Waste More, Want More: America's Afghan Solution

This article was originally posted on The Huffington Post.

In a time of economic hardship you can bet your bippy that everyone out there could use a little extra cash. Sorry though, you will not be getting any. No, don’t be silly, it is not because the big banks are getting another humongous cash bail out. It is because those pesky Taliban dudes are!

Close your eyes and ears folks, forget that these warlord wizards grew out of a previous American cash bonanza; this $500 million, some say close to ONE BILLION, should buy so many hearts and minds that these insurgents won’t hesitate to lay down those bad boy weapons, shake hands and thank Allah himself that these greenbacks have arrived.

It is time for rehabilitation and reconciliation — hallelujah or should I say in’sha’allah!

The United States government and its international counterparts continue to spend billions on defense, diplomacy and development in Afghanistan with little rhyme or reason. To date, over 100,000 troops and countless civilians are wrapped up in the destabilization no-game plan effort full of one failed bright idea after another.

In case anyone is not paying attention, the simplistic process of adding more money (weapons, mainly M16s and AK47s, are a bonus) and people are making the chaotic mismanaged mix of well intention a colossal travesty. All it is producing is heightened suspicion, increased violence, and broader divisions between Afghans and the West. This large scale experiment in global intervention is pretty much in the crapper and the so called “managers” are going straight back to what they know — tossing money at the problem — while refusing to acknowledge that it didn’t buy love in the past, and it is no way, no how going to buy it now.

In his recently released memo, Ambassador Karl Eikenberry said that he was ok with the fact that Obama was taking his time. In his opinion, more troops could wait. He felt that several things needed to be examined before America got endlessly embroiled in an Afghan (and Pakistan) fix.

Eikenberry worried about the lack of civilian leadership and coordination, which is “hampering” diplomatic and development efforts. Further, he is concerned that a weak, inept and corrupt Karzai-led government will not make a good counterinsurgency partner. Eikenberry wanted to take some time to get Karzai and all his ducks in a row so that the US could determine exactly what was working, what was not and what is needed thereby protecting not just American national security interests, but resources and, more importantly, lives.

Sadly his vast experience and knowledge was trumped by an overbearing military industrial complex and dismissed by partisan congressional stumping — democrats worrying about popularity, republicans worrying about hegemonic power. Neither strategically thinking about America’s international security future or its people. America does not need all this petty bickering, it needs dedication and commitment to do what is necessary for a stronger country and honorable cross-continental engagement.

Afghanistan? Well, glad you asked. One thing it does not need are foolish and imprudent bribes.

Afghanistan does need a reconciliation process. However, this process must include all factions in the country not just the Taliban. In 1989, after the Soviet withdrawal, Afghanistan became broiled in a bloody civil war where thousands were physically abused, raped, tortured, and killed. Although the Taliban halted most of the atrocities while continuing to commit many themselves, the civil war is not over. No one has reconciled, paid for crimes and few, if any, have seen justice beyond revenge. This is where the international community must start.

The proposed payoffs to the “non-ideological” Taliban have not worked before and it will not work now. They take, they spend, they buy more weapons and rejoin the insurgent fighters battling against the “international occupiers.”

Ambassador Eikenberry said that the US underestimated how long it will take to establish a government and overestimated the ability of the Afghan forces. He fails to say, however, that the US also overestimates its capacity to change a culture, a people and a way of life.

“What this means in practical terms,” as stated by the Army’s own Afghanistan Research Reachback Center, “is a need to focus on ground truth, looking at local groups and their conflicts, rather than arriving with preconceived notions of how people should or might, given the proper incentives, organize themselves.”

The “ground truth” in this case is two fold. First, what makes anyone think they are going to build, manage and implement a “Reform the Lesser Taliban By Payoff” project any better than the other chaotic endeavors already on the ground are administered. And, second, what makes anyone think this is going to allow then to bypass a culture that continues to: 1) struggle for individual status and authority; 2) be skeptical, if not down right resentful, of Western style government structures; and 3) hold onto personal, not collective, reputation and honor, which, by the way, are central to a persons existence where dishonor can and often does lead to violent death — a socially justifiable end.

Having been in country several times, it is pretty easy to conclude, as Eikenberry did, that the current Afghan Administration supports these random and, dare I say, corrupt efforts, despite any success, because they are making a whole lot of money with the benefit of US and NATO military protection. The Taliban for their part have the freedom to profit from millions by peddling weapons and poppy. Why should either change?

If the US is going to make any progress, it won’t be from trying to recondition the Taliban. The US and the international community must be dedicated to embedding themselves in the “local knowledge, cultural understanding, and local contacts,” like the Afghanistan Research Reachback Center advocates, not just finding ways to flush more money down the perpetual drain. There are options here and paying warmongers off is not among them.

America needs to listen to the former general and get its house in order — weed out what is not working and make a plan for what will. Even if that means an immediate and rapid exit.

No country can continue to endlessly support these random superficial projects. This idea that it is ok to keep the waste more want more recipient content leads to — you guessed it — no where, but is will surely empty a whole lot of donor pockets.

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