A superb article on Afghanistan

There’s plenty of material out there, but Steve Biddle’s article in TNR [subscription only] stands head and shouders above the rest. Even if you’re against more troops, you should test your logic against Biddle.

For example, NYT columnist Nick Kristof wrote:

The United States was born of our ancestors’ nationalistic resentment of a foreign power whose troops we saw as occupiers, not protectors. The British never fathomed our basic grievance — this was our land, not theirs! — so the more they cracked down, the more they empowered the American insurgency.

Given that history, you’d think we might be more sensitive to nationalism abroad. Yet the most systematic foreign-policy mistake we Americans have made in the post-World War II period has been to underestimate its potency, from Vietnam to Latin America.

We have been similarly oblivious to the strength of nationalism in Afghanistan and Pakistan, particularly among the 40 million Pashtuns who live on both sides of the border there. That’s one reason the additional 21,000 troops that President Obama ordered to Afghanistan earlier this year haven’t helped achieve stability, and it’s difficult to see why 40,000 more would help either.

The American revolution a nationalist insurgency? Did the British allow us to hold national elections and set our own tax policy? Yeah, that analogy has some soft spots. But the real issue is Afghanistan. Biddle writes:

Afghans surely resent foreign occupation, as would anyone. But it is far from clear that this is the primary problem, or that a drawdown to a “light footprint” could defeat the Taliban. After all, we’ve tried it, and it hasn’t worked.

In 2004, there were only 15,200 American troops and under 9,000 NATO-led troops in Afghanistan; as recently as March of 2006, there were only 20,000 American soldiers on the ground and about 12,000 NATO-led troops in a country of about 30 million people. The thinness of these deployments was defended by then–Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld precisely in terms of a perceived need to avoid nationalist resistance to a foreign occupation. If a light footprint could avert insurgency, then there should be no war in Afghanistan today. To put it mildly, it has not worked out that way: The Rumsfeld light-footprint policy gave us the mess we have now. It yielded too little security to protect the population from the Taliban, too few trainers and advisers to create an indigenous military, but enough of a foreign presence to alienate the public all the same.

Read the whole thing.

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