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Monday, September 6, 2010

Leaving Afghanistan Smartly

Counterinsurgency expert David Kilcullen, one of General Patraeus's advisors in Iraq during the "surge" (and someone who believed that the invasion of Iraq in 2003 was a huge mistake), reportedly remarked that just because you invade a country stupidly doesn't mean you have to leave it stupidly (see Tom Rick's book, "The Gamble," page 29).

We would be smart to heed his advice when it comes to Afghanistan.  Regardless of how we may feel about the wisdom or morality of the Afghan war, we should probably not be in too much of a hurry to leave.  If we leave too soon, if we leave before we've secured the safety of most Afghans, we may leave them worse off than they were before.

I think it is telling that Greg Mortenson, who has built over 150 schools (mostly for women) in Afghanistan and Pakistan and author of the books, "Three Cups of Tea," and "Stone into Schools" (wonderful books by the way) has a similar take on the situation.  In a recent interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer, Mortenson remarked that we need to put more money into empowering Afghans rather than building bombs, but while he's aware that Americans are weary of staying too long in Afghanistan, he also believes that it is "premature to begin pulling troops." If we leave too soon, he fears that the Taliban will return and reverse the gains that have been made in women's education, human rights and health care.  I share Mortenson's fear and hope that the Obama Adminstration gives General Patraeus enough time and troops so that we can leave Afghanistan "smartly."

1 comment:

  1. It's obvious that we should leave smartly. What is more difficult is deciding how long we should stay. 97% of the Afghans are illiterate, tribalism still informs and controls all political and economic decisions, personal freedom is severely limited by religious taboos, and democracy is only understood by an elite few. What if leaving smartly ends up taking an entire generation, or perhaps even two generations? Should Afghanistan be our first priority on a long-term basis? What about North Korea, Iran, Palestine, Africa, Southeast Asia, the Latin American drug capitols, Mexico and Oakland? Will there be a time when we decide that unilateral approaches won't work? Would it be best for us, and for the world, if we were to give them up and focus more of our energies and resources on multilateral approaches that cast us as one of many, rather than as the Lone Ranger?