Friday, December 04, 2009

Lack of consultation with Afghan local leaders continues cycle of war and waste

The solvency deficit incurred by a military surge in Afghanistan is, above all, material. Obama's commitment to continue to prioritize firepower and bloodletting is an embrace of excess, designed to demonstrate the will to be wasteful. This, Team Obama hopes, will placate several layers of the polis.  Whatever their motivations, the surge probably will not work, and whatever does get spun as eventual success or stability in the long run will end up being far more wasteful than alternatives would have been.

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.”
For the cost of deploying one soldier for one year, it is possible to build about 20 schools.
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.

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.


party bus said...
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tmptplayer said...

I understand the concern with price and the opportunity cost of sending extra troops into Afghanistan, but I think the key here is how the strategy is adjusted to utilize this extra force. Maintaining the status quo with more troops will yield little to no positive results.

The problem with spending this funding on humanitarian action is that for social projects to succeed a monopoly on force is required. You can't have liberal schooling if those who'd send their children to such schools are concerned of radical Islamic Taliban interference.

Iraq was won by convincing the Iraqi people that they would stay as long as it took to accomplish the mission. The troops became fixtures in the community, and only when they realized that these troops prevented reprisals from opposing factions did they start to embrace the civic reform that we were endorsing. Afghanistan will be a much tougher environment to manage given their cultural history of decentralization.

But it seems to me that as good as it would be to improve Afghan education and infrastructure, security is a prerequisite for any success in these areas. Hopefully we can achieve this security to enable these schools in the not-to-distant future.