The war in Afghanistan is now in its ninth year and it is really difficult to find any positive change. Leadership is lacking, and though the President and his cabinet inherited this war, their approach is strikingly unchanged: more troops, little oversight and minimal planning.
Further, despite a much needed domestic reminder that America is at war, the anniversary on October 7th went by largely ignored. There were no presidential speeches, no recognition of US sacrifice and no reminders of how high the stakes really are.
Frankly, this multinational, international intervention is a chaotic nightmare. While the military tries to fight a war, thousands of well-intentioned civilians get in the way with efforts at nation building.
The current lower house elections, the Wolesi Jirga, coincided with the completion of the military surge, while highlighting the uneasy marriage between civil military efforts, which are often dismissive of Afghan needs and interests.
There is a blurred picture of the Afghan reality. While the media races to focus on anticlimactic and inevitably flawed elections, Afghans continue to struggle with a destiny that includes more soldiers, more weapons and an enormous increase in the amount of daily violence.
The increasingly brutal turmoil still has not convinced the current American Administration to get focused on the necessary organizational discipline it needs. It is easier to just embrace the stay or shirk responsibilities, appoint an absent envoy and then blame the generals for the flawed campaign.
The inability of the US and its international counterparts to get a comprehensive handle on administrating this occupation continues to waste valuable time, money and resources — all of which could be used to rebuild Afghanistan several times over. The billions spent show little when it comes to education, infrastructure improvements or even minimal healthcare for the well being of the Afghan people.
I recently returned from my fort trip to Afghanistan. What really struck me during this visit was the preoccupation with most recent elections, and the downright dismissal of the effect the surge and its corresponding hostilities were having on Afghans and their country. As foreign civilian nationals remain behind ever increasing and reinforced cement structures, a military composed of 47 countries fights a war, and the Afghans continue maneuver through the thick of it.
The Afghan government remains focused on its own loyalties and gains as a resurgence of a civil war looms. Menacing warlords intimidate, the Taliban strikes and the foreigners remain unwilling to risk the necessary relationships they need to develop with Afghans. There is limited mentorship and clearly few benefits. No one’s interests are aligned.
Moreover, the international community remains fractured, uncooperative and non-transparent. It continues to fail. Not only is the country more dangerous — and hazardously polluted — but electricity remains sporadic, water scarce, traffic hazardous and violence high.
To date, the “civilian surge” is on hold, for good reason, since a civilian counterpart to General Patraeus remains absent. The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) looks more active, although it was rumored that the Taliban now has shadow governments in 33 of the country’s34 provinces.
Significant change must happen through the direction of our leadership and the hard work and dedication of our civil servants. That leadership is in the White House.
Today, it has become politically correct to blood let the generals, and maybe that is appropriate. But my real worry is that if there is a strategy or plan, much less a clearly defined endgame, which there does not seem to be, no one is sharing it with the players so they can get on the same page, work on the same milestones and reach the same conclusion — an end to this war.
Obama’s Administration has let him down so far. It is helpful to see that there is a bit of a shake up. Now, I hope, he’ll stir up that turnover a bit more.
The State Department would be a good place to start. The nation’s most pressing and complex challenges need greater interest from its top foreign affairs officials. So far, the broader organization to support efforts in Afghanistan, and Iraq, are lacking. There are no signs that the necessary reorganization, recruiting and retooling are anywhere in sight. Too many responsibilities have been taken over by the Department of Defense or outsourced, instead of internally managed. A Congressional halt on its budget is being disregarded, instead of fought for.
Running any organization pales to the complications of Washington. Nonetheless, it is time for Obama to take a strong hold of those leadership reins. He must not waste another second. If he is “willing to tackle the tough problems,” as his former National Security Advisor Jim Jones has said, he must be diligent about getting the very best team in place — those who are not solely politically savvy, but seasoned experts who understand US stakes not only in Afghanistan, but in the world. His people must have the strength to help him formulate sound policies, and be aware that they have the responsibility to think of possibilities beyond war.