Sunday, December 29, 2013

Let Kabul Be the Capital of Kabul?

I've always recognized that the notion of a national government in Afghanistan is a polite fiction in our state-centric world. Our government is prepared to ignore that fiction if the Karzai faction ignores that fiction.

Before our first of two Obama surges in Afghanistan took place, I had low expectations for the nominal national government in Kabul. Nation-building was far down on my list of things to do:

The end result in Afghanistan, if all goes well, will be a nominal national government that controls the capital region and reigns but does not rule local tribes and which actually helps the locals a bit rather than sucking resources from the locals, who in turn do not make trouble for the central government or allow their areas to be used by jihadis to plan attacks on the West. We press for reasonable economic opportunities, with bribes all around (I mean, foreign aid), to keep a fragile peace.

And we stick around this time, unlike after the Soviets left Afghanistan when we ignored the place, for a generation or two to see if we can move Afghanistan into the 19th century (hey, let's not get ahead of ourselves).

Indeed, I felt working with tribes was a logical step to take in a world with weakening Westphalian standards of who governs what:

When nation-states no longer have the monopoly on the use of world-altering power and when states cannot control the threats from disease and terrorism that gestate inside their borders, we must not be hobbled by being chained to the capitals of the world.

So it is nice to see that we have an alternative to pretending that Kabul is the capital of the Afghanistan nation-state:

The U.S. has made it clear to the Karzai clan that it understands the tribal politics and if there is not sufficient cooperation to get the Status of Forces agreement signed than the U.S. would play tribal politics and only send money to tribes it could depend on. If the Afghans want to play by tribal rules the U.S. will oblige and some clans, like the Karzais, will be big losers.

So we've got the right idea, anyway.

Just keep Kerry away from the problem, okay?

UPDATE: The CIA is pessimistic about Afghanistan after we leave:

A new American intelligence assessment on the Afghan war predicts that the gains the United States and its allies have made during the past three years are likely to have been significantly eroded by 2017, even if Washington leaves behind a few thousand troops and continues bankrolling the impoverished nation, according to officials familiar with the report.

But the administration says we checked enemy momentum:

“By no means has the surge defeated the Taliban,” the official said, but its stated goal was to “reverse the Taliban’s momentum and give the government more of an edge. I think we achieved that.”

That's COIN 101. Build up friendly forces and weaken the enemy. We did that.

So will the Taliban recover and win? Could be. Nothing is guaranteed. The enemy gets a vote, too. As they are in Iraq with our too-small post-war role.

But don't make it a self-fulfilling prophecy, eh? Work the problem. Provide Afghan forces with needed capabilities to maintain the edge we bought with our lives and money. It can be their own. It can be contractors. If necessary, make it our forces who provide the capabilities.

Otherwise, the Taliban certainly will regain strength since we won't be there. The question then becomes whether we built up our allies enough to continue to beat the stronger Taliban.

And don't measure failure against standards we don't need to achieve. We don't need to create a modern Afghanistan, complete with bike path debates. We just keep people in charge of the land of Afghanistan who will deny Islamists the ability to use that territory to launch terror attacks on us. You remember that, right?

I mean, unless President Obama ordered two separate surges and much higher American casualties just to put off the date of defeat in Afghanistan past his second term. You're not willing to argue that, are you?