The Cato Institute’s foreign policy analyst, Malou Innocent, explains:
In case you haven’t heard, the war in Afghanistan is in a tailspin. Following the turbulent events of the past two weeks—including yesterday’s incident on a Helmand runway and the disarming of U.S. Marines before Defense Secretary Leon Panetta—Afghan president Hamid Karzai has demanded U.S. troops withdraw from villages and operate only from large NATO bases. Furthermore, the Taliban announced that it is breaking off peace talks with the United States.
These new developments further call into question the Obama administration’s ability to implement its strategy of a gradual transition of responsibilities to the Afghan national security forces by 2014. And the American people recognize this.
A USA Today/Gallup poll finds 50 percent of respondents support an accelerated troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, while an Washington Post-ABC News-poll shows 54 percent favor a U.S. military withdrawal even if it means the Afghan security forces are not “self-sufficient.” That same poll finds 60 percent believe the war is “not worth fighting.” A majority of Americans rightly understand the futility of staying the course. Leaders in Washington should, too.
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One narrative emerging from this whole fiasco is that some Afghan prisoners had defaced the Qurans before their incineration; they were allegedly using the holy books to distribute radical messages. The evidence on this remains fragmentary at best; however, even if Islamic scholars argue that burning is the proper way to dispose a defaced Quran, one would expect that after more than a decade at war, the coalition would have a less incendiary protocol to handle such a situation: hire an Afghan, not a Christian foreigner, to burn the Qurans.
According to this handy informational guide put together by Colonel Chet Lanious, a chaplain at and the director of the Center for World Religions at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, if one decides to dispose of “unwanted religious and Islamic literature,” one either casts it “into a flowing river” or buries it. Alternatively, one can burn it, but “only after erasing the names of Allah, His Angels and His Messengers.” I would assume that NATO did not do that. I’m also prepared to believe that some Afghans would protest regardless of whether NATO followed that protocol.
I’m not a scholar on Islam. So leaving standard operating procedure aside, the fact that the Qurans were defaced would imply that NATO had a motive for having them deliberately destroyed, which would contradict the established narrative that the incineration was a mistake. More to come…
I have a post up regarding Ms. Innocent’s previous comments on the Afghan situation here. Her analysis is spot-on, as usual.
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The Cato Institute‘s Malou Innocent is right on the money (as usual and all too often) when it comes to U.S. foreign policy. Personally, I look forward to the day when Ms. Innocent doesn’t need to write about Afghanistan. Wishful thinking, unfortunately. In the meantime, check out her post at The National Interest:
A decade into the conflict the Afghan government still remains incredibly weak, widely distrusted, and underrepresented in poorly secured areas of the country. The roughly 180,000-strong Afghan army, whose performance and effectiveness remainsquestionable, has an officer corps teaming with ethnic fissures and competing sub-national interests. Meanwhile, the Afghan police force has developed a reputation for desertion, illiteracy, and rapaciousness. On top of limited and potentially unsustainable security improvements, the spiraling violence does not instill confidence in our victory.
Too many U.S. government planners forget that for Afghans we are their guests, and it is their country. We forget when back in 2010, Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai imposed a crackdown on alcohol consumption and closed a number of expat bars around Kabul because they were deemed offensive to Islam. The Afghan general who carried out the alcohol raids told the Los Angeles Times it was done for “Allah’s sake.” After that, violent demonstrationsand inter-cultural hostility increased after Florida pastor Terry Jones promised to “stand up” to Islam and burn a Quran. The recent incident of U.S. Marines urinating on corpses was yet another provocative episode in the erosion of American-Afghan relations.
As I argued months ago, “Recent events in Afghanistan should be a wake-up call to how our 10-year occupation is actually being perceived. Rather than winning ‘hearts and minds,’ America’s civilizing mission has become increasingly associated with a Western cultural invasion.”
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Malou Innocent’s latest piece on the situation in Afghanistan:
The Washington Post reports the Obama administration has revised its Afghan war strategy to include “more energetic efforts to persuade” Afghanistan’s neighbors—including India, China, and the Central Asian republics—to “support a political resolution.” Just yesterday, the New York Times reported that the administration was also relying on Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency “to help organize and kick-start reconciliation talks aimed at ending the war in Afghanistan.”
This is good news, but also déjà vu. The administration called for “pursuing greater regional diplomacy” back in 2009. It also said it would ask “all countries who have a stake in the future of this critical region to do their part.” Countries in the region do have a stake in Afghanistan’s future; America, however, has few effective instruments for submerging the differences among competing powers.
Take our relationship with Iran. It has made significant inroads with Afghanistan’s Hazara and Tajik communities and is well-positioned to be a key player in the region. But Tehran and Washington seem neither close to engaging in direct talks nor willing to make reciprocal concessions for the cause of furthering peace. The irony is that after 9/11, American and Iranian interests initially converged in Afghanistan: Tehran cooperated with Washington to overthrow the Taliban regime, and during the Bonn negotiations helped broker a compromise between President Karzai and the Northern Alliance.
Over at The Skeptics, Malou Innocent details our recipe for endless war in Afghanistan. I extracted some highlights (or lowlights?) to ruin your mood, but you should really read the entire piece:
Yesterday, Adm. Mike Mullen, America’s top military officer, accused Pakistan of being behind last week’s attack on the American embassy in Afghanistan. This is a bit too convenient. As the United States prepares to withdraw most of its troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, it seems that fighting Pakistan by proxy will become Washington’s new reason to stay.
In Washington-speak, if the U.S. Government claims to have interests on the other side of world, then countries adjacent to them should not have interests there as well. Thus, among the U.S. Government’s plethora of justifications, when pesky neighbors get in the way and are divorced from the intractable realities of history and geography, fighting them becomes a recipe for endless war.
