Watchdog Blog

Dan Froomkin: Time for the Really Big Questions on Afghanistan

Posted at 10:40 am, August 13th, 2009
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Andrew Exum, the widely respected counterinsurgency expert who goes by Abu Muqawama in the blogosphere, recently came back from a month in Afghanistan, where he had taken part in new Afghan commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s 60-day review of strategy and operations.

On his return, his number one conclusion was: Winning in Afghanistan will be really, really difficult.

And that, in turn, led him to raise some really, really big questions – precisely the kind of questions that haven’t quite penetrated the mainstream media, although they are increasingly being asked in the blogosphere.

Exum’s essay was entitled, Maybe Bacevich Has a Point, and was an allusion to Boston University professor and military expert Andrew Bacevich, who himself recently wrote for Commonweal magazine:

“What is it about Afghanistan, possessing next to nothing that the United States requires, that justifies such lavish attention? In Washington, this question goes not only unanswered but unasked.”

So Exum asked his readers – anybody, really:

“Is the war in Afghanistan in the interests of the United States and its allies? If so, at what point do the resources we are expending become too high a cost to bear? What are the strategic limitations of U.S. counterinsurgency doctrine and operations? And if the war is not in the interests of the United States and its allies, what are U.S. and allied interests in Central Asia – and how do you propose to secure them?”

As Foreign Policy blogger Marc Lynch put it: “this is a debate which should have happened months or years ago.”

The answers are coming in, on Abu Muqawama. Some are attempts to answer in the affirmative – though to my mind, it’s kind of amazing how disconnected from reality most of them seem. But that’s not even the point. The point is that amid the daily drumbeat of stories about how Afghanistan will require more troops, more money and more time, these are the right questions, and it’s about time they were asked more widely.

One Response to “Time for the Really Big Questions on Afghanistan”

  1. Robert Mullen says:

    If Karzai’s bother, as widely reported, runs the drug trade in Afghanistan, and if he has been on the CIA payroll for the last 8 years, then are we not the major source of corruption in that country?

    If so, then was not our government’s supposed pressure on Karzai to eliminate corruption — applied as their disputed election was resolved and as Obama decided the escalation — mere theater?

    If the Taliban make money from drugs, how is it that a Financial Times chart of Afghan opium production rose after we invaded but has declined for the last two years — as the Taliban has been gaining ground?

    This is consistent with the fact that Karzai’s holdings are in Kandahar, also with that area being a focus of Taliban resurgence. Is it just a coincidence that province will be a major focus for Obama’s surge?

    If we are indeed serious about corruption, why do we have the largest druglord on our payroll?

    These are just some of the contradictions in the public justification of our policy. News stories waste space routinely repeating safe “old news”, but never remind the reader that the Taliban is in fact anti-drug, that Karzai’s family holds the drug lordship, and that penny-ante local corruption is overshadowed by the money we funnel to the worst elements.

    These question need to be asked to clear the air, to end the chatter. Then we need to ask, what is the real point of the war? To gain a monopoly on the most significant sector of the Afghan economy? To destabilize Central Asia? To destabilize Pakistan?

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