Robert Stein 1924-2014

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Sunday, December 06, 2009

Bringing Up the Afghan Baby

The image of the day comes from Tom Friedman describing the Obama decision this week as like "an unemployed couple who just went out and decided to adopt a special-needs baby," to which he might have added "from a family that deals drugs and rear it in a neighborhood where the kids steal each others' lunch money."

All the President's Men (and Hillary Clinton) are on the TV circuit to sell the Stop-and-Go Surge, along with senior media pundits to parse it, but the babble boils down to what the Administration denies it is trying to do: nation-building in a place with no real history of nationhood.

In the Sunday New York Times and Washington Post are long reports about the months-long debate leading up to the Decision.

The Times describes how "a young commander in chief set in motion a high-stakes gamble to turn around a losing war... to send 30,000 troops mostly in the next six months and then begin pulling them out a year after that, betting that a quick jolt of extra forces could knock the enemy back on its heels enough for the Afghans to take over the fight."

The Post discloses that, after "one revelatory discussion," the White House team "changed their chief objective from trying to eliminate the Taliban to making sure insurgents could no longer threaten the Afghan government's survival. The new strategy would include a closer relationship with Pakistan, along with a warning that the United States would step up its action against al-Qaeda camps in that country if the Pakistanis did not do it themselves."

If any of this deep-dish analysis makes any more sense than George W. Bush's cocky certainty as the Decider, it's hard to see it.

While respecting Barack Obama for his intellect, seriousness and honesty, it's hard to see how we are not in the same never-neverland, only without the Neo-Con arrogance.

Back in his Times column, Friedman sums it up this way: "You can’t train an Afghan Army and police force to replace our troops if you have no basic state they feel is worth fighting for. But that will require a transformation by Karzai, starting with the dismissal of his most corrupt aides and installing officials Afghans can trust.

"This surge also depends...on Pakistan ending its obsession with India. That obsession has led Pakistan to support the Taliban to control Afghanistan as part of its 'strategic depth' vis-à-vis India. Pakistan fights the Taliban who attack it, but nurtures the Taliban who want to control Afghanistan. So we now need this fragile Pakistan to stop looking for strategic depth against India in Afghanistan and to start building strategic depth at home, by reviving its economy and school system and preventing jihadists from taking over there...

"Mr. Obama is going to have to make sure, every day, that Karzai doesn’t weasel out of reform or Pakistan wiggle out of shutting down Taliban sanctuaries or the allies wimp out on helping us...This only has a chance to work if Karzai becomes a new man, if Pakistan becomes a new country and if we actually succeed at something the president says we won’t be doing at all: nation-building in Afghanistan."

Amen and amen, but let's not sign any final adoption papers for that Afghan baby until it shows some signs of being able to walk and talk straight.

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