Most of the commentary written on the Afghanistan war is quite poor, possibly because the British govt has little impact on what’s going on. It’s far more interesting to watch what the Americans are doing and saying. In addition to the regular stream of rubbish that gets out outputted on Fox News, there is also the more intelligent discussion.
The Sunday just gone, the US Department of Defense released a declassified version of Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal’s assessment of the war in Afghanistan. The Washington Post published major portion of that assessment. But rather than wade through the stuff, you could read the excellent George Packer’s opinion at the New Yorker.
The only surprise is the impressiveness of McChrystalâ€™s analysis. I was wrong in May when I questioned the appointment of a special-operations man to run this war. McChrystalâ€™s report is written in plain English, itâ€™s self-critical, and it shows more understanding of the nature of the fight in Afghanistan than most journalism and academic work. The U.S. military now believes that the Afghan government is just as much a threat to success as the Taliban. Thatâ€™s a bold conclusion, one that our civilians have not been willing to reach, publicly at least. And the description of the different Taliban networks is as clarifying as it is disturbing.
So this is what the general whom Obama rushed into the field earlier this year has to tell his commander-in-chief: it will take time, it will take more resources, we will have to get smarter. Again, no surprise. The policy McChrystal is working within was set in March, by the President himself, and it called for a renewed counterinsurgency in Afghanistan in order to â€œdismantle,â€ â€œdisrupt,â€ and â€œdefeatâ€ Al Qaeda. Obamaâ€™s strategy-review team didnâ€™t want to go looking to get America deeper into the mess in Afghanistanâ€”they looked at all the alternatives and decided that the narrower approaches wouldnâ€™t work against an Al Qaeda network thatâ€™s so entrenched and interconnected with other groups in the region.
In many ways Obama now stands at a cross-roads. He doesn’t want to spend the money or deal with the public relations disaster that Afghanistan is turning into, while being unable to improve the situation.
But it’s also right to say that withdrawal would only strengthen the al-Qaeda and different Taliban groups, who would erupt in a massive fight for control (as they’ve done in the past).
No idea what decision he’ll make. But we do know that he’s approaching the situation in a far more intelligent way than Bush, and has people in place who are also very intelligent. And this is why I’m dismissive of the many people who think that Obama is simply continuing Bush’s plan in Afghanistan. The whole place is a lot more intractable than anyone thinks – and it’s surprisingly easy to destabilise the entire region. I know what I’d like to do (stay) but it’s still not an easy one to take.
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Filed in: Current affairs,Middle East