The Other War

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In
view of the steady stream of bad news from Iraq — five dead Marines in Saturday’s
paper, two more in Sunday’s and four soldiers in Monday’s, along with the Baathist
element of the resistance so "weakened" it is now striking targets in
Iran — it is easy to forget that we are fighting, and losing, not one Fourth Generation
war but two. Five U.S. troops were killed in Afghanistan last week. On June 9,
the Washington Post reported that

Insurgents
linked to the former Taliban regime have set off a wave of violence in Afghanistan,
launching a string of almost daily bombings and assassinations that have killed
dozens of U.S. and Afghan military personnel and civilians in recent weeks . .
. a virtual lockdown is in effect for many of the . . . roughly 3,000 international
residents of Kabul . . .

As
recently as April of this year, the senior U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Lt.
Gen. David Barno, said he envisioned "most of (the Taliban) collapsing and
rejoining the Afghan political and economic process" within a year. He seems
to have projected the winter’s quiescence as a trend, forgetting that Afghan wars
always shut down in wintertime, as war did everywhere until the 19th
century. Afghanistan is not so much Iraq Lite as Iraq Slow, the land that forgot
time. Our defeat will come slowly. But it will come.

The
reason we will lose is that our strategic objective is unrealistic. Neither America
nor anyone can turn Afghanistan into a modern state, aka Brave New World. In attempting
to do so, we have launched broadscale assaults on Afghanistan’s rural economy
and culture, guaranteeing that the Pashtun countryside will eventually turn against
us. Afghan wars are decided in the countryside, not in Kabul.

The
Pashtun countryside’s economy depends on opium poppies. Columnist Arnaud de Borchgrave,
an old Afghan hand, recently wrote that poppy cultivation generates 12 times more
income than the same acreage planted in wheat. 400,000 acres now grow poppies.

Ministers
or their deputies are on the take. Police cars carry opium through roadblocks
. . . Former anti-Soviet guerillas, known as the mujahideen, now populate the
national highway police, which give the smugglers total security on the main roads.

Opium
is the Pashtun economy. Yet we are now waging a war against it, a war where every
victory means impoverishing the rural population. A story in the March 25 New
York Times, "Pentagon Sees Antidrug Effort in Afghanistan," reported
that

On
March 15 the American military in Afghanistan provided transportation and a security
force for 6 D.E.A. officers and 36 Afghan narcotics policemen who raided three
laboratories in Nangahar Province. . .

Under
the new mission guidance, the Defense Department will provide “transportation,
planning assistance, intelligence, targeting packages” to the counternarcotics
mission, said one senior Pentagon official.

American
troops will also stand by for “in-extremis support,” the official said, particularly
to defend D.E.A. and Afghan officers who come under attack.

Our
assault on traditional Afghan culture is also guaranteed to unite the rural Pashtuns
against us. A story in the May 10 Christian Science Monitor began,

A
bearded man from the bazaar is whisked into a barber shop, where he’s given a
shave and a slick haircut. After a facial, he visits fashion boutiques.

In
a few tightly edited minutes of television, the humble bricklayer is transformed
into an Afghan metrosexual, complete with jeans, sweater, suede jacket and sunglasses.

This
was on Kabul’s new Tolo TV, which was established with a grant from U.S. A.I.D.
The story goes on to note that "Modesty in male-female relations and respect
for elders are two important parts of Afghan culture that Tolo is challenging."
Not surprisingly, in March Afghanistan’s senior Islamic council, the ulema
shura, criticized such programs as "opposed to Islam and national values."

In
consequence of these blunders, assailing rural Afghanistan’s economy and its culture,
de Borchgrave reports that "Britain’s defense chiefs have advised Tony Blair
u2018a strategic failure’ of the Afghan operation now threatens." That term is
precisely accurate. Our failure is strategic, not tactical, and it can only be
remedied by a change in strategic objective. Instead of trying to remake Afghanistan,
we need to redefine our strategic objective to accept that country as it is, always
has been and always will be: a poor, primitive and faction-ridden place, dependent
on poppy cultivation and proud of its strict Islamic traditions.

In
other words, we have to accept that the Afghanistan we have is as good as it is
going to get. Once we do that, we open the door to a steady reduction in our presence
there and the reduction of Afghan affairs to matters of local importance only.
That, and only that, is a realistic strategic objective in Afghanistan.

June
23, 2005

William
Lind [send him mail] is Director
of the Center for Cultural Conservatism at the Free Congress Foundation. The views
expressed in this article are those of Mr. Lind, writing in his personal capacity.

William
Lind Archives

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