Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Futility in Afghanistan

David Brooks in the New York Times outlines the fundamental flaw of our attempts to build the nation of Afghanistan.  Somehow, Westerners are convinced that bad behavior is a function of poverty.  It's not.  Bad behavior is a function of choices.  In Afghanistan Brooks points to tribal feuds, old and new grudges, and religious fanaticism are much more the source of ongoing strife than lack of opportunity for young men.  I would add the culture where honor is the root value, various ways that the Americans and rival tribes and factions manage to dishonor various Afghanistani sectors is an escalating factor.

More money into Afghanistan sounds good to American ears, sounds compassionate, sounds smart, but it looks like all it is doing is overwhelming an old culture with more western wealth than it can deal with, and ends up so distorting the society that we are working at cross-purposes with our nation building efforts.  

Our need in foreign countries is to work within the frameworks of the countries themselves, but that is pretty much impossible when we have scores of thousands of troops there as part of our own self protection.  

The old saying is that once you are up to your ass in alligators, it is hard to remember that you came to drain the swamp.

Maybe the swamp in Afghanistan has been drained sufficiently of al Qaeda, and it is time to leave the alligators behind and come home.

Obama, as usual, looks like he is trying to find a way to kind of leave without leaving too fast and offending too many Americans as he does it.  He has apparently laid out a draw down schedule that is faster than wanted by the military, but slower than is wanted by American doves.  It's a tough call as to how to get out of Afghanistan, and there is probably no way to do it without some sort of disastrous consequence, but a lot of people are tired of fighting, and paying for fighting, the alligators.