George Will writes today that we should pull out of Afghanistan and instead focus on Pakistan.

Even though I still think we should stay (and I’ll get into why), at this point he has my ear…

U.S. forces are being increased by 21,000, to 68,000, bringing the coalition total to 110,000. About 9,000 are from Britain, where support for the war is waning. Counterinsurgency theory concerning the time and the ratio of forces required to protect the population indicates that, nationwide, Afghanistan would need hundreds of thousands of coalition troops, perhaps for a decade or more. That is inconceivable.

So, instead, forces should be substantially reduced to serve a comprehensively revised policy: America should do only what can be done from offshore, using intelligence, drones, cruise missiles, airstrikes and small, potent Special Forces units, concentrating on the porous 1,500-mile border with Pakistan, a nation that actually matters.

Couple this with the reality that a soldier dies every 14 hours in Afghanistan and dropping public opinion about why we should be there, and you have a recipe for quick withdrawal.

But here’s why I think we still need to keep pushing for at least another year…opium.

I’ve talked about this before, but to sum it up…if we allow Afghans to grow opium legally (as they do in India and Turkey) and sell it to pharmaceutical companies, we can regulate it and they can pull themselves out of the crushing poverty that is the backdrop for sympathetic views of the Taliban.

If not, we should just pack up and go.

Seriously. Because they’re not going to be able to build a stable economy with anything else and without money there is no hope for the country. And I mean NO hope. Virtually nothing can grow there, they have scant natural resources and their infrastructure is literally 200 years behind ours. It’s a crazy place and we can’t simply pour billions after billions to rebuild. Well, we can, but it’s not sustainable.

The choice is ours, but one thing is for sure…more troops won’t make Afghanistan whole again. No way, no how.

I welcome your thoughts…

  • Collin

    I agree with your assessment on the need to control the opium production. I’ve thought long and hard about it and can’t really develop a good plan. In late 2006 I asked a liaison from the State Dept giving a talk on Afghanistan your question- why don’t we make it legal and sell the opium to the pharmaceuticals? He responded that they simply make too much and there isn’t even close to the legal demand for it.

    Of course it was long enough ago that I don’t remember who was talking and I can’t find statistics essentially making this post pointless, but I thought I’d throw it out there for someone who knows more about the subject.

  • I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. The solution to the Afghanistan problem is for us to buy every poppy grown in that country ourselves and turn it into medicine. It will starve the Taliban of money, kick the street price of heroin out of the ability of millions of addicts to purchase, and win the hearts and minds of the Afghans who can only derive an income from growing the poppies in the first place. It would cost $1.75 billion, or about the same amount of money we wound up spending on “Cash for Clunkers.”

  • Chris

    yep, it’s funny with all the wars we propagate, we could spend the cash value of them and probably achieve much greater success. But not creating wars doesn’t make the industrial-military complex and the congress pets rich.

  • I have yet to see a compelling argument for why the place called Afghanistan should even be a country. The disparate groups living there have no unified national identity, and lack much of anything resembling a decently functioning government and economy.

    That’s why the US didn’t keep the big spotlight there for very long after 9/11, and it’s why we shouldn’t invest more time, money, and lives trying to make it into another starter democracy.

    We should be ALL OVER making it the world’s/the UN’s problem.

  • Afghanistan is aplace that eats armies and has done so since the time of Alexander the Great. Is it worth the lives and the expense ? All that these people know is conflict.

  • KK, you’re mistaken if you think Afghanistan has no national identity. If that was the case there’d be a secessionists fighting for the independence of specific bits of the country. It’s a bizarre form of national identity, and much different than Europe’s language-based national identities; but it exists.

    I strongly disagree with the folks who think we should leave Afghanistan. We’ve had one bad summer. It sucks, but it’s war. Soon the snow will fall, and the Taliban will go to ground for the winter. We’ll have months to think of a better plan, and counter their tactics.

    Note that even if we turn it over to the UN we’ll have to be intimately involved in the war. Technically our Army in Korea is under UN Command. Besides we already handed off to an international organization. NATO is formally in charge of Afghan operations. If NATO can’t hold the country there’s no way the UN can do it.

  • Its good that Will wrote that piece because it is causing a needed discussion. I’m not exactly sure what we’re hoping to accomplish there exactly. After the turnaround in Iraq, I don’t see too much of a danger of being seen as quitters.

    We accomplished a lot, but its too big and backwards of a country to stay there indefinitely. The optium idea is intriguing, but I don’t see them doing that. I hope Obama has more of a strategy than he is letting on.

  • No Nick, I’m not mistaken. Perhaps my attempt at brevity leaves you not getting my point. Here’s the thing. If you dig enough to scope even the executive summary of Afghanistan’s recent history and demographics, you understand that it’s a geopolitical Frankenstein. Compared to national identities like frenchman, American, englishman, japanese, and so on, Afghanis do not have an identity with a substantial national component.

    How many of the folks who live in Afghanistan think of themselves primarily as Afghanis? Not many. Tribal and religious associations overwhelmingly trump that sort of identity, and in various regions, the folks there might rather be part of the country that borders them than “Afghanistan.” That’s if they even care about any national identity at all in comparison to tribal/ethnic status.

    That these folks are hostile to the various waves of invaders who have come through and have always beaten them off is not the same thing as a national identity. We want a united ongoing “Afghanistan” more than the people there do, and that’s why it won’t work. For some reason it has been declared an important idea and objective by the United States , which leaves America more concerned about it than “Afghanis” themselves. That makes our efforts there folly.

    I don’t suggest transitioning things over to the UN to make the effort there more successful. I suggest it as a means of gradually but progressively minimizing our involvement there. Cosmetically, it’s a better choice than a unilateral withdrawal which makes the US look like a-holes.

    Staying there under current circumstances is going to be like trying to fill a bucket with a big hole in the bottom. There has been an international parade of
    geniuses who have had their hands at breaking the region called Afghanistan, The Soviets, the Taliban, and now the US, to name the latest few. Barack Obama foolishly bought this broken region by campaigning on the idea that it should have been our post 9/11 focus. Now it’s his albatross.

  • Afghani national identity isn’t the primary identity for most of it’s inhabitants, but it’s strong enough that AFAIK no actual Afghani person wants to break the country up.

    It’s got a lot of parallels. For example Iran. There is no Iranian language. There are lots of little groups around the country, each speaking it’s own language. But breaking it up into feuding statelets would probably be a bad idea. When they tried that with the Ottoman Balkan Territories it took several wars to sort out the borders, including World War One, and it’s still full of touchy political issues. Such as the debate on whether Moldova should be part of Romania.

    I agree that a highly decentralized government makes a lot of sense in Afghanistan, but the simple fact is that the Afghans think there should be a guy in Kabul reigning over all of them. That means Afghanistan is not going away anytime soon.

  • I don’t advocate breaking it up. That kind of intervention is even worse that what we’re trying to do now.

    The point is that the will to be a unified nation in a meaningful sense must be emergent: it must come from within. Afghanistan is going to default back to a loose confederation of quarreling states with a “highly decentralized” government (a government in little more than name only, since it will lack authority) whether we like it or not.