The Afghan Bottom Line

To win in Afghanistan, Washington needs a plan. To garner support for the effort, it needs to articulate that plan. Here’s a proposal.

The question of how to bringing sufficient peace, stability, and good governance to Afghan society so that the war can end with hope for Afghans and the world has no easy answer, but the first step is to focus our thinking on the underlying principles, and the second step is to set clear priorities.

All the endless debate over tactics is nothing but a sandcastle unless it stands on a foundation of correct principles and priorities. The choice between the goals of a well governed Afghan society on the one hand and some combination of establishing Central Asian military bases for the empire, guarding pipeline routes, or defeating an insurgency on the other is a choice that matters. All the above goals may be defensible, but where to put the focus matters profoundly.

Three core underlying principles should define Washington’s starting point:

· Local Control: Muslim socio-political reform should be managed first by locals and second by neighboring non-Western societies;

· Civil Society First: The method should always give precedence to civil society reform with military action firmly subordinated;

· Afghan Independence: The goal should not be incorporation into the American system but the establishment of an independent society.

To begin the arduous process of implementing these principles, make the following two steps top priority:

  1. Washington announces that it will vacate any region of Afghanistan that is either –
    • peaceful and drug-free or
    • guarded by an international force, preferably from Muslim societies
  2. the international force will have two duties –
    • preventing the use of force to resolve conflict
    • eliminating illegal narcotics, with emphasis on destruction of the refinement business.

Let those who disagree make their case…but at this level. Before the U.S. can sensibly consider issues related to military tactics or which Afghan politician to support, it needs to determine why it is in Afghanistan and what would constitute an acceptable exit strategy.

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