Once again Fareed Zakaria’s great new show on CNN, Global GPS, brings us face to face with people who *should* be household names here in the USA but rarely are because we focus far more attention on Britney Spears’ hair style than we focus on the looming war that Obama will be prosecuting in Afghanistan. Today Zakaria is interviewing Ashraf Ghani, former Chancellor of Kabul University and former Afghan finance minister and a leading prospective leading candidate for the next President of Afghanistan, a role that will intersect on many levels with the USA and the foreign policies of our new President.
Ghani is critical of what he sees as Karzai’s “tolerance” of the levels of corruption in Afghanistan and what he suggests is the criminalization of the entire Afghan economy via the drug trade. Lke many I think I was initially very impressed by Karzai but have not been paying attention for some time. Ghani’s argument is that Afghanistan is now failing as drugs and threats of violence trump the need to build infrastructure.
On one point almost everybody can agree – Obama faces a huge and his key new point people in the region Hillary Clinton and Richard Holbrook face perhaps the USA’s greatest foreign policy challenge in Afghanistan, especially along the Pakistan border where the Taliban and supporting warlords have some local support and continue to fight to restore the Taliban to power in Afghanistan.
From a strategic point of view I remain very skeptical that a primarily military approach will succeed in Afghanistan. There’s a tendency to simplify the analysis into the idea that “getting rid of the bad guys” will allow the regular folks to take control and establish a flourishing democracy. This view is both naive and dangerous and it’s the main reason we failed to bring stability to Viet Nam, Iraq, and Afghanistan after the first Taliban war. A far more sophisticated strategy takes a decades-long view of societal change and will focus on changing the views of the youth while funding and defending infrastructure improvements. It’s well understood now that many of the current troubles in Afghanistan stem in large part from a failure to bring the promised aid after international forced led by the USA forced the Taliban from power. Will we keep making the same mistakes of the past by imposing ourselves militarily with far too little regard for infrastructure and changing views of the youth. Those are the tactics that will most effectively undermine the objectives of the enemies of the US for whom ongoing instability represents a huge tactical advantage. Development and infrastructure funding should our paramount concern. Not because it is a moral imperative, rather becauase it is a *strategic* imperative in terms of protecting our long term national interests.