Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Afghanistan update

Jonah Blank, author of two books on radical Islam, writes in the current issue of Foreign Affairs, “Every invasion of Afghanistan has eventually come to naught, either because the invaders paid insufficient attention to local culture or because they sought to impose centralized control. If the United States is interested in leaving behind a better Afghanistan than the one it found, it needs to take those experiences to heart.” (To read the full article, follow this link, “Invading Afghanistan, Then and Now,” Foreign Affairs, September/October 2011.)

Another article in the same issue of Foreign Affairs, “The Truth about al Qaeda,” argues that for a decade the United States has over estimated al Qaeda’s reach and power. Al Qaeda is a criminal organization best countered with law enforcement methods and resources, supplemented by military personnel and resources when appropriate (e.g., the SEAL raid that killed Osama bin Laden). Considering the U.S. locked in a battle against Islamist terrorists unhelpfully magnifies the scope of the problem, exacerbates the problem, and confers unwarranted status and glory upon the terrorists. Al Qaeda is no closer to its goal of establishing a global Islamist state today than ten years ago.

Although the U.S. is drawing down the number of military personnel in Afghanistan, the number of U.S. government civilian employees working in Afghanistan has more than tripled, from just over 300 to1040. Each employee costs the U.S. government the staggering sum of approximately $500,000 per year in salary, income supplements, hazardous duty pay, travel, and other employment related expenses. (Afghanistan's Civilian Surge Comes with Enormous Price Tag and Uncertain Results - Yochi J. Dreazen -, September 8, 2011) Of course, the additional, hidden cost in those statistics is the cost of providing protective security for each employee. Given the bleak prospects for success in aiding one of the world’s most corrupt governments to establish effective central governance in a nation that has never had an effective central government, these financial and personnel resources could surely make more of a difference if invested in developing economically downtrodden U.S. communities.

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