After having spent four months in Afghanistan and seeing much of the war from the inside, some may wonder if my opinions of the efficacy of fighting there have changed. In short, they haven’t changed much.
While I do see the benefit of having some foot print in the country, I also see that the country’s leaders and outside influencers in Pakistan are playing both sides in hopes that when the US leaves, the Taliban won’t have any grudges. Their actions form a self-fulfilling prophecy and enable the Taliban to continue maintaining some legitimacy.
I want to dismiss the myth that Afghan fighters are incredible guerrilla warriors, able to defeat our troops because of their years’ experience in this kind of fighting. In fact, the Taliban and Haqqani fighters get severely smashed every time they confront US troops. Obliterated. I’m talking 40 bad guys dead, and 0 US dead on several occasions since I’ve been in the country. The way they kill our troops is by paying some dupe with no job to plant a bomb on a road and then detonating it as we ride by.
So why can’t we win? I have several opinions on this. First, we must define what winning is. I think in some ways, we have won. Al-Qaeda is almost non-existent in Afghanistan. The Taliban in many areas is reduced to a loose crime syndicate. And America is still a great place to live. If we read the memo that directed then-General Stanley McChrystal on the objectives of this war, the goal was to “degrade” the Taliban. We’ve done that.
But the one conclusion that I’ve come to that means the most to me is this: Democracy is a reward. Democracy is not a cause, it is the result of doing the right things. The people of Afghanistan have not earned Democracy because they refuse to change the way they do business. And they must suffer the consequences. The people of Iraq have earned the right to reap the benefits of Democracy (much to the chagrin of the Left) , as they demonstrated in the Anbar Awakening. To ask that Democracy be the cause that brings success to Afghanistan is like buying a teenager a new BMW in hopes it brings him a sense of responsibility.
I must point out that General Patraeus has made it clear we only need to make Afghanistan “good enough”. We don’t need to make it Switzerland, as he quipped. He is absolutely correct, and I do think that a good enough Afghanistan is in reach. But until the problems in Pakistan are dealt with, good enough is not possible. Our military leaders know this.
This is not a military failure. The military has defeated the Taliban on every battle front, though I don’t think we’ve been nearly aggressive enough. There’s also the problem of defining the enemy himself. Any guy can pick up a Kalashnikov and call himself Taliban, just as any person could now call himself a Nazi. So when do we know the Taliban has been defeated? The problem at this point, does not have a military solution. It is a Rule of Law problem and the result of cultural failure. The military part of the problem had been solved. The puzzle that remains is the endemic collapse of stabilizing social structures within Afghanistan. Chaos begets chaos. Corruption fathers corruption.
The War on Terror has not been a failure. Al-Qaeda suffered a massive strategic defeat. It’s plans are consistently disrupted, its fighters arrested or eliminated, many of it’s leaders killed or facing trial. The Taliban barely has a corporeal existence in Afghanistan, but its ghost remains in the form of criminal gangs and warlords. There are very real and positive results that’ve been gained from ignoring the defeatists. And we should continue to fight Islamic extremist. It is a fight that will continue in some form for the rest of our lives. That does not mean it’s not worth fighting. And the whining of the Left over this fight will also continue. We should throw them a couple of bones, like allowing gays in the military or legalizing pot. And then we should ignore them.
Our lesson should be that nation building while under fire is a bad idea. You don’t fix social structures while the enemy shoots at you. You smash the enemy, grab as much power as you can, than build. In most places you have to let everything burn out before you move in, and that can take generations.
The fact is, we’ve reduced the threat to America by fighting in Afghanistan. We just shouldn’t be giving the teenager a new car.