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The West's Problems in Afghanistan and Underestimating Al Qaeda

An editorial in the Los Angeles Times is surprisingly supportive of Germany's position on Afghanistan:
The old saw that there are no military solutions to political conflicts was never more true than in Afghanistan. Yet, in the five years since U.S. forces toppled the Taliban government with a "light footprint," the Bush administration has never spent enough on reconstruction, opium-crop substitution payments for farmers, road building, education, healthcare or jobs programs — or enough on security to make sure the rebuilding succeeds.
Bush will not get the full support and cooperation of NATO allies until he demonstrates that reconstruction is not a second priority to fighting Al Qaeda. There are serious differences with Germany, which has sent thousands of troops and spent millions in Afghanistan, commanded NATO forces and been responsible for security in the country's north, where Berlin believes its style of nation-building has been notably successful. The government of Angela Merkel has signaled it believes that Washington is relying too heavily on military solutions.
The war effort cannot be allowed to falter over an "Americans are from Mars, Europeans are from Venus" cultural divide on whether to emphasize military commitment or nation-building. Both approaches are necessary. NATO needs to bear its share of the burden, contributing troops to the fight in the south and continuing to lift conditions on their deployment. And Washington, however distracted by its Iraqi adventure, cannot shortchange the effort to rebuild the nation whose failure led directly to 9/11. The possibility that democracy could fail in Afghanistan is awful to contemplate.
Personal comments: The last two sentences in the editorial indicate a simplistic and unrealistic view of Afghanistan and international terrorism. This view seems to be very common and at the heart of the West's problems in Afghanistan:
(1) Afghanistan has not been a "nation" which NATO can "rebuild" now. Such statements are considered arrogant in many parts of the world and indicate a lack of understanding and delusions of grandeur. This Western megalomania is hurting the West's interests. We should be more realistic and beware of quagmires.

(2) Blaming 9/11 on the "failure" of this "nation" is a rather simplistic reading of history. Al Qaeda is a global movement and does not depend on Afghanistan as a safe haven to plan and train for terrorist attacks. The 9/11 hijackers did not receive their pilot training in Afghanistan.
Planning and training for the next 9/11 attack is likely to take place in Europe, the U.S., Canada, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia or elsewhere. Domestic law enforcement authorities and intelligence agencies need more money and better equipment and have to continue to improve cooperation with their international partners.

(3) President Bush's mantra "We're taking the fight to the terrorists abroad, so we don't have to face them here at home." is not entirely wrong, but it is largely wishful thinking and creates a false sense of security. Killing Taliban in Afghanistan does not significantly reduce the terrorist threat and does not make Europe or the United States significantly safer. In fact, accidentally killing civilians is likely to increase support for the Taliban and increase the risk of terrorism. So, what is the cost-benefit analysis of the war on southern Afghanistan?
Besides, Al Qaeda is on the march, reorganizing and regrouping in Pakistan (
"with passive connivance of Pakistani authorities") and elsewhere. Even if Afghanistan would turn into a model democracy, Europe and the US will obviously continue to be at risk of terrorist attacks.

(4) Considering it "awful to contemplate" the failure of democracy in Afghanistan indicates an unwillingness to face the tough reality. It would be wiser, if the LA Times were more realistic of what can be achieved in Afghanistan and where the other Al Qaeda threats are coming from.

Moreover, the LA Times editorial fails to point out that Germany has not provided sufficient resources for reconstruction, as explained in the Atlantic Review post: Germany and the United States Failed to Train Afghanistan's Police.
Besides, the Bush administration apparently plans to provide more resources to Afghanistan. Unfortunately, this effort is not matched by similar commitments from Germany and the EU: Fixing the Afghanistan mission: The U.S. wants to try, but what about Europe?

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Pat Patterson on :

Not to be too glib, well, yes I do, but an editorial in the LA Times is hardly either important or well thought out. Remember this is the paper that won a Pulitizer for reporting on the CIA smuggling cocaine into the inner city. Then had to admit that the editorial staff had never really vetted all the sources and basically backtracked on the article and the writer, who later committed suicide. There are people that are working for the LAT that couldn't find Orange County, much less Afghanistan, on a map. But they are right on one point, in that Afghanistan served as a safe house for Al Queda and they have been weaker and less of a threat to the US since the invasion. The rest is just typical LAT lightweight musings.

JW-Atlantic Review on :

Thanks. What West Coast newspaper can you recommend? Do you know where the Christian Science Monitor has its headquarters? I like that paper. It does not have a wide circulation, does it?

Don S on :

Joerg, the LA Times is the traditional west-coast heavyweight. The problem is that it's in circulation meltdown for some years. I think it's in the death spiral but that can't be certain unless and until it happens. Something will replace the LA Times - it may be the first major daily in the US to go all-digital out of necessity because their dead-tree edition is losing subscribers every month. The San Francisco Chronicle is the other well-known paper on the Left Coast - but it's less credible than the LA Times even today.

