Monday, January 18, 2010

Holbrooke and the US don't get it

In theory, the plan to split non-ideological Taliban (as mentioned in this WaPo piece) from Mullah Omar's leadership makes sense.  But to make it happen requires  a major re-education of almost entirely illiterate Pashtun tribesmen, who have been raised from birth to distrust foreigners, wherever they come from, and to drive them out as a matter of honor and manly virtue.  Says Holbrooke:
"Everyone knows the great tradition in Afghanistan of throwing out the foreign invaders - from Alexander the Great, to the British, to the Russians - but we are not here in the same context.  We are here to help you regain your independence and to help you build up your own security forces. And after that, the troops will depart. And what the Taliban demand amounts to is surrender ... and that will return your country to the black years and nobody wants that."
IMHO, it will require a huge effort to convince these men that the US truly is not in Afghanistan "in the same context" as the British and the Russians.  There's a distinction there that they will not readily grasp, nor will the Marines and soldiers - who are (to use an old friend's expression) "full of piss and vinegar"; who are trained from boot camp on to be tough, engage the enemy, and "get some"; and who are already identified by the locals as infidels and in some cases even Christian proselytizers -  readily come across to the locals as "liberators" who are there only to "restore their independence."

This is a project that, if it's to achieve any semblance of "success" (however that's defined), will require years, not the many months that Obama's address to launch the Afghan "Surge" suggested - and it will require a huge outlay of American treasure (even as the economy at home is on shaky ground) and a steady destruction of American lives as well as the losing of both Afghan lives of those killed, and the Afghan hearts and minds of their loved ones.

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