“Winning” Afghanistan


Oftentimes, Democratic leaders seem hesitating about using the word “victory”. I’m not exactly sure why, though I get the sense that they feel that no one wins in war, or victory only comes at the expense of everyone else.

Americans, and particularly, our soldiers in Afghanistan, do not take such a narrow view. “Victory” can be defined many ways.

We could define it like the Soviets defined it—absolute destruction of the current political system in favor of a new political system. That would, of course, require crushing the wills of all the inhabitants of Afghanistan, and is, quite obviously, impossible.

Or we could define it like Americans define it—liberation from foreign tyrants. In this case, the tyrants being the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Victory in this case would look a lot different from victory in the Soviet case.

Joshua Stanton at One Free Korea has a good summary of  what Major Jim Gant sees as a possible road to a victory we can all agree is good for everyone, except those who are trying to kill Americans and keep a backwards country backwards.

This kind of victory looks like this. We move in, about a half dozen soldiers at a time, to tribal regions where the Taliban is active. These six soldiers embed themselves with the local tribal leadership, integrating themselves into their culture and family. The six soldiers fight and work to protect the tribe from the Taliban, backed up by whatever assets they can call upon, from air strikes to artillery to boots on the ground, as appropriate. In exchange, the tribal leaders use their resources to protect the soldiers and themselves. Together, the tribe begins to take responsibility for their own security, driving out the Taliban and Al Qaeda. When all is well, we say good-bye to our new friends and leave a calling card if they need more help.

Of course, this isn’t an ideal situation. It will require roughly putting our soldiers under the command of the tribal leaders. It they don’t want an air strike or boots on the ground, we can’t bring them into their area. However, these tribal leaders are not stupid. They are also not wusses. I don’t believe any tribal leader would turn down a partnership with coalition forces in Afghanistan if it meant liberty and independence for that tribe.

Now, this limited vision doesn’t give Americans everything they’d want. Afghanistan will not be a democracy with a centralized government. There won’t be equality among the sexes and the opium fields won’t go away.

But it will provide the seed for all of the things we would like Afghanistan to have. As the country becomes secure, and the Taliban eliminated as a threat to civil society, Afghanis will begin building cities and factories and schools and universities. As people begin aggregating around these central point of society, they will begin integrating and inter-marrying. Eventually, Afghanistan will become a melting pot.

The tribal structure could be a good basic political structure for a strong democratic republic. As each tribe is fully independent from the other, they will only aggregate functions of government that they feel like need to be aggregated. Perhaps they will stumble upon a federal system with strong local control similar to the Founding Father’s vision for America. This will ensure the greatest degree of liberty on a continuing basis.

Victory in Afghanistan is possible, as long as we define victory in the right way. As Americans, we need to understand what kinds of victory is possible and achievable, and maintain the political will to see it through. An Afghanistan with strong tribes and without the Taliban terrorizing it will no more allow Al Qaeda to run freely than West Virginia would.

I don’t like Obama, but I don’t think this kind of subtle yet important distinction between the different types of victory would be beyond his ability to understand. I believe he will pursue the right plan, as long as the people are willing to back him up on it.

Unfortunately, that means that the winning strategy is probably not sending more and more troops into Afghanistan, or strengthening the central government in Kabul. It probably won’t be very pretty either, nor will it happen overnight.


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