Only the U.S. Military Is Hopeful About Afghanistan
October 12, 2010
Arriving in Kabul the first thing that hits you is the aura and aroma of dust. It covers the capital city in a hazy sheen and, more to the point, in a distinct and powerful odor. Considering that Kabul reportedly has one of the highest percentages of atmospheric fecal matter in the world it's the sort of smell that, at least initially, strikes you in the face. It offers a useful preview of the more powerful smack of gloom that seems so evident in Afghanistan today.
How the Wikileaks Are Changing Afghan Hearts and Minds
August 02, 2010
Within hours of the release of the Wikileaks trove, I received a call from a friend in Uruzgan province, an area here in Afghanistan’s south. “Look through the files,” he said excitedly. “Finally the world will know what we have been going through.” For years he had been claiming that foreign forces had killed two of his cousins during a firefight in a village in Uruzgan, something the NATO military authorities had denied. And for years he hadn’t been able to persuade local authorities. But buried in the mountain of U.S.
Stop Blaming the Afghans
July 26, 2010
In September 1991, the president of Afghanistan, Muhammad Najibullah, a former communist secret police chief turned Islamic nationalist, delivered an emotional speech to the Afghan parliament. Najibullah knew the era of foreign intervention in Afghanistan over which he had presided was ending. The Soviet Union had pulled back from direct combat. Radical Islamist rebels covertly backed by Pakistan controlled much of the countryside. Before parliament, Najibullah begged for national unity.
Save Whatever We Can
July 26, 2010
It is undeniable that U.S. prospects in Afghanistan look bleak. Over 100 NATO soldiers were killed in June—more than during any month of the war to date. No European government and increasingly no American one can sustain such losses for long. At the same time, senior U.S. officials who handle Afghanistan and Pakistan policy have been clashing with one another, both in Washington and Kabul. Nor is there a reliable partner on the ground. President Hamid Karzai has presided over corruption and a striking lack of progress in development.
Rescue the North
July 26, 2010
Naubad, Afghanistan—In a wheat field in northern Afghanistan this spring, beneath the Cretaceous convulsions of the Hindu Kush mountains, a village elder named Ajab Khan shared with me the unsentimental math of his region’s farmers. An acre of wheat, Khan said, yields $400. An acre of opium poppies yields $20,000. The people of his village, Naubad, had grown exclusively poppies until 2004, when the government of Hamid Karzai asked them to stop.
Confessions of an Epistemological Skeptic
July 01, 2010
I’m struck by how quickly some of my fellow Entanglers have brought up the mother of all epistemological quandaries: How can we, the not very well informed, know what is the case in a far-off land of which we know, well, not very much? The difficulty in knowing what is true on the ground in Afghanistan, for example, is massive. And the reason is not that “the liberal media” blight the national climate with pessimism because they’re of a wimpish or Qaeda-loving disposition.
A Guide to Avoiding Disaster in Afghanistan
June 28, 2010
For those of us who can remember how lonely it was to be in favor of the Iraq war and the hoped-for surge in 2006, reflecting on America’s current travails in Afghanistan—a “fool’s errand” (George F. Will) administered by “well-meaning infidels” (Andrew J. Bacevich)—isn’t nearly so depressing.
June 23, 2010
Washington—Gen. Stanley McChrystal put President Obama in an impossible position. That is why he had to go. A general’s tasks involve executing policies made by the commander in chief, plotting strategy and winning wars—not playing politics in the media to get at civilian rivals inside the government. What McChrystal did required Obama to change generals at a decisive moment in the Afghanistan conflict or risk looking weak and out of control.
Shura to Fail?
May 13, 2010
Shamalzai District, Zabul Province, Afghanistan—The village of Sher Khan Khel sits at 7,221 feet, a few miles from where Zabul Province borders Pakistan. Stone and mudbrick houses dot the barren slopes (there is little that will grow at this altitude). Women wear dresses trimmed with coins and ink tribal tattoos on their faces, while the men are clad in traditional shalwar kameez and turbans. There is no electricity, no cell phone reception, no TV service. When I visited this spring, I asked a few men how far a nearby village was from another. "Two to three hours walking," was the answer.
Follow the (Iraqi) Leader
May 11, 2010
Imagine a national leader dependent on American support, but who knows that the U.S. Ambassador has threatened that it will be withdrawn; who has heard Senators, and the French foreign minister, call for his removal; and who is referred to throughout the Western press as “weak and unreliable.” That man is not Hamid Karzai, who visits Washington this week. It was Nouri al-Maliki, Prime Minister of Iraq, three years ago. Yet Maliki has since transformed himself from reputed weakling to overbearing strong-man, even while being dependent on U.S. support.