Don S on :

Joerg, The Christian Science Monitor website lists it's mailing address as Boston. It has always been a nationally-based newspaper with little local news. It has long had a relatively small circulation.

Pat Patterson on :

Actually a very good question, a the other shoe dropped type of question. I don't use any West Coast papers, except for financial news, sports and surf reports anymore. Strictly web based and links. The Christian Science Monitor, don't be put off by the religious connection, is a very good paper. They are headquartered and printed in Boston and have limited delivery throughout the country(couldn't find circulation figures) but have one of the earliest known web sites devoted to news in the US. I was probably unneccessarily harsh regarding the LAT but their quality and circulation has slipped tremendously in the last decade. Just as an addendum it can be noted that the LAT supported the war in Iraq while the supposedly neanderthal right wing Orange County Register opposed it. editorially.

JW-Atlantic Review on :

Thanks for the info, Pat and Don

2020 on :

Bush's mantra, as heard in his 2005 SOTU, is of outstanding cynicism. May other people in countries far away pay with their blood. It remains uncertain whether it was this strategy that has prevented another 9/11 style attack in the U.S.A - but by offering the enemy a battlefield in Iraq he is responsible, by the number of victims, for more than fifty 9/11's there: 3000 per month, since the invasion began. Victims who would still be alive had their country not been invaded.

Don S on :

I came accross yet another example of the restraint and judgement for which French officials are so well known. At a Champion's League game between Manchester United and Lille at Sens in France, a potentially ugly situation was averted by the local police. They forcibly removed English fans from their paid-for seats and sequestered them into a fenced section of the stadium much too small for their numbers. It is only proper to remove animals away from people. When the English fans protested by shouting 'you French bastards' and attempting to force open a gate to gain more room, the flics reponded with typical Gallic restraint by firing tear gas canisters into the crowd - thus allaying their fears of being crushed. No doubt. The actions of the flics last night was in the highest traditions of the notable European regard and sensitivity toward universal human rights, and indeed reminds me of how la belle France treats her long term allies at all times.... http://www.iht.com/articles/2007/02/21/sports/CUP.php

Zyme on :

I think such fences are pretty common in Italy, where the fans of the guest team are usually in such a "cage". Of course this is an ultima ratio measurement and is not suited to cool emotions down. Here in Germany it is not this extreme, but I guess this is mainly because of the massive police presence. So the violence climbs down the leagues until the significance of these clubs is so small that police protection becomes too expensive. How is the situation in Britain right now?

Don S on :

Is overcrowding such fenced areas and shooting tear gas in also common practice, Zyme? ;)

Zyme on :

In Italy? At least no more I guess, now that they have cancelled the Seria A matches after a policeman got killed in the riots after a match in Catania. http://www.spiegel.de/sport/fussball/0,1518,464639,00.html According to the report tear gas was used there - but hey, what is tear gas against burning barrels in the streets of the city after the match? The pictures look like screenshots of an end time movie.

Don S on :

Zyme, we uncivilized Yankee barbarians simply do not understand the civilized European custom of killing each other off over futbol. Perhaps it's because we save our fighting for other venues, but we don't murder each otyher over a game even when we're not at war!

Zyme on :

Get off your high horse ;) There is a tradition of "Brot und Spiele" in Europe at least since the roman times. Such games reduce the aggressions of so many people - but they don´t seem to be sufficient anymore. Maybe we should return to Arenas with people fighting to the very end :) This might calm the viewers down again ^^

Don S on :

Does not 'reality TV' seem to be headed in precisely that direction, Zyme. Although I suppose that the final step (aka 'real' killing) won't be shown by the major broadcasters. Possibly satelite though...

Zyme on :

http://www.wdr.de/themen/kultur/1/millionenspiel/index.jhtml This is about "Das Millionenspiel" which was broadcasted in 1970, at a time when many people didn´t realize the fictional character of the show - because the showmaster was in real life also a popular showmaster at that time. According to the article, thousands have called the station and protested, while many young men called to volunteer for the next round! So this movie wasn´t broadcasted anymore for 32 years :)

Anonymous on :

America wants to bring democracy to Afghanistan and Iraq, but can't even build barracks: SLATE: It seemed like a simple assignment: to build and renovate barracks and facilities for the Iraqi police's training academy in Baghdad. But when Parsons Delaware Inc. and the Army Corps of Engineers were done, the results were straight out of Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House. According to a report by the Special Inspector General For Iraq Reconstruction (a summary of its findings appears below and on the following six pages), the barracks were so poorly constructed that cadets had to be moved out to protect them from "leaking urine and fecal matter." http://www.slate.com/id/2160099/entry/0/fr/rss/

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