Wednesday 18 Jul 2018 | 20:54 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 18 Jul 2018 | 20:54 | SYDNEY

Afghanistan: The bind we're in


Sam Roggeveen


2 July 2010 14:11

Reinforcing Harry Gelber's point about foreigners trying to create a new political culture in Afghanistan, here's a piece from an Afghanistan expert we've featured before on The Interpreter, Rory Stewart:

We can do other things for Afghanistan but the West -- in particular its armies, development agencies and diplomats -- are not as powerful, knowledgeable or popular as we pretend. Our officials cannot hope to predict and control the intricate allegiances and loyalties of Afghan communities or the Afghan approach to government. But to acknowledge these limits and their implications would require not so much an anthropology of Afghanistan, but an anthropology of ourselves.

The cures for our predicament do not lie in increasingly detailed adjustments to our current strategy. The solution is to remind ourselves that politics cannot be reduced to a general scientific theory, that we must recognize the will of other peoples and acknowledge our own limits.

Acknowledging limitations is one thing. Taking the next step of drawing down the West's commitment is another. Consider the situation President Obama faced when he came to office:

It was understandable that Obama would be reluctant to tell his newly appointed commanding general, with decades in the Special Forces and a row of medals on his chest: "I have not spent any time in Afghanistan and have never served in the army, but I can tell you that you are wrong. You will not defeat the Taliban, additional troops will be a waste of time and I reject your counter-insurgency theory. Instead, we will reduce our troop presence. And as the situation deteriorates in southern Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the Taliban increase their control and the Republicans mock me for my weakness, I will take the full blame for having over-ruled my general's advice. (And I will also take the sole blame if there is another terrorist attack on the United States)."