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4 Easy Ways to See How Obama's Strategy in Afghanistan Isn't Working

Counterinsurgency is down for the count in Afghanistan… but the war machine grinds on and on and on.

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3.  What about the enemy strategy?  How’s that working?

It seems the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and various hostile fighters in Afghanistan drew their own lessons from Petraeus’s surge in Iraq: they learned to deal with a surge not by fading away before it, but by meeting it with a surge of their own.  An American commander defending the eastern front told me that hostile forces recently wiped out five border posts. “They opened the gate,” he said, but with the American high command focused on a future surge into Kandahar, who’s paying attention?  In fact, as the battle heats up in the east, another official told me, they are running short of helicopters to medevac out American casualties.  In this way, so-called strategy easily morphs into a shell game played largely for an American audience at the expense of American soldiers.

And all the while America’s “partner” in this strategy, the dubious President Karzai, consolidates his power, which is thoroughly grounded in the Pashtun south, the domain of his even more suspect half-brother, Ahmed Wali.  In the process, he studiously ignores the parliament, which lately has been staging a silent stop-work protest, occasionally banging on the desks for emphasis.  He now evidently bets his money (which used to be ours) on the failure of American forces, and extends feelers of reconciliation to Pakistan and the Taliban, the folks he now fondly calls his “angry brothers.”  As for the Afghan people, even the most resilient citizens of Kabul who, like Obama, remain hopeful, say: “This is our big problem.”  They’re talking, of course, about Karzai and his government that the Americans put in place, pay for, prop up, and pretend to be “partners” with.

In fact, America’s silent acceptance of President Karzai’s flagrantly fraudulent election last summer -- all those stuffed ballot boxes -- seems to have exploded whatever illusions many Afghans still had about an American commitment to democracy. They know now that matters will not be resolved at polling places or in jirga council tents.  They probably won’t be resolved in Afghanistan at all, but in secret locations in Washington, Riyadh, Islamabad, and elsewhere.  The American people, by the way, will have little more to say about the resolution of the war -- though it consumes our wealth and our soldiers, too -- than the Afghans.

Think of what’s happening in Afghanistan more generally as a creeping Talibanization, which Afghans say is working all too well.  In Marja, in Kandahar, in the east, everywhere, the Taliban do what we can’t and roll out their own (shadow) governments-in-a-box, ready to solve disputes, administer rough justice, collect taxes, and enforce “virtue.” In Herat, the Ulema of the West issue a fatwa restricting the freedom of women to work and move about without a mahram, or male relative as escort. In Kabul, the police raid restaurants that serve alcohol, and the government shuts down reputable, secular international NGOs, charging them with proselytizing.  Taliban influence creeps into parliament, into legislation restricting constitutional freedoms, into ministries and governmental contracts where corruption flourishes, and into the provisional peace jirga tent where delegates called for freedom for all imprisoned Taliban.  Out of the jails, into the government, to sit side by side with warlords and war criminals, mujahideen brothers under the skin. Embraced by President Karzai.  Perhaps even welcomed one day by American strategists and President Obama himself as a way out. 

4.  If it’s so bad, why can’t it be stopped?

The threatening gloom of American policy is never the whole story.  There are young progressive men and women running for Parliament in the coming September elections.  There are women organizing to keep hold of the modest gains they’ve made, though how they will do that when the men seem so intent on negotiating them away remains a mystery.  There are the valiant efforts of thoroughly devout Muslims who wish to live in the twenty-first century.  When they look outward to more developed Islamic countries, however, they see that their homeland is a Muslim country like no other -- and if the Taliban return, it will only be worse.

 
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