Saturday, July 24, 2010

Is Informed Opinion on the Afghanistan Mission Shifting?

Excellent post by Michael Cohen at Democracy Arsenal.  An increasing number of foreign policy mainstream realists (Richard Haas, Fareed Zakaria, Robert Blackwill, and perhaps now David Kilcullen, who was one of Petraeus' gurus for the COIN "Surge" in Iraq) are arguing that the US counter-insurgency mission in Afghanistan has no realistic chance to succeed.  Some, in fact, are arguing that the US needs to get on board with the effort to reconcile the Karzai government with the Taliban, stabilize the mostly Tajik-Hazara north of Afghanistan, and leave the mostly Pashtun south and west to the Taliban (whose support derives, after all, mostly from the Pashtun). 

This seems to make much sense.  There seems to be no way that the US military can "defeat" the Taliban, especially in their heartland, without incurring unsustainable expense and US casualties, as well as an unacceptable level of "collateral damage" - in the form of slaughtered civilians and destroyed villages, as well as new jihadists created in Iraq and elsewhere by the perception that the US is set on killing as many Muslims as necessary in order to defend its "national interests."

On the other hand, would the Taliban be content to be left with an Afghan Pashtunistan?  Would the minority Tajiks and Hazaras be content to see Afghanistan be thus (for all intents and purposes) partitioned?  Or, as has been suggested recently in both the LA Times and Washington Post, would Afghanistan devolve into an ethnic civil war of the kind that devastated the country after the Soviet withdrawal more than 20 years ago?

And if the south and west of Afghanistan were to be handed over to the mostly Pashtun Taliban, how would the Pashtuns in Pakistan (where they likewise are a huge percentage of the populations) respond? 

And none of these questions take into account that we can't assume that all the Pashtuns would be happy to be lumped into some kind of "Pashtunistan."  The clan and tribal divisions are very strongly entrenched within this (and all the other) broadly define ethnic groups in the region.

All of which, of course, reminds us of how grossly ignorant the US diplomatic and military establishments were about the realities of Afghan society (or for that matter, Iraqi society) when they decided to launch their missions of "enduring freedom."

1 comment:

Donald Sensing said...

It's starting to be more evident that regarding Afghanistan, when you don't know where you're going, any road will take you there. Petraeus and Gen. Mattis at CENTCOM will fail in Afghanistan.

I wrote on July 23, "Why Patraeus won't matter,"

>>They will fail because COIN is a tactic, not a strategic objective, and the United States has no strategic objectives regarding Afghanistan. The generals will be conducting COIN for COIN's own sake, not really to achieve something else. As far any anyone can tell, President Obama's only national objective regarding Afghanistan is to pull American forces out by the end of next year. That's not a strategic objective. It's an admission of aimlessness.<<


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