What the Afghans want

David Brooks:

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... the Afghan people want what we want. They are, as Lord Byron put it, one of the few people in the region without an inferiority complex. They think they did us a big favor by destroying the Soviet Union and we repaid them with abandonment. They think we owe them all this.

That makes relations between Afghans and foreigners relatively straightforward. Most military leaders here prefer working with the Afghans to the Iraqis. The Afghans are warm and welcoming. They detest the insurgents and root for American success. “The Afghans have treated you as friends, allies and liberators from the very beginning,” says Afghanistan’s defense minister, Abdul Rahim Wardak.

Second, we’re already well through the screwing-up phase of our operation. At first, the Western nations underestimated the insurgency. They tried to centralize power in Kabul. They tried to fight a hodgepodge, multilateral war.

Those and other errors have been exposed, and coalition forces are learning. When you interview impressive leaders here, like Brig. Gen. John Nicholson of Regional Command South, Col. John Agoglia of the Counterinsurgency Training Center and Chris Alexander of the U.N., you see how relentless they are at criticizing their own operations. Thanks to people like that, the coalition will stumble toward success, having tried the alternatives.

Third, we’ve got our priorities right. Armies love killing bad guys. Aid agencies love building schools. But the most important part of any aid effort is governance and law and order. It’s reforming the police, improving the courts, training local civil servants and building prisons.

In Afghanistan, every Western agency is finally focused on this issue, from a Canadian reconstruction camp in Kandahar to the top U.S. general, David McKiernan.

Fourth, the quality of Afghan leadership is improving. This is a relative thing. President Hamid Karzai is detested by much of the U.S. military. Some provincial governors are drug dealers on the side. But as the U.N.’s Kai Eide told the Security Council, “The Afghan government is today better and more competent than ever before.” Reformers now lead the most important ministries and competent governors run key provinces.

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Finally, it is simply wrong to say that Afghanistan is a hopeless 14th-century basket case. This country had decent institutions before the Communist takeover. It hasn’t fallen into chaos, the way Iraq did, because it has a culture of communal discussion and a respect for village elders. The Afghans have embraced the democratic process with enthusiasm.

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He has some other points but one he does not make is that the pessimism about Afghanistan is grossly misplaced. Even with the uptick in enemy activity it is still no where operational tempo the the enemy in Iraq had two years ago before their defeat. I don't think the Taliban are capable of sustaining that kind of operational tempo. The Taliban are now under pressure in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Their recent agreement to combine operations only makes our operations easier.

We do need to increase our force to space ratio in Afghanistan. Obama has chosen to do that by sending half the troops requested and sending additional forces to train Afghans. While that can work it will take more time than sending the needed forces up front. The Obama administration is also acting like it is running out of time to win this war. What that tells me is they are paying to much attention to the anti war left in the Democrat party and are not focusing on the leadership needed to sustain our effort. It is one of the reasons why I have a deep distrust of Democrats on national security issues.

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