Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Missed opportunities... the price of hubris

I was reading a post on Human Voices blog... It got me thinking about the incredible opportunity we missed in Afghanistan. An opportunity that, since we’ve so badly tarnished our image in Iraq, will likely not come again in my lifetime.

After the attacks on this country we were justified in going after the perpetrators -- and those that harbored them -- in Afghanistan. I was frankly amazed that we were able to defeat and evict the Taliban so quickly. Just looking back on the Soviets efforts in the region had me convinced it would be hard fight. But it was a necessary fight.

In October 2001 the hunt for Osama was on in earnest. Our administration was making all the right noises: we’d deal with Osama and help the Afghans rebuild there country: a country that has seen nothing but strife for decades. By November 2001 Kabul had fallen, the Taliban were retreating into the hills and Osama was soon to be cornered in the Tora Bora Mountains.

But just as things were looking better than I had hoped, our focus changed … Osama was no longer the priority – and neither was truly stabilizing Afghanistan and seeing the effort through.

We all know what happened next.

But what did we loose by changing our focus? What would have happened if we’d continued our efforts in that rugged and impoverished country? What if we had spent the money and effort we’re currently spending in Iraq in Afghanistan?

Here’s what I think would have happened.

We’d have captured or killed the leader of the movement that spawned the 9/11 attacks. We would have created and stabilized a fragile democracy in one of the cradles of radical Islamic fundamentalism. We’d have swiftly dealt justice to the terrorists who committed atrocities on our soil.

What a message: a demonstration of American might while simultaneously establishing a democracy in the former home of not only radical fundamentalism, but a region of the world where the Soviets (our former foe) spent a decade to no avail.

Such a message may have given pause to other terrorist cells and to other middle-east leaders who harbor terrorists… but the signal of American military prowess would have been noticed throughout the world – by the Chinese, the Russians and any other power that harbored doubts about American resolve.

Maybe I’m extrapolating too freely – but it seems a likely outcome given the way events were unfolding.

So Afghanistan, not Iraq, was the perfect laboratory for Bush’s ‘democracy on the march’ experiment. Not because I think spreading democracy at the point of a gun is the solution to terrorism (it can be part of it), but because the particular set of circumstances in that country called for a course of action that included fixing the Afghan government once we toppled it.

But we’ll never know... The administration had a far more grandiose plan. Bush and the Project-for-New-American-Century crowd decided going after the people that attacked us wasn’t enough. Afghanistan wasn’t ‘central’ to the image of the new middle-east the neo-cons at PNAC had envisioned. So, they used the situation to catalyze their pet project – remaking the middle-east – with Iraq firmly placed at central stage.

We all know what happened next.

Instead of a demonstration of American might, justice and charity we’re stuck … stuck both in Iraq and stuck trying to convince ourselves, and the world, that it was the right thing to do.

1 comment:

Capt. Fogg said...

Not only does our bungling in Afghanistan let the world know how incompetent we are, it helps them believe our goal is to occupy Islamic countries and exploit them without regard to the welfare of the people.