No Distance Left To RunNovember 3, 2009 at 9:19 pm | Posted in International | 5 Comments
Although President Obama has yet to announce whether he’ll commit more troops to Afghanistan, I think we can be certain of one thing: that what is being agonised-over in Washington’s defence & foreign policy establishments isn’t a choice between war and peace, but rather what type of war they’d rather wage.
For a long time, the clear favourite seemed to be a counter-insurgency (COIN) strategy. COIN advocates have argued that military operations must be accompanied by civilian outreach, aid & some measure of state-building. For a counter-insurgency to work, the institutions upon which the civilian population relies have to be restored and defended, thereby thwarting an insurgent’s ability to erode the state’s legitimacy & authority. If you believe that this strategy can work in Afghanistan, then it is self-evident that General McChrystal should have all the troops he needs.
However, you should only defend the legitimacy of a state when you’re working with a legitimate government. With Afghanistan’s calamitous, bloody and fraudulent election, the withdrawal of Hamid Karzai’s competitor and the subsequent declaration that this ineffective crook was the ‘victor’, it is wishful thinking to regard this government as being in any way legitimate.
This matters because one of the favoured options for going forward in Afghanistan relies on protecting and strengthening the major population centres; trying to restore the link between the state and the people and providing greater safety & prosperity. However, as one military intelligence official recently told the NYT, “if we are going to conduct a population-centric strategy in Afghanistan, and we are perceived as backing thugs, then we are just undermining ourselves.”
So Karzai’s stolen re-election cuts at the very heart of what the Obama administration is trying to achieve in Afghanistan. Any action it takes from this point on will be seen to reinforce a rotten, corrupt, powerless and fraudulent government which has not brought anywhere near enough safety, security or prosperity to a war-ravaged people. Under these conditions, I can’t see how our presence there will be anything but counter-productive. Maybe the conversation they should be having in the White House is about devising an exit strategy.