My hope had been that we might shift our approach in Afghanistan from chasing the Taliban to development of people resources. The NY Times article below, however, makes that option look like pie in the sky. Presumably the Taliban will keep shooting at us and those who try to travel out to help people and will keep on destroying whatever we try to build there. Maybe such will lead to resistance to the Taliban — if Afghans can really be persuaded that we are trying to help them better their lives. But it may be too late to do that now. No reasonable number of troops can stop the Taliban. We have no sure way to distinguish the good from bad guys. What sort of military force or government can we construct that will not be as corrupt as the present one? And who will we choose to run things from among the Afghans? And if we do try to choose someone other than Karzai, it will be OUR choice and not that of the Afghans.

I keep going around in circles as I try to figure ways that we can put things back together there since we blew our big opportunity after our initial invasion. So far as I can tell, the Afghans are not fans of our terrorist enemies. But that does not make them friends of us. We have the example of what happened to the Soviet efforts to make Afghanistan one of its own. And what we are engaged in begins to look more and more like the morass in Vietnam. One of my students who happened to have had the assignment to keep track of the number of our troops there at any given time told me years ago that we not infrequently had more than a million in the country — although we reported far fewer. The only difference was that we were doing body counts of enemies killed in Vietnam whereas we only get strangulated reports from Afghanistan now of numbers killed — all too often innocent civilians. And again, how do we tell the good guys from the bad? There was a report the other day of the irritation of a village leader at our having confiscated their weapons, leaving them no defense against the Taliban. Needless to say this meant that they had to do as ordered by the Taliban — not by us. One hears that in desperation people are turning to shadow Taliban courts to solve their legal problems, as the official ones are completely corrupted.

Do our good generals have any clue as to what they are to do with even more troops? At least we seem ready to honor our dead on their arrivals home. Will this lead to the body count game that we had when we used to protest the Vietnam war by reading aloud names of our guys who had been killed? I cringe at the thought of our repeating this practice once again.

Obama, you are facing one hell of a challenge. I wonder how you will meet it?

What do you think?

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Civilian Goals Largely Unmet in Afghanistan
By ELISABETH BUMILLER and MARK LANDLER
Obama administration officials say the U.S. is falling far short of the president’s goals to fight corruption, create a functioning government and train a police force.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/12/world/asia/12civil.html?th&emc=th

“A war is just if there is no alternative, and the resort to arms is legitimate if they represent your last hope.” (Livy cited by Machiavelli)

Ed Kent 212-665-8535 (voice mail only) [blind copies]

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