Iraq the Sequel: Now Playing in Afghanistan

ISLAM AND THE WEST By Daniel Brumberg By the end of 2009 the U.S. will have 68,000 troops in Afghanistan, … Continued

ISLAM AND THE WEST

By Daniel Brumberg

By the end of 2009 the U.S. will have 68,000 troops in Afghanistan, 21,000 of whom were deployed by the Obama administration.

This factoid must be considered against the backdrop of the presidential election held last week. According to Grant Kippen, the Canadian chairman of Afghanistan’s Electoral Complaints Commission, electoral fraud may be sufficiently serious to affect the outcome of the poll. With presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah accusing President Hamid Karzai of “stealing” the election, there is a real possibility of post-election violence — particularly if Karzai declares victory and thus prevents a run-off in October.

The Taliban would welcome such conflict. Having weathered the recent American military offensive, they surely agree with Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, who has stated that the situation in Afghanistan is “serious and deteriorating.

The Chairman is sure to ask for more U.S. troops, but only after the Pentagon completes its assessment of current U.S. military strategy. Whatever its recommendations, we already know one thing: the battle against the Taliban cannot be won by American (or other Western) soldiers and pilots. As we are learning in Iraq, the most well-executed “surge” will only bring temporary relief. At the end of the day, there must be a political solution that unites all factions behind a government widely seen as both effective and legitimate.

Karzai has received low scores on both accounts. Brought in by the Bush administration, he enjoyed a brief honeymoon, as Afghans basked in the sun of what many hoped was a post-Taliban Afghanistan. But in the ensuing four years, Afghanistan suffered several surges of its own: a surge in cultivation and smuggling of opium, a surge in governmental corruption, and a surge in the predatory behavior of a national military and police whose underpaid soldiers and officers prayed on hapless villagers.

Stepping into the breach, the Taliban expanded its reach, leaving Kabul an urban island of quasi-stability and quasi-modernity in a rural land whose villages were controlled — and often terrorized — by local warlords and Taliban fighters.

Like so many of the legacies that Obama administration inherited, this one was not of its making. Handed a gigantic mess, it has struggled to play military, diplomatic and developmental catch-up. In addition to mounting a surge that rightly or wrongly echoed much of the Iraqi “boots on the local ground” strategy, Washington has distanced itself from Afghanistan’s increasingly unpopular president, pushed Kabul to address corruption, and increased U.S. aid for a myriad of democracy and governance programs.

All of this may have come too late. To provide a sustainable basis for national reconciliation and democratic governance, elections must be preceded by some measure of successful state building, economic development and — most importantly — elite peace making. Unless political leaders can find common ground, both victors and losers will view elections as merely another step in a prolonged battle. Under these conditions, there can be no real domestic peace, only temporary political ceasefires.

Washington has frequently been implicated in these domestic political truces. Indeed, in Iraq and Afghanistan (not to mention the Balkans), the U.S. and its Western allies have not only backed one sectarian or religious group; they have also provided the security umbrella for whatever modicum of brittle consensus political leaders have forged.

This may be a no-win situation. When the U.S. acts as both partisan and conflict mediator, it becomes as much part of the problem as part of the solution. As the recent bombings in Iraq suggests, we cannot stay but we cannot go. This is the great conundrum that President Obama faces as its pulls U.S. troops out of Iraq and into Afghanistan.

Daniel Brumberg is Co-Director of Georgetown University’s Democracy and Governance Program and Acting Director of the Muslim World Initiative at the United States Institute of Peace.

By Daniel Brumberg | 
August 24, 2009; 5:23 PM ET

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Georgetown/On Faith

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Islam and the West


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  • usapdx

    BOTH OF THESE CRUSADES OF BUSH JR. ARE WRONG AND WILL FAIL. OBAMA SHOULD JUST END THEM AND LEAVE. WHAT ARE THE TROOPS DIEING FOR? LOOK AT ALL THE COSTS FROM LIFE, ECONMICS,POLITICAL, ETC. FOR WHAT? BUSH SR. HAD IRAQ SEWED UP. RUSSIA FAIL IN AFGANAISTAN AS WE BACK THE OTHER SIDE. IT TIME TO DRAW A LINE. THESE TWO CRUSADES ARE DOOMED FROM DAY ONE.

  • Dermitt

    Fighting over a pile of crap and the pile grows.

  • ccnl1

    We learned our lesson after 9/11 i.e. Moslems cannot be trusted and we will continue to remind them of this by going after them in their Afghani holes and dens.

  • daniel12

    Part two.As late as the 17th century when Hobbes wrote it was quite possible, as Hobbes argued, to say that democracy really never existed in ancient Athens and that moderns should not be swayed by such words as democracy. Democracy as we know it is really that new. And even in America, the oldest democracy, we really do not have democracy but aristocracy which we do not call such but oligarchy. But oligarchy–in Hobbes terms, which are quite accurate–is merely aristocracy considered in negative terms.In fact with the Adams in the U.S., the Kennedys, the Bushes, we are not far removed from monarchy. So really to expect democracy in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan is absurd. If we want such first we must be monarchical with respect to them, force them to submit to one man–or group of men (aristocracy). But of course that is against U.S. values, it gives the lie to the notion of secure democracy and we resist as much as possible seeing it. So we will fail in these countries and others like them.And in failing in these countries we fail to keep the world from falling into anarchy and threatening us much more than we are threatened today. We somehow believe the world will just move to democracy in some sort of easy fashion. But our optimism will be the ruin of us. The world will rather move to the negative of democracy, anarchy. Sadly the U.S. is politically advanced and unable to act in any other way than “democratically” with respect to the world. But much of the world needs to be ruled by the iron fist, monarchy, which so many today just call despotism. Call it what you like. Just do not think democracy is easy.

  • daniel12

    Part one.A book I am reading now is quite enlightening on the problem of Iraq and Afghanistan. The book is Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes. He makes a persuasive case for monarchy over democracy–that democracy has a tendency to lead to anarchy, a worse outcome any monarch could lead to, no matter how despotic.In other words, what I am trying to say, and with respect to Iraq and Afghanistan, is that democracy is quite difficult to come by, and where people are not prepared for it they prefer rule by one man–not democracy. The U.S. has made the mistake of thinking democracy can be brought to these two nations, and the U.S. has these plans and that for “counter insurgency”, “asymmetrical warfare”, that the people must be “won over by paradoxically not leaning on them too much” etc.But if the U.S. really wants results there it has to resort to the Hobbes method of preventing people being reduced to a short, brutish existence. And that method is none other than ruling with an iron fist over the people, forcing them to submit in age-old fashion to one man or group of such before the really quite recent appearance of democracy in the world.