A former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan asks: Do we have the political will to succeed?
To tie this to other posts me'n Fixer have done on this, the word 'logistics' keeps coming up. Afghanistan is very hard country to get around in, but 'logistics' is only one of the reasons we may yet get our ass handed to us.
When it takes seven bone-jarring hours to drive just 90 miles over war-scarred dirt roads from Kabul to the troubled Helmand Province in southwest Afghanistan, the complexity of the intertwined U.S. diplomatic and military missions becomes clear pretty fast.
As bullets flew to overthrow the Taliban-controlled government in 2001, a coalition of international diplomats, nongovermental agencies and the United Nations embarked on an ambitious but often disjointed and underfunded reconstruction process coordinated by a dizzying array of acronym-laden groups and a largely disinterested Bush administration.
“I don’t know if we didn’t have the understanding or we didn’t have the will. We’ve never resourced a war with civilians,” said Ronald Neumann, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan from 2005-07, who spoke in Denver last week.
“The military went to war and the nation went to the mall,” said Neumann sardonically in a speech on the risks of declining U.S. diplomacy at a meeting of the Institute for International Education/Denver World Affairs Council.
At the heart of Neumann’s frustration is a new dimension in nation-building never encountered by civilian-led efforts. The most successful U.S. reconstruction project — the Marshall Plan — took place in postwar Europe, not during the war itself.
Now, welcome to Afghanistan.
As Neumann explains it, tedious, backbreaking inter-provincial travel causes Afghan political leaders — and more importantly local police units — to make few visits to outlying areas outside of Kabul or the other population centers. Military convoys are slow and ripe for ground attack and hidden roadside bombs. Opium poppy eradication programs urging farmers to replace their illegal crops with foodstuffs like wheat, tomatoes and melons are stymied by the lack of safe transport to market. The hard reality is that a donkey laden with bags of poppy makes far more economic sense to a struggling farmer than taking the chance that fragile produce squashed on washboard roads will yield enough money to care for his family.
The biggest obstacle to winning the war, Neumann says, is not radical Islam-inspired terrorism, an ineffective Afghan government mired in corruption or a largely poor, illiterate populace. It’s the completely disjointed coordination of the multibillion-dollar reconstruction process coupled with no political will to enforce a thoughtful, cohesive military, diplomatic and humanitarian strategy coming from the White House.
There you have it. The neocon poodle Bush wanted to go to war with Iraq even before 9/11, and would have in its wake if Tony Blair hadn't told him that it would look bad since Iraq had nothing to do with the attack and he should go to the source first for appearance' sake.
Once there, we kicked the Taliban's ass and made them and al Qaeda skedaddle into Pakistan where they immediately started to rebuild under the protection of our 'ally'.
It's like we beat the crap out of a chicken thief and made him drop the chicken, but let the chicken thief go under the henhouse where we couldn't get at him to lick his wounds and gain strength while we lost interest and went to Iraq.
Well, our chicken thief is back with all his friends and some of ours, and this time he wants all the chickens and now we're there with too little too late and he's likely to get them.
All the 'political will' in the world won't make up for lack of understanding of the people and conditions, poor strategy, political games that doomed the effort from the gate, underfunding, lack of personnel and equipment, and, oh, did I mention 'logistics'?
It doesn't help that we've had a Weakling-in-Chief that couldn't care fucking less.