Afghanistan
Afghanistan image used by Creative Commons license from Cecilia

Back in my early days of graduate school, a cartoon by Sidney Harris seemed to be on almost every laboratory or office billboard I passed. In the cartoon, two scientists are standing in front of a chalkboard filled with complex mathematical expressions except for the very center, where it says "Then a miracle occurs". [Since my email asking permission to reproduce the cartoon for a post has gone unanswered for more than two days, I must resort to a link.] The caption for the cartoon has one scientist saying to the other "I think you should be more explicit here in step two."

That cartoon is a perfect summary of the US strategy in Afghanistan. As we await the start of the assault on Marjeh (and pray that massive civilian casualties do not occur) we are told by virtually every article in the media that this assault is part of the strategy of eliminating insurgents and their violence so that the Afghan government can then provide services. For example, the latest article from AFP notes:

The US-led counter-insurgency strategy for ending the war is based on the military taking control of areas, then holding them to allow Afghan civilian authorities to build good governance so the Taliban do not return.

The assumption that Afghan authorities can build good governance seems to me to be the the equivalent of "Then a miracle occurs". Sadly the "I think you should be more explicit here in step two" is a responsibility that should fall to Congress but which they are abdicating.

The folly of this belief in miracles is driven home by the example of Iraq, where the same counterinsurgency strategy has been claimed to have been so successful. How well has the miracle of government worked out there, now that violence is down? Here is a Reuters article from today:

Seven years after the U.S.-led invasion ushered in democracy, Iraqis making do with a few hours of power a day and living amid mounds of rubbish and pools of sewage wonder if they should vote in a March election.

"We don’t trust the election or the candidates," Samir Salahuddin, a mechanic in the northern city of Kirkuk, said.

"I am now searching for kerosene to warm my family during the night, yet we live in a country rich with oil."

Could someone please explain to me how this strategy is supposed to work this time when it clearly isn’t working in the last place we applied it?