Sanity Injection

Injecting a dose of sanity into your day’s news and current events.

Rethinking Afghanistan

Posted by sanityinjection on October 30, 2009

I was struck by the recent decision of Foreign Service Officer Matthew Hoh to resign his post in Afghanistan in protest of what he believes to be a failed strategy. While disgruntled personnel or peacenik protesters are nothing new, Hoh exemplifies neither of those stereotypes. In fact, his record as both a  Marine and a diplomat is exemplary enough to earn him the right to have his comments taken seriously even by Afghanistan hawks. (It is significant that not one of the people interviewed by the WashPost who knew Hoh has anything even remotely bad to say about him, whereas normal institutional practice is to trash the reputation of anybody who steps out of line.) 

Hoh’s fear is that our current military activities in Afghanistan are doing more harm than good.  Speaking from his personal experience on the front lines of the Afghan provinces, Hoh argues that much of the rebel activity is locally based and not particularly affiliated with the Taliban or Al Qaeda, apart from being willing to take their money. He describes the Pashtun tribes as being extremely xenophobic and not at all happy about the continued presence of American and other foreign troops.

Normally, I would dismiss this sort of thinking as liberal bloviating. But Hoh isn’t a liberal, an isolationist, or a defeatist by nature: “There are plenty of [Al Qaeda and Taliban] dudes who need to be killed. I was never more happy than when our Iraq team whacked a bunch of guys.”

Hoh’s main point seems to be that we need to get the Pakistanis and Afghans to do the lion’s share of the work in eradicating Al Qaeda, and that the US’ close ties to the corrupt and ineffective Karzai government are proving to be a liability rather than a strength. Perhaps the upcoming Afghan runoff election could inject some new legitimacy if challenger Abdullah Abdullah manages to topple Karzai. But Abdullah is a northerner and even less likely to command the loyalty of the Pashtun tribal leaders.

I don’t know what the answer is. But it seems clear that pulling out of Afghanistan is not the answer any more than continuing with the status quo. The Obama Administration needs to come up with a new plan, and the time to do so was weeks ago.

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