With Pakistan, of course, nuclear weapons and American aid compound this equation. After all, those nukes are the reason the coalition must stay, and being duped into giving billions in aid to a country makes U.S. officials feel wronged. (Of course, if Washington stopped giving aid to Pakistan, so I am told tirelessly in Washington, then Pakistan might behave even worse. This argument defies reality, as billions in aid has not made Pakistan behave differently.)
For almost a decade, however, U.S. officials have refused to confront the most obvious truth: Pakistan is unwilling to abandon its support for militarized jihad. That’s because decades of assisting select militant groups have cemented ideological sympathies for radicalism among elements of that country’s armed forces. A stabilized Pakistan is not on the horizon, and so long as Western troops are fighting an all-out war in neighboring Afghanistan they will only continue to be fodder for radical aims.
Although U.S. officials and analysts claim incessantly that remaining in the region will help to prevent Afghanistan’s radicalism from engulfing Pakistan, the exact opposite has been the case.
As Pakistani analyst Khaled Ahmed wrote recently, “Al Qaeda may have lost the first phase of its war in America and Europe but it has won big in Pakistan. And that should worry the rest of the world.” Indeed, it should. And yet, waging a dangerous, ill-conceived, and interminable proxy war against such a country is considerably worse.
We’re in the midst of a budget crisis, debt crisis, and monetary crisis. And yet we still borrow money to build multimillion dollar prisons in foreign countries, as Glenn Greenwald reports:
Posted on the aptly named FedBizOps.Gov website which it uses to announce new privatized spending projects, the administration unveiled plans for “the construction of Detention Facility in Parwan (DFIP), Bagram, Afghanistan” which includes “detainee housing capability for approximately 2000 detainees.” It will also feature “guard towers, administrative facility and Vehicle/Personnel Access Control Gates, security surveillance and restricted access systems.” The announcement provided: “the estimated cost of the project is between $25,000,000 to $100,000,000.”
In the U.S., prisons are so wildly overcrowded that courts are ordering them to release inmates en masse because conditions are so inhumane as to be unconstitutional (today, the FBI documented that a drug arrest occurs in the U.S. once every 19 seconds, but as everyone knows, only insane extremists and frivolous potheads advocate an end to that war). […] But the U.S. proposes to spend up to $100 million on a sprawling new prison in Afghanistan.
Malou Innocent is on the job:
Over the past decade, American taxpayers have lost as much as $60 billion dollars to massive fraud and waste in the nation building campaigns of Iraq and Afghanistan, according to a report released today by the Commission on Wartime Contracting. The independent panel confirms much of what we already know about rent-seeking in wartime; nevertheless, the panel details specific reconstruction projects and programs that display a stunning array of mismanagement:
- A modest $60 million agricultural development program in northern Afghanistan expanded to the south and east to the tune of $360 million. The cash-for-work program was intended to distribute vouchers for wheat-seed and fertilizer in drought-stricken areas. Today, the program spends $1 million a day. The panel reports, “The pressure to quickly spend the millions of dollars created an environment in which waste was rampant. Paying villagers for what they used to do voluntarily destroyed local initiatives and diverted project goods into Pakistan for resale.”
- During operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, waste and fraud averaged about “$12 million every day for the past 10 years.” [Emphasis in original];
- The Department of Defense (DoD) awarded an $82 million contract for the design and construction of an Afghan Defense University. Now, DoD officials say it will cost $40 million a year to operate—beyond the indigenous government’s ability to fund and sustain;
- The U.S. Agency for International Development, the U.S. Government’s main distributor of development contracts, funded the Khost-Gardez road project. Originally valued at $86 million it has since mushroomed to $176 million;
- The insurgents’ second-largest funding source is the U.S. taxpayer. Money for construction and transportation projects are diverted to the insurgency so Afghan subcontractors can pay them for protection. Of course, the insurgents use this money to buy bombs, IEDs, and other explosives to kill foreign troops and civilians.
The report goes on and on with examples that should disgust U.S. taxpayers. In addition, the report was released amid news that August 2011 was the deadliest month for U.S. service members, and 2011 shaping up to be the deadliest year for Afghan civilians. Despite the spin from warhawks, people in the region know the coalition has lost. Last year, the “Godfather of the Taliban,” Hamid Gul, the former head of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency, laid out in extensive detail why America has been defeated (for skeptics of withdrawal, it’s worth reading).
The United States has largely disrupted, dismantled, and defeated al Qaeda. America should not go beyond that objective by combating a regional insurgency or drifting into an open-ended occupation. We have endured enough with tens of thousands of people killed, injured, and traumatized, and billions of dollars wasted.
Once again, she has said it all.
Here is a letter to the St. Petersburg Times:
In the wake of the recent attack on a helicopter that killed 30 US troops in Afghanistan, the Times, recognizing the grave dangers American soldiers continue to face every day, coupled with the extremely fragile security conditions, still calls for “those on the political side to show courage of their own in building an Afghanistan that does justice to those who died for it” (Amid halting progress, an awful toll in Afghanistan, August 9).
Unfortunately, no amount of political courage will solve the problems facing the US in Afghanistan, nor do justice to those who have died needlessly in our prolonged occupation. The sad truth is Afghanistan endures as a major narco-state, rampant with corruption. Moreover, no credible terrorist threat to US interests remains, as Al Qaeda fighters have either been killed or fled. And still, the Afghan army is unable to defend their country after ten years of training.
Afghanistan is, and always was, a fragmented sectarian country with no legitimate prospects for a functionally stable central government. Any problems in the face of an immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan will be the same ten, twenty, and thirty years from now, as will the threats to US armed forces and the tenuous security circumstances if we stay.
Brad R. Schlesinger
>Here is a letter to the Miami Herald: