After weeks of discussion, the White House is zeroing in on
an Afghan war strategy. The New York Times reports that
current thinking calls for a troop increase and a focus on
protecting ten key cities in lieu of the
countryside. But as discussions continue, the plan is still taking shape. Commentators continue to offer ideas on
what we should and shouldn't do in Afghanistan, and what historical lessons we
must take into account. Here are the best new ideas for long-term success in Afghanistan:
- Build More Schools The New York Times's Nicholas Kristof wants us
to buoy Afghan civil society through education. "For the cost of a
single additional soldier stationed in Afghanistan for one year, we
could build roughly 20 schools there," he writes. "It’s hard to do the
calculation precisely, but for the cost of 40,000
troops over a few years — well, we could just about turn every Afghan
into a Ph.D." Kristof concludes, "Schools are not a quick fix or silver
bullet any more than troops are.
But we have abundant evidence that they can, over time, transform
countries, and in the area near Afghanistan there’s a nice natural
experiment in the comparative power of educational versus military
- Let Afghanistan Fix Itself The New York Times's Thomas Friedman insists
our presence causes more harm than good. "We simply do not have the
Afghan partners, the NATO allies, the
domestic support, the financial resources or the national interests to
justify an enlarged and prolonged nation-building effort in
Afghanistan." Friedman predicts what would happen after Americans scale
down. "The Taliban factions will start fighting each other, the
will have to destroy their Taliban, or be destroyed by them,
Afghanistan’s warlords will carve up the country, and, if bin Laden
comes out of his cave, he’ll get zapped by a drone."
- Don't Give In To Pentagon The L.A. Times's Doyle McManus cautions against giving the military whatever they ask for. "What guarantee can Obama give that this won't be merely the first of
many requests from his military command for more boots on the ground?
Administration officials have been reading histories of the Vietnam War
-- and shuddering at the spectacle of President Lyndon Johnson acceding
to one Pentagon request after another," he writes. "Still, at least some
administration officials are worried that this year's request from
McChrystal might be followed by more; they want Obama to make it clear
that next month's troop increase is the last he is willing to approve."
- Secure The Countryside Commentary's Max Boot argues
that rural areas surrounding the cities are strategically key. "The
problem lies in the countryside, where the Taliban have been
pursuing the same strategy that the mujahideen used against the Soviets
in the 1980s -- consolidate control in rural areas and then launch
attacks on the cities where foreign troops are garrisoned," he writes.
"Similarly, Baghdad did not start to become secure in 2007 until the
U.S. deployed substantial surge troops to the 'gates' of the city --
the belt of rural territory surrounding the capital including the
'triangle of death' to the south."
- Copy the Soviets Matthew Yglesias makes a contrarian case
that the U.S. should adopt the failed Soviet strategy in Afghanistan,
which Yglesias says is similar to the currently discussed strategy of
protecting cities over rural areas. "You probably won't see anyone
describe it in those terms because it
sounds bad, but as I’ve said before I think the right way to understand
the Soviet experience is to see that the United States could probably
make this work. It sort of worked for the Soviets, and they were a much
weaker and poorer country facing people who were getting much more
extensive external support than our adversaries."
- Copy the Byzantines The Weekly Standard's Stuart Koehl suggests,
somewhat fantastically, that we should adopt the Byzantine military
strategy of "the use of subversion as the cheapest path to victory."
For example, "funneling support to opposition political groups." He
writes, "Our military strategy is still focused on decisive battle,
of our military leaders such as David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal,
are making the transition to a more Byzantine (in the best sense of the
word) approach to dealing with low intensity threats." Koehl would
likely support, then, the controversial CIA funding of Ahmed Wali Karzai.
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