Afghanistan: More or Less?

There has been a great deal of discussion lately of the stated intention of the new administration to significantly increase the number of troops in Afghanistan. When we invaded Afghanistan, I wrote that we should use several hundred thousand troops as part of a major attempt to transform the country. I was thinking of what we did for the people of the Axis powers after World War II. It was also before the Iraq effort had siphoned off our troops and our will as a nation to make such efforts. The reader may also be interested in a 2004 blog discussing the thoughts of the Afghan expert Barnett Rubin on this topic (See Rubin) Rubin had already concluded by that time that the situation was getting more and more difficult and was unsure where to go from here.

It is well to remember that the Russians went through approximately the same effort that we are making, and with about twice the number of troops we have. It was also a high-tech effort. It is also useful to remember that their chief human rights achievement, like ours, was to raise the status of women. They also had their Afghan government and their projects. But in the end, they decided to give it up. Their regime collapsed and the Taliban eventually conquered most of the country.

Some conclude that adding more troop would be repeating the errors of the Russians and the British before them. They argue that we have little need to control Afghanistan, that the Taliban are no threat to us, and that they will not automatically harbor al-Qaeda.

But their arguments are too facile. The Taliban represent the worst of Islam. We have developed oases in the country in which a more humane life style is widely accepted. Were we to leave, we would be abandoning millions of the country’s most promising citizens to severe repression. We cannot easily avoid this responsibility.

This leaves the observer in a quandary. We appear to be losing ground. The more we fight, the more civilians we kill, the more enemies we have. I have many different suggestions, as do others, but how to make the most fundamental decision, more troops or less, escapes me.

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