I’ve been waiting a long time for a single authoritative and comprehensive article about the state of the conflict in Afghanistan, and one has finally been provided by Peter Bergen in The New Republic. The title paraphrases the well known palindrome, much-loved by English teachers and others: “A man, a plan, a canal, Panama”. Bergen’s piece is “A man, a plan, Afghanistan”, and it is a thorough and careful rundown of a half-dozen conditions that an Obama administration would have to meet or approach closely for any chance of achieving the desired outcome in that eponymous country.
Of course a McCain administration might possibly hope to get the same good results as the Democrats if he adhered to the facts as Bergen presents them, but since McCain declares that it will be enough that he “knows how to win wars”, it is unlikely that he has enough quality thinking time ahead of him to digest an article of this analytical complexity. Even if he could, it likely isn’t the kind of change he tells us he could believe in.
The article, and this is completely as it should be, takes considerably more than the usual bit of space given by MSM to such stories, however important the content. All of the necessary accomplishments cited come across as eminently clear, carefully considered, unarguably appropriate and, best of all, doable by parties currently present in the country, with certain augmentations of military and other sorts. All are considerably more humane in their design and outcome (if successful) that the current approach(es) they would replace or transform.
For success, Bergen explains why it will be necessary to approach the problems from a regional perspective, rather than the current one based on discrete nations. Only this way can the necessary condition of thwarting various Taliban efforts to bring about the failure of Afghanistan as a viable state connected to the global system. The most striking feature of the analysis is the emphasis on the necessity that the US take the lead and deliver on years of promises and commitments to build up Afghan security forces, shrink the size of Taliban forces (which is not the same as saying “Kill ’em all!”), get and keep the lights on in Kabul and some of the worst-off provincial areas, end the insane preoccupation with eradicating poppy culture and thereby ending the only means of subsistence many poor Afghans see before them, for starters.
The LA Times supplement to the Korea Times this week carried a heart-warming report of a corporate nutritionist named Kwon who retired and set up a non-profit organization to combat starvation in Afghanistan through soybean agriculture. His success so far has been nothing short of amazing, but his efforts could fall apart unless he can get more funds. How much does he need? Bergen’s article reports that, through the purchase of such items as the 4-wheel-drive vehicles that the agencies of NATO, US, UN and other agencies drive around in such numbers that they “clog the streets” of Kabul, 40% of the billions spent purportedly on Afghanistan go back to the corporations that sell such goods, and also services. The sale of 10 of these vehicles at book value would, incredibly, provide sufficient funds for Mr. Kwon to supply enough seed to grow enough soybeans to completely end starvation in Afghanistan. Incredibly, Kwon doesn’t know where the money will come from yet. Vroom, vroom, you assholes!
Bergen also makes a very compelling case for an approach to the problem of thousands of willing suicide bombers being trained openly in ungovernable areas of Pakistan by other means that merely sending in air strikes and covert ops commando teams to blow up a few dozen and their families, creating thereby another several hundred willing. These are people with nothing but their faith in a god that promises paradise on the other side of a supreme sacrifice striking a blow against the infidels. It isn’t a military challenge. It is a humanitarian challenge. Ways must be found to improve education, public health, economic opportunity, living conditions, public facilities and infrastructure and the rest of the things generations of citizens in developed countries take for granted.