Sunday, October 11, 2009

The War in Afghanistan: David Plotz Argues the US is an "Island," While Peter Baker Laments Eight Years of Futility

This picture is by Tyler Hicks and is in today's NYT. The man is a member of the Northern Alliance and the picture was taken in Salong Province, Afghanistan.

I think this is a beautiful picture (notwithstanding the rocket launcher in the man's arms), and it powerfully conveys the hubris involved in the US nation-building project in Afghanistan.

The media continues to assess the state of the war and to debate Obama's next step. Here are some updates:
  1. This past week, General Stanley McChrystal was heavily criticized for offering public advice to Obama during a London press conference -- Robert Gates said, in no uncertain terms, that the uniformed military needs to give their advice to the President privately. I'm not sure that the proper role of officers in articulating policy preferences is as clear-cut as Gates would have it -- after all, some of the criticism of Rumsfeld/Bush's disastrous decisions in Iraq included the suggestion that they'd have been better served by on-the-ground officers providing - more openly, not less so - their input and suggestions.

  2. On the Slate Political Gabfest, David Plotz posited that the US might be best-served by abandoning the Afghanistan project altogether. He didn't actually advocate for a withdrawal, but he did question the assumption that the US presence there is the most efficient use of resources to combat terrorism. I am on board with his questioning of this assumption. I'm not on board with the next part of Plotz's analysis, in which he argued that the United States is an "island nation" with effective border security in place. Almost everything I've read says that our border security -- particularly as connected to ports -- is in reality very little changed since pre-9/11.

  3. In today's NYT, Peter Baker (here) recaps his initial trip into Afghanistan in the fall of 2001 and states that it didn't take him long, at all, to recognize the enormous odds against the US achieving a"victory" there. Baker's piece -- like some of the reporting I've read by Rajiv Chandrasakaran and Dexter Filkins -- raises the question of why the people who've spent substantial amounts of time in Afghanistan are pessimistic about the US's efforts there whereas those without the ground-level experience remain optimistic.
Here's Baker on the reality of trying to govern Afghanistan:
"For those of us based in Moscow at the time of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the cliché about the ungovernable, unconquerable graveyard of empires was no theoretical abstract but the real life history of a generation of aging Russians."

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