Michael Yon has one of his best-ever pieces on Afghanistan. He makes the compelling argument that it is not a country, but an illiterate teenager in need of adoption.
In Mr. Filkins’ article, a couple of seemingly small points are keyholes to profound realities, and to a few possible illusions. For instance, the idea that Afghans are tired of fighting seems off. Afghans often tell me they are tired of fighting but those words are inconsistent with the bitter fact that the war intensifies with every change of season. The idea that Afghans are tired of war seems an illusion. Some Afghans are tired. I spend more time talking with older Afghans than with teenagers, and most of the older Afghans do seem weary. Yet according to the CIA World Factbook, the median age is 17.6 years; meaning half of Afghans are estimated to be this age or below. The culture is old, but the population is a teenager. Most Afghans today probably had not reached puberty when al Qaeda launched the 9/11 attacks. Eight years later, Afghanistan is more an illiterate kid than a country. The median age for the U.S. is given at 36.7. In addition to the tremendous societal disconnect between Americans and Afghans, there would be a generational gap even if those distant children were Americans. Clearly this could lead to frustrations if we expect quick results.
We ask Afghans for help in defeating the enemies, yet the Afghans expect us to abandon them. Importantly, Mr. Filkins pointed out that Afghans don’t like to see Americans living in tents. Tents mean nomads. It would be foolish for Afghans in “Talibanastan” to cooperate with nomadic Americans only to be eviscerated by the Taliban when the nomads pack up. (How many times did we see this happen in Iraq?) The Afghans want to see us living in real buildings as a sign of permanency. The British at Sangin and associated bases live in temporary structures as is true with American bases in many places. Our signals are clear. “If you are coming to stay,” Afghans have told me in various ways, “build a real house.” “Build a real office.” “Don’t live in tents.” We saw nearly the opposite in Iraq where pressure evolved to look semi-permanent. The Dr. Jekyll–Mr. Hyde situation in Iraq seemed to seriously catch hold by 2006 or 2007, by which time Iraqis realized we were not going to steal oil and might decide to pull out while leaving them ablaze in civil war.
Victory (yes, I used the v-word, Barry) is possible but by no means assured. If you remember reading about that amazing mission to deliver a turbine to a hydroelectric project you should read how it has turned into a failure.
It’s going to be a long war no matter what.
Deebow has a relevant open letter to the president on Blackfive.
As an American, I demand that if the leaders that I freely elect are going to commit blood and treasure to the defeat of our enemies, then we do not go about it in vacillating half measures following incoherent policies that lead to indefinable outcomes spread over generations.
We fight to win, or we don’t fight at all.
If you are unwilling or you are unable to fulfill your role as Commander in Chief, then you should tender your resignation.
Update, and bumped:
Krauthammer has a good point.
We always think of Pakistan as a place in which you create a haven for the Afghan bad guys that we are attacking, but it works in the other way as well. You have got to have hammer and anvil. And the hammer now in Pakistan is the Pakistani army.
But unless we secure the Afghan areas on the other side, the bad guys will relocate and have sanctuary in Afghanistan.
That’s why the wars are linked, and that’s why the increase in the violence now in Pakistan is linked intimately with our decision on Afghanistan. And I worry that if you adopt the McChrystal-light strategy…a narrow strategy, holding the cities and the infrastructure and leaving the countryside to the enemy. I’m not sure if that would in any way succeed.