Sunday, June 26, 2011

Forgetting the Past

This post is about Afghanistan. I was going to call it The Graveyard of Empires, but then I read an article in some foreign policy mag that claimed at great and learned length that that was an incorrect description of Afghanistan and I got really confused.

Which is only fitting, because confusion seems to be at the core of what we are dealing with.

What we have here is a primitive, incredibly poor, collection of tribes and loosely affiliated factions, masquerading as a country. A country that just happens to be strategically located and sitting on a fortune of minerals. A fortune that they do not have the wherewithal to exploit. And as the history of the world shows, if you cannot exploit, then you will be exploited. For the most part the Afghan people are illiterate or uneducated and shackled by religion and age old customs. How you change that in a couple of years is beyond me.

President Obama is a highly intelligent man, but one lesson American Presidents never seem to learn and retain, no matter how smart they are, is that it is much easier to get into a war than it is to get out of a war. Especially when there is no clearly defined goal. Osama Bin Laden is dead and al-Qaeda has metastasized. So what do we want now? A stable, let alone democratic Afghanistan? I'm not sure any of us will live to see that. Certainly not as long as the Pashtun region remains untamed. And pacifying the Pashtun without the complete cooperation of Pakistan is impossible. As we have seen, "Pakistani cooperation" is a sometimes thing, indeed almost an oxymoron.

The fact is that Afghanistan will only enter the 21st Century when the majority of its people want to enter the 21st Century. Until then, you can keep as many troops there as you like, spend a king's ransom, and all you'll end up with is a handful of sand. And a bigger graveyard.

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