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Obama’s Decision On Afghanistan – Bold Solutions Required

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Obama’s Afghan Dilemma is only vexing because it pits one conventional approach against another, when neither holds much hope for success.

Both the COIN + CT approaches are what I call “perfect world” approaches. They rely on countless variables going right, and if history in Afghanistan has taught us anything, it’s that banking on anything there is a bad idea.

So what to do. First, we need to establish the prism we’re seeing the problem through. Is it humanitarian prism? Or a principled ideological prism? Or through the prism of securing the strategic interests of the United States via realpolitik. Ideology, in the form of neo-conservative export of American Democracy was tried, and failed. After eight years, we’re dealing with a deeply corrupt prime-minister in Kabul with zero credibility at home and in Washington. As for humanitarianism, we have to examine what it is we want to achieve. There is tremendous hardship in Afghanistan, but it’s been there for millenia. The place is now and always has been essentially Medieval. A true humanitarian mission would be massive, would require a stable government in Kabul with reach across the country, and a commitment to accelerate the course of Afghan history at great cost to the United States, and with no real guarantee of success. All that would beg the question. The third world is full of desperation. Why should Afghanistan be singled out for saving, at the expense of so many other countries that need our help.

Finally, there is the prism of realpolitik. Some might call realpolitik amoral, but there is a view – and one that I subscribe to – that only America has the power and reach to keep the world stable and relatively peaceful, and this new realpolitik is built around the understanding that America’s interests are served by serving the interests of the world at large.

Sadly, America is not omnipotent. Its resources are limited. It must decide where it can best advance the cause of world stability.

So does adding to our troop levels in Afghanistan represent the best use of American resources. The answer to that is clearly no. The major threat to world stability in the Central Asian region is not in Afghanistan. It is in Pakistan to the east and Iran to Afghanistan’s west. With Al Qaeda a shadow of its former self, and the Taliban more interested in internal control than reestablishing the Caliphate, we can safely divert resources to Pakistan and Iranian wings of the theatre.

But does that mean we abandon Afghanistan? Not at all. We need to maintain Baghram AFB as a strategic garrison with at least 2 strike brigades to deal with hotspots as they emerge, and as HQ for a large Special Forces array which will be the main strike-force of our continued Afghan policy.

And what should that policy be? In a word, bribery. The key to weakening the Taliban is to hit them where it hurts. In the wallet. Without money, they’re an overstretched rump that can’t afford recruits to expand their reach. The more overstretched they become, the less able they’ll be to enforce their brutality.

The Taliban get their money from two major sources. Opium and foreign donations, mainly via Saudi Arabia ( the world’s foremost exporter of terrorist financing ). Dealing with the cash flow from Opium will require us to pay the farmers handsomely well over market price for their opium crop in order to stop them from growing, and to keep paying them so that they resist the Taliban when they come after these – wealthier – farmers. We would also throw money around to the communities that support these farmers. Those special forces units would be the bagmen – delivering the money, and would lie in wait – when intelligence presents itself – to deal with any Taliban that come after the farmers. The good news is that we’ll be waiting for them, reversing the usual search and destroy formula in our favor. And if the farmers renege, or betray us. No more cash. The Taliban return and the farmers pay tribute in lives and treasure once more. If they like it, fine. If they don’t they can make a phone call.

At the very least, we keep the Taliban occupied while we concentrate on our strategic interests in Pakistan and Iran. And the policy would have another plus. The price of opium would rise dramatically, hitting the drug traffickers hard.

As to choking off donations to the Taliban, that will be harder, but it does not involve committing troops. It involves giving our diplomats teeth in their dealings with Saudi Arabia. A recalibration of America’s relations with Saudi Arabia is critical to our Afghan and Mid-East policies as a whole, and will be impacted by countless other elements, particularly in the energy sector of policy making. But that’s for another time.

Let’s leave this discussion by saying this. Achieving success in foreign policy comes from embracing bold solutions. There is no better cauldron for testing them than Afghanistan.


Written by coolrebel

November 11, 2009 at 3:06 am

6 Responses

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  1. After I found the lump I ran to the internet. I don't think it is anything serious anymore but thank you for helping me get the answers I needed.


    July 28, 2010 at 1:37 pm

  2. Wow, that really inspires me. It just reminded me that no matter what happens in the world we can always take it one day at a time and it will get better. Thank you.


    July 6, 2010 at 5:49 pm

  3. That was really cool. I read some more about this and after digging around this really helped me figure out my problem. Thank you!

    Ashley S

    July 1, 2010 at 8:03 am

  4. I was able to finish my school project with this site. You saved my bum!


    June 29, 2010 at 7:06 am

  5. Dear Guru, what entice you to post an article. This article was extremely interesting, especially since I was searching for thoughts on this subject last Thursday.

    Randal Schipper

    April 20, 2010 at 4:14 am

  6. I agree with you more than I disagree. It's when I get to the Pakistan issue that I falter. Not in the idea that Pakistan is indeed the key to regional stability, but in how that might be achieved. To me, leaving a country in a dangerously unstable condition that shares a large and long border with Pakistan makes no sense.

    The status quo also makes no sense.

    Gen. McChrystal's COIN strategy seems to open a door for putting leverage on Pakistan to quit saber-rattling with India and get busy cleaning their own house for their own sake. In fact, I'd argue that Pakistan is one of the key reasons we should be sending troops to Afghanistan.


    November 11, 2009 at 4:52 am

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