsoro
In the countryside, Westerners are essentially perceived as corrupt and threatening to traditional Afghan or Muslim values. Contrary to our self-perception, the villagers see the foreigners as the main providers of insecurity. The presence of coalition troops means IEDs, ambushes and airstrikes, and consequently a higher probability of being killed, maimed or robbed of a livelihood. Any incident quickly reinforces the divide between locals and outsiders, and the Afghan media provide extensive and graphic coverage of botched airstrikes and injured civilians.
The cultural misunderstandings between the Pashtuns and Western forces provide fodder for the Taliban. Its members have capitalized on Afghans’ natural distrust of outsiders to propagate conspiracy theories, including the claim that the Americans are helping the Taliban to give themselves an excuse to stay in the country and exploit its natural resources.
Even the U.S. attempts at soft power are largely failing. There is a worrisome correlation between the amount of aid for civilian projects per capita and the strength of the insurgency.
2009 Go Big or Go Deep [.pdf] by LtCol Daniel Davis argues that the massive, lengthy, costly counterinsurgency operation that McChrystal and his supporters in the neoconservative cabal insist we need to implement yesterday is unlikely to work.
Phi Beta Iota: The hidden story is veteran suicides and amputees–the Pentagon and the self-censoring media do not want these statistics known to the public. Afghanistan has become a quagmire–a no-win quagmire in our judgment, because of the persistent policy-intelligence paradimg of failure: policy is made based on ideological fantasy and very bad advice about the “hidden treasures” (see Michael Klare’s Blood and Oil). Completely apart from whatever role Dick Cheney had in letting 9/11 happen and using that as a Pretext for War, we blew Afghanistan three times:
1. When Charlie Wilson pleaded for a continuation of funding after the Soviet exit, in order to do the transition to peace and the investment needed to keep Afghanistan free and on the way to prosperity
2. When General Franks refused to drop Rangers in Bin Laden’s path and CIA was inexplicably not equipped with long-range sniping as it followed Bin Laden for four days from Tora Bora to Jalalabad
3. When a series of political, military, and diplomatic executives failed to understand the cultural impact of our persistent presence absent tangible progress on all civil fronts.
In Latin America they call us “tontos utilites.” In Afghanistan there have been only two winners: the Taliban, and the Karzai drug criminal family.
What we SHOULD be doing is a comprehensive analysis of the ten high-level threats to the USA (beginning with poverty) and how each of the twelve core policies from Agriculture to Water is being totally hosed by a combination of ignorant political appointees, placid bureaucrats, and a complete lack of leadership out of the White House and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), further undermined by Congressional stovepipes favoring special interests, and of course a global war that is out of control, unaffordable, and completely ineffective externally while deeply corrosive internally across all fronts (political, economic, social, cultural, demographic).