Based upon an unproven two-way social contract: 1) American soldiers provide episodic “security” and $50 billion to the Pashtun tribes, and 2) the tribes in turn reject their fierce Taliban relatives living among them.
That “contract” has not worked. Americans do not live in most villages, providing 24-hour protection. When we give away billions for nothing, we get nothing in return. Like LBJ’s War on Poverty, we have created an Afghan culture of entitlement extending from Karzai to every village elder. Since our military is a perfect socialist organization –promoting by merit and by age class with pay provided by the citizens, and in return providing sacrifice and true martial service – our brightest officers created a theory of warfare that reflected their own idealistic image – and that of the Bush administration. This is certainly an ideal; and our military could follow such a doctrine because as a nation we had the wealth to protect our soldiers with superb equipment, while going forth to do good.
The unintended consequences have been enervation of the warrior ethos, risk-aversion at the higher levels and guaranteed promotions at the top. Six generals have commanded in Afghanistan in the past ten years, all were praised and yet none achieved a satisfactory end state. We are persisting in a nation-building exercise we don’t have the resources to finish. On our current path, Afghanistan needs tens of billions of dollars for a decade.
I’m just back from Sangin, where the Marines are waging straight-up warfare against the Taliban. Sangin is the exception. Most of our force - dedicated to counterinsurgency (COIN) as nation-building - rarely sees and almost never engages the enemy. Our current course cannot be sustained. No one believes the US and NATO will long persist in spending over $130 billion a year. After Egypt, we face a period of uncertainty that will demand a force in readiness that is not available.
Our national goal is to prevent a Taliban takeover of Kabul. That can be done by deploying adviser task forces to show the Afghans how to fight their own war, while most of our troops come home.
To contact Bing with comments or questions, please use the "Contact the author" form.