Afghanistan has rocks and hard places galore, and the U.S. and its allies are firmly stuck between them, including Australia. We are waiting for President Obama to make up his mind about where to now, after eight years of war, and nil progress. Death tolls mount and both sides of Congress are resisting the commitment of more US troops, following General McChrystal’s call for 40,000 on top of the 68,000 already deployed.
Despite those years of seemingly futile effort, a clear and consistent statement of the overall mission remains elusive. Originally, after 9/11, it was about tracking and destroying al-Qaeda. Then we were bringing democracy and stable government to the Afghan people. And controlling the source of opium on world markets. And protecting or promoting human rights. Now talk is of counter-insurgency, with the local population to be won over, with more civilian aid. After killing or alienating so many of them, this is a hard call. Taliban are of course everywhere in their own country, like the Vietnamese were in their war.
Peter Galbraith was deputy head of the UN mission monitoring recent presidential elections until fired for pushing his boss to release detailed evidence of widespead electoral fraud. The Afghan Electoral Complaints Commission, according to Galbraith, is biassed towards incumbent President Karzai, who benefitted most from the fraud. If deemed re-elected his legitimacy would be highly questionable. But the US & allies have so far backed him, despite his government’s record of corruption and dealing with warlords. Unfortunately that system constitutes the backbone of what passes for local government and civil society in Afghanistan.
Galbraith points out that successful counter-insurgency requires a legitimate government to act as a solid base for capacity-building and winning hearts & minds. References to Obama’s Vietnam are not too far-fetched and renowned US historian George Kennan’s quote from that era resonates: “Our country should not shoulder the main burden of determining the political realities in any other country. This is not only not our business, but I don’t think we can do it successfully”. Plus ca change.
Very big rocks, very hard places and very stuck!
Australia’s involvement in Afghanistan under Rudd, as under Howard, is driven entirely by our traditional US alliance preoccupation. Government parrots US lines while trying to keep our troops on safer ground. Bilateral support of them conflated with patriotism stifles critical debate of Australia’s war aims and likelihood of success, with Federal Opposition silent.