Nicholas Kristof has a pretty effective piece in today's NYT comparing Obama to both LBJ, who inherited and escalated in Vietnam, and Gorbachev, who did the same in Afghanistan (the connotation of the latter being uncomfortable for both Obama and the history of U.S. policy in Afghanistan). By ignoring the opportunity to deliberate with the people of Afghanistan, Obama perpetuates the role of ignorant conqueror, and at a huge material cost.
“To me, what was most concerning is that there was never any consultation with the Afghan shura, the tribal elders,” said Greg Mortenson, whose extraordinary work building schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan was chronicled in “Three Cups of Tea” and his new book, “From Stones to Schools.” “It was all decided on the basis of congressmen and generals speaking up, with nobody consulting Afghan elders. One of the elders’ messages is we don’t need firepower, we need brainpower. They want schools, health facilities, but not necessarily more physical troops.”Kristof lists several more development projects which could have served as more effective anti-insurgent tools than boots on the ground. Notable among them is the National Solidarity Programme, which builds up things like drinking water infrastructure, weaving and other small production projects, and schools. When people are educated (by their standards--yes, emancipation can be both universal and local), they tend to stop believing in reactionary ideologies. When they're occupied--saturated, as they are about to be--with foreign troops, their lives and economies and intellectual histories don't develop, and hatred grows. Even if there's some argument for the need to defend these projects, the United States and other nations could do so effectively, and a case for such defense-oriented guardianship would be more palatable to a war-weary public than a poorly defined dump of troops. But that would fail to satisfy this urgency for destructive excess Team Obama feels the need to demonstrate, to prove a kind of toughness, placate the political id, and keep defense contractors happy.
For the cost of deploying one soldier for one year, it is possible to build about 20 schools.
Meanwhile, Kristof reports, George Rupp says that, for the cost of supporting one U.S. soldier, you can build National Solidarity Programme projects in 20 villages. Think.