(By American Zen's Mike Flannigan, on loan from Ari Goldstein.)
Last July, Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote an article outlining a drawdown of forces in Afghanistan, one starkly entitled, We’re Not Winning. It’s Not Worth It. A few weeks later, Stephen Biddle, a Senior Fellow for Defense Policy for that selfsame Council on Foreign Relations, presided over a conference call inexplicably held under the more or less official name, Defining Success in Afghanistan.
As recently as last month, Time Magazine published a cover story about Aisha, the teenaged Afghan girl who’d had her ears and nose cut off by the Taliban. It was announced by a cover that seemed immediately destined for iconic status. Unfortunately for Time’s editors and the article’s author, Aryn Baker, the iconic picture was used to drive home a rather unsubtle and misleading point: See what’ll happen if we leave Afghanistan?
Completely lost on Time’s staff was an irony of which they freely made mention in the first line of the article’s second paragraph, that Aisha’s abduction and mutilation “didn't happen 10 years ago, when the Taliban ruled Afghanistan. It happened last year.” So, after going on nine years, we still can’t stop a girl from getting mutilated even when she expects to get attacked by the very same people we swore to exterminate weeks after 9/11.
A Fox “News” blogger late last month posted a story entitled, “Success in Afghanistan Hinges on Country's Military Progress, Ability to Retain Soldiers.” On August 18th, a Washington Post editorial proposed, “Making the Case for Success in Afghanistan.” Late last July, USA Today informed us, “In Afghanistan, Success (is) Measured One Step at a Time.” In a 2009 editorial about as far from prophesy as one could get, the NY Times published, “Measuring Success in Afghanistan.” In the op-ed, the editorialist writes hopefully, “If General McChrystal can carry it off, he will have a far better chance of turning around a war America has not been winning — but must.” McCrystal, as with his demoted successor, David Petraeus nowadays, had been almost desperately looked at, as was Obama three years ago, as some magic elixir that would cure our Afghani ills.
Can anyone remember what the original definitions were for “success” and “winning” as regards the rash invasion of Afghanistan? Didn’t it have something to do with flushing out bin Laden, our ultimate blowback? Well, bin Laden, with more flair than Elvis, left the building or cave as it were.
If success was measured by how we've dealt with the Taliban, then the fact that they've taken back key cities and provinces, especially Helmand, ought to disabuse anyone of any delusions of American efficacy.
Afghanistan is still the 6th poorest country in the world (210th out of 227 nations in terms of per capita income, according to the CIA Fact Book), in which women are raped and mutilated to escape the abuse that often comes with sharia, little girls have acid thrown in their faces for daring to go to school and IEDs and suicide bombs go off with near complete impunity. And the crowning irony is that Afghanistan is, in theory, actually among the richest nations on earth in terms of undeveloped natural resources (a trillion dollars in minerals plus the recent discovery of 1.8 billion barrels of oil (which, at today's market prices, would fetch the impoverished nation close to another $140 billion over the coming years).
Yet developing the industrial infrastructure necessary to harvest these natural resources will have to remain a wistful fantasy as long as the political and social infrastructure remains too volatile.
Meanwhile, as if killing hundreds of innocents through Predator drone strikes wasn't bad enough, we're further inspiring anti-American protests with the news that
The progress in Afghanistan has to be squinted at so intently that, as recently as this year, President Barack Obama was reduced to hailing “progress” as seeing the lights on in Kabul as Air Force One was landing. Nine years and nearly a trillion dollars, including a 30,000 troop buildup with no realistic end in sight and success and progress is meeting a basic need such as electric light (meanwhile, after the president’s self-congratulatory speech, Iraqi protesters had been shot over not having enough electricity from a grid for which we’ve paid billions over seven plus years).
The crowning irony is that, as with Iraq, no one has bothered asking the native population what their opinion is. We’re allowed to grade our own report cards, not the people who have to live through this hell before, during and after this latest failed occupation.
Whatever the old definition for success or winning, it seems increasingly obvious that success and winning in Afghanistan, as with Iraq, is predicated more on American pride than the visible elevation of the standard of Afghan living.