Sunday, August 12, 2007

The State of Affairs in "The Good War" (Afghanistan)

Today’s NYTimes has a front page article on the situation in Afghanistan that extends onto two more full pages, with maps to illustrate the continuous decline of government control since 2001, “How the ‘good war’ in Afghanistan went bad,” by David Rohde and David E. Sanger, both of them old hands in the field. For some, who have been following the situation there, the general message is not new. It does however provide neat displays of the how bad things have gone. The article itself notes the contrast between high sounding offers of help to the Afghanistan peoples [“Marshall Plan”] and the dilatory and in fact indifferent attempts to put things in motion on the ground. The value of the article is that it gathers into one short space a summation of – again – what the administration did wrong. It ends with a statement by Henry Crumpton, who has dealt with issues there for several years, that the necessity to put American personnel on the ground to “get in at a local level and respond to people’s needs” was never recognized. “These are the fundamentals of counterinsurgency, and somehow we forgot them or never learned them.” The tragedy of all this is that this is where the real “war on terror” should have been waged and our government, for reasons that had nothing to do with the 9/11 attack, focused its attention elsewhere. As a former NATO supreme commander said it, we took our eye off the ball. In the end, a failure here will multiply the disaster taking form in Iraq.

This articled appears as Sarah Chayes's new book The Punishment of Virtue is being distributed. She tells her story from a very specific location, Kandahar, and from a specific viewpoint, as an official in a local NGO. What becomes ever more clear to her is the failure of the Americans, and of the Afghanistan leaders as well, to give to the folks in that country the kind of support and responsible leadership they deserve and crave. One comes away from this book with the sense that in the end the Afghanistan peoples are being betrayed again, as they have been for so many years already. No wonder they have a long history of distrust of outsiders.

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