Academic journal article Parameters

Afghanistan: From Here to Eternity?

Academic journal article Parameters

Afghanistan: From Here to Eternity?

Article excerpt

"With home-bred hordes the hillsides teem The troopships bring us one by one, At vast expense of time and steam To slay Afridis where they run The 'captives of the bow and spear' Are cheap alas! as we are clear."

--Rudyard Kipling, "Arithmetic on the Frontier"

American policy in Afghanistan is at a crossroads, or so it appears. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld suggested in May 2003 that the war on terror in Afghanistan was in "cleanup" or "mop up" phase. (1) Overshadowed by the swift American military victory in Iraq, the images of airmobile troops and special operations forces rooting out al Qaeda in remote Afghanistan mountains took a back seat to images of M1A1 Abrams tanks sweeping through the desert destroying Iraq's Republican Guard. Indeed, by the end of 2003, the problematic aspects of the American-led reconstruction effort in Iraq continued to dominate discourse.

At the same time, critics darkly hinted that Afghanistan was "another Vietnam" when aspects of the ongoing but low-level Taliban terrorist activities popped up in the media in the fall of 2003. Those seeking to attack American reconstruction policy in Iraq point to Afghanistan and claim that it is somehow a failed prototype, that the credibility of the American reconstruction effort in Iraq is somehow linked to the credibility of the American-led effort in Afghanistan. These are dangerous and simplistic arguments. Afghanistan is a complex place in its own right: it has a unique ethnic makeup, geography, social structure, economics, and military factors. It is by no means analogous to Iraq in any way. Imprecise perceptions, some deliberately constructed, could distort the reality of the situation in Afghanistan and where the United States stands after two years of operations there. If we are not clear about what the issues are, we may create unrealizable expectations about what can be accomplished, with the kind of subsequent media backlash which is extant in Iraq.

The Critics

Criticism of American Afghanistan policy can best be characterized as reflexive reactions based on obsolete worldviews combined with juvenile demands for instantaneous success. If it is not successful by now, it therefore must be a failure. Some examples: When describing necessarily violent activities undertaken by American-supported anti-Taliban factions, anti-American journalist Robert Fisk in the Independent (UK) uses phrases like "This is just how the Americans began in Vietnam," and asserts that "Afghanistan is on the brink of another disaster." Of course, in this view, America is to blame. (2) Analyst Jim Lobe penned an article entitled "Afghanistan Quagmire," in which he shrilly stated that "Afghanistan is beginning to look like a quagmire rather than a victory, with echoes of the confusion and uncertainty and persistent blood-shedding of Vietnam." (3)

In other cases, organizations with specific interests in the Afghanistan situation have raised criticisms to bolster their proposed policies (and perhaps potential involvement) without taking into account the wider view necessary to take in the magnitude of the problems in Afghanistan. Human Rights Watch demands that the UN-mandated but now NATO-led Kabul stabilization mission, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), (4) should be expanded into other urban centers to provide "greater security" for reconstruction, the protection of women's rights, the return of refugees, and to reign in "regional warlords." (5) Josh Pollack in DFI International's Current Defense Analyses argues that heavy weapons must be stored, and combatants must be demobilized and then be reintegrated into society. ISAF, therefore, should be expanded and provided with the capability to "stop any Afghan faction from playing a spoiler role" while at the same time building up "a capable, centralized, and balanced indigenous military force." (6)

The International Crisis Group, like the others, argues that the "international community" must increase ISAF to 25,000 to 30,000 troops and expand it to other population centers to "monitor potential disputes" which could disrupt the political process. …

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