Strategic Scapegoating?

William Lind's website is anextraordinary source of knowledge and analysis I strongly recommend be a part of any reading list focusing on the future of conflict. William S. Lind writes a column on this site which is valuable in its content and as a topic for conversation considering the wide audience it reaches.

21 June 2005 column I found his closing statement troubling...

Our failure is strategic, not tactical, and it can only be remedied by a change in strategic objective. Instead of trying to remake Afghanistan, we need to redefine our strategic objective to accept that country as it is, always has been and always will be: a poor, primitive and faction-ridden place, dependent on poppy cultivation and proud of its strict Islamic traditions.

In other words, we have to accept that the Afghanistan we have is as good as it is going to get. Once we do that, we open the door to a steady reduction in our presence there and the reduction of Afghan affairs to matters of local importance only. That, and only that, is a realistic strategic objective in Afghanistan.

The statement that Afghanistan “always has been and always will be…poor, primitive, [etc]” is a failure to appreciate its history and the failure of the “strategic objective” itself. It is a hard argument to make that Iraq did not distract from the American and international communities commitment to rebuild Afghanistan.

While the UN and NATO did move in to augment and replace American troops, the political will and economic engines to drive development and provide viable and realistic alternatives to poppy farming failed to materialize. Strategic economic solutions are being built, but as in Iraq, fundamental security has failed to materialize. This is not because of an overwhelming insurgency against the liberators but because of disillusionment and intimidation of the liberated.

It seems Mr. Lind appreciates Thomas P. M. Barnett’s Pentagon’s New Map. While Mr. Barnett provides a convenient explanation for the current world situation, complex historical and local causes are misrepresented, not given their true value, or are simply ignored. Mr. Lind falls into the same trap by failing to connect the past to the present.

The strategic objective should have been to create a successful federal state out of Afghanistan. The objective should have included security and market reforms to raise the stakes of individuals, and not of warlords, to achieve a successful transition. This includes micro-credits, appropriately modernized agricultural practices, an effective transportation system (only parts of which are barely coming online now), and restoration of the education system.

If a towel is going to be thrown in, let’s make sure we know the real reason why and not create scapegoats. Blaming the failure of strategic objectives is avoiding responsibility for either an errorneous objective or erroneous implementation. I firmly believe it was the failure of appropriate follow through that has led to the present loss of objectives. While not fatal, significant setbacks need to be corrected before moving on to where we could have been if the eye was not taken off the ball.