Thinking a lot this weekend about Afghanistan. I just finished Dexter Filkin’s excellent book, “The Forever War“, and read the piece Filkin’s also had in this weekend’s NY Times Magazine on General Stanley McChrystal, who is in charge of the war in Afghanistan. He is requesting at least another 40,000 troops to win the war in Afghanistan. I have a hard time thinking about any compromise with the Taliban that puts them in charge and abandons the Afghan people to their brutal, primitive rule. But the US has been there for over 8 years now, and I doubt that we can (or should) build a modern state there, in particular with the corrupt Karzai government stealing elections and trafficking in narcotics. Obama has a tough call on his hands, but I think I’m against sending a large number of troops. I think the fight is in Pakistan and dealing with that country’s disfunction. I still feel that way, but reading Part I in journalist David Rhode’s kidnapping saga, I was struck by this section:
Over those months, I came to a simple realization. After seven years of reporting in the region, I did not fully understand how extreme many of the Taliban had become. Before the kidnapping, I viewed the organization as a form of “Al Qaeda lite,” a religiously motivated movement primarily focused on controlling Afghanistan.
Living side by side with the Haqqanis’ followers, I learned that the goal of the hard-line Taliban was far more ambitious. Contact with foreign militants in the tribal areas appeared to have deeply affected many young Taliban fighters. They wanted to create a fundamentalist Islamic emirate with Al Qaeda that spanned the Muslim world.
I’m not so sure we can strike a balance in trying to limit an extremist sanctuary and not have a huge number of troops there. Either way we are confronted by a series of bad decisions, it’s just a question of which one is worse.