Afghanistan: No, we are…sort of…nation building?

I’ve been looking for some clarity on our strategy in Afghanistan. The President seems to have one foot on each side of the fence. Now it seems the military brass is a bit confused. Here’s Adm. Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on Meet the Press:

MR. GREGORY: We’re rebuilding this nation?

ADM. MULLEN: To a certain degree there is, there is some of that going on.

MR. GREGORY: Is that what the American people signed up for?

ADM. MULLEN: No, I’m–right now the American people signed up, I think, for support of getting at those who threaten us. And, and to the degree that, that the Afghan people’s security and the ability to ensure that a safe haven doesn’t recur in Afghanistan, there’s focus on some degree of making sure security’s OK, making sure governance moves in the right direction and developing an, an economy which will underpin their future.

Those last couple sentences are actually pretty coherent, although less than eloquent. If we don’t want the Taliban and Al Qaeda to have safe havens in Afghanistan, then our strategy has to extend to political and economic development as well as military action. But clearly, Adm. Mullen knows that he isn’t supposed to call that nation-building.

The President pays constant lip service to how difficult the road ahead will be in Afghanistan. He insists “The road ahead will be long. There will be difficult days.”
Am I for nation-building? Yes, but. Securing the people is the number one objective of counterinsurgency. Politics is integral to counterinsurgency operations and economics are important as well, although our economic objectives have more to do with restoring normalcy than fighting poverty.

‘Nation-building’ is an unfair terms since its connotations are so ambitious. Almost by definition, nation-building is the unrealistic pursuit of Jeffersonian democracy and 21st century capitalism in the backwaters of the developing world. Yet at the same time, he refuses to level about the costs of the war by saying that our purpose is no broader than “to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan.”

Public support for the war is evaporating, mainly on Obama’s side of the aisle. The chances of rebuilding it are low if there’s no straight talk coming from the White House.

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