Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Afghanistan and Vietnam

I was in favor of the American troop increase in Iraq, because I thought there was a good chance of winning the war. I considered the fundamentals ok: the Sunnites (the main rebels) are a minority and can't dominate the country. The other troublemaker - Al-Sadr - had gotten some prominence because of his use of violent militias. He had gotten some prominence only because nobody confromted him. The main trouble had been that until the Surge the US had not been committed to winning: arbitrary measures like the debaathification showed that the US didn't consider loosing as an option. With the Surge the US finally got serious. I consider that more important than the troop increase itself.

For Afghanistan I am much less optimistic. The situation feels more similar to Vietnam. Both the Vietcong and the Taliban have wide support among the population and have a strong ideology. On the other hand Karzai and his supporters are seen by many as a bunch of opportunists who care more about enriching themselves than about winning the war. The government in South Vietnam had a similar image.

Obama's and Clinton's latest idea is talking with the Taliban. It is good to see that they finally take some initiative and don't let Karzai determine what they do (Karzai didn't want the US to talk with the Taliban - while he himself did talk with them). But I don't expect much from those talks - except for co-opting some local Taliban commanders.

My solution would rather be to bring government closer to the people:
- after the US invasion Afghanistan has become a rather centralised country - much more centralised than it has historically been. This should be turned back.
- Local government should be close to the people. No more "women liberation" and other projects to please the liberals in the West.
- I am not in favor of warlords. But it should be regional police instead of the national army of Afghanistan that does the main fighting against the Taliban.
- The national government should derive its power mainly from its possibility to distribute money for development projects in the different provinces. It should protect this power with a strong anti-corruption policy.

Newsweek has an article about this too.


Obelix said...

"Both the Vietcong and the Taliban have wide support among the population and have a strong ideology."
Just one more thing. In Vietnam, there was one more key factor - Vietnam People's Army. There isn't any regular army force, fighting against NATO troops in Afganistan, right? :)

Wim Roffel said...

I was looking more from the perspective "can we win?" and I think our cards are rather bad at the moment. But if you look at it from the other side ("can the Taliban win?") you are right to draw the attention to the role of the North Vietnamese army. After the Russians left it took several years before Kabul fell. If the West gave up on Afghanistan something similar might happen because there is no decisive force like the North Vietnamese army.