Thursday, November 22, 2007

The Other War

I've gotten used to thinking of the situation in Afghanistan as an irritating stalemate, with the Taliban seizing outposts that we're not really bothering to defend, but posing no real existential threat to the Afghan government. But this just-released report from the Senlis Council, an English think tank "known for its expertise on Afghanistan" according to Le Monde, describes things in significantly more alarming terms than a harmless game of whack-a-mole:

The insurgency now controls vast swaths of unchallenged territory including rural areas, some district centres, and important road arteries. The Taliban are the de facto governing authority in significant portions of territory in the south, and are starting to control parts of the local economy and key infrastructure such as roads and energy supply. The insurgency also exercises a significant amount of psychological control, gaining more and more political legitimacy in the minds of the Afghan people who have a long history of shifting alliances and regime change.

The depressing conclusion is that, despite the vast injections of international capital flowing into the country, and a universal desire to 'succeed' in Afghanistan, the state is once again in serious danger of falling into the hands of the Taliban. (All emphases in original.)

In addition to benefitting from a popular upswelling of non-ideological economic and political grievances, the Taliban is also gaining valuable technical assistance from an influx of experienced foreign fighters from the Iraq insurgency. (Which raises the obvious question of whether the decrease in violence in Iraq needs to be assessed on a regional, as opposed to a national, scale.)

As a remedy, Senlis proposes doubling the NATO-ISAF forces in the country from 40,000 to 80,000, removing the restrictions various countries have placed on the rules of engagement for their troops, and authorizing operations within Pakistan's frontier tribal areas. That's in addition to a massive increase in development aid. (All emphases mine.)

Of course, since none of that is going to happen, it's worth considering what Senlis thinks is an increasingly likely scenario: a Taliban return to Kabul in 2008.

This is really where Democrats should be doing more to make the GOP pay for its linkage of Iraq to the War on Terror. Because if Iraq and Afghanistan really are two fronts in the same war, then the good news coming out of Baghdad needs to be weighed against the bad coming out of Kabul. And if by invading Iraq we created a strategic alliance between Saddam Hussein's officer corps and Bin Laden's foot soldiers, then Dick Cheney's pre-war Iraq-Al Qaeda flimflam has actually become a self-fulfilling prophesy.

Beyond that, as Matthew Yglesias has been arguing all week, the lesson to be drawn from the entire enterprise is what it shows about the limitations of preventive war and/or regime change as a non-proliferation policy. Which means we desperately need to come up with a plan B, because with the region-wide stampede for nuclear "energy" programs, things are only going to get worse.

So far, if the US-India deal is any indication, the Bush administration's preferred method is still the "rule by exception" on a case-by-case basis. It would be nice to see someone try to pin the candidates down on a broad policy vision, because along with global warming and globalization, this is going to be the determinant foreign policy issue of the coming decade.

Posted by Judah in:  Afghanistan   Foreign Policy   

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