Monday, October 19, 2009

The AFPAK Conundrum

President Obama will soon announce whether or not he will agree to General McChrystal’s request to send 40,000 more troops to Afghanistan. Most pundits agree that 40K would be merely a downpayment; that at least 100,000 would be needed to suppress the Taliban there. So we are looking at a Vietnam-style gradual escalation that slowly bleeds the country (our country) white, whereupon we throw in the towel in defeat. It’s not even clear what these 40K troops would be used for. It’s not even clear what the present troops there are doing. The war in Afghanistan is not popular with Americans, but even allowing for the fact that the American public has a short attention span, sending more troops is a bad idea now and an even worse trend.

Should we pull out then? Let the Taliban take over? An argument could be made for that option, except for one small problem: Pakistan has the atomic bomb. The Taliban are not going to stay in Afghanistan. They have already migrated into Pakistan, which is now their headquarters. We do not need another bunch of nut-case Islamic extremists with nuclear weapons. The consequences are too severe to even consider.

So what is a good strategy? Not that Obama calls me any more, but if he did, I would say, don’t sent any more fighting troops to Afghanistan. It’s a never-ending battle there. No matter how many Taliban we kill, they can easily recruit more. Instead, send 40,000 troops into Pakistan to wipe out the Taliban in the Northwest region, drive them back into Afghanistan. Pakistan is what we need to protect, not Afghanistan.

Granted, the Pakis may not care to have 40,000 American troops barge in. But maybe there is a way around that. Maybe they are 40,000 trainers, advisors, logistics personnel, and whatnot; everything but trigger-pullers.

Once Pakistan is secure, we take these further actions in Afghanistan: We seal the borders of Afghanistan (as much as possible) from the inside with troops, and from the outside with economic and political sanctions. Especially the border with Pakistan. Then we eradicate the poppies, which is the Taliban’s source of income, and we pay farmers a subsidy to grow something more useful to the same profit level. Hey, it works in Wisconsin, it can work in Kandahar. I am sure that farm subsidies are less costly than a war without end. Finally, we spend money, money, money on training and infiltrating human intelligence into Afghanistan, psychological warfare, and on building schools, electric generators, and water systems in villages. We do NOT try to convert the country to democracy, capitalism, or Christianity. I would guess that all these efforts, costly though they might be, would still be less expensive than another eight years of warfare.

So Obama should send in, not 40,000 troops, but 40,000 civil engineers, spies, and micro-diplomats. Troops are not what we need.

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