I'm thinking about Afghanistan this morning. Not so much because I'm a real foreign policy wonk, mostly I'm thinking about it because I read a blog called Here and Far, which my blog-friend Matt Mabe and his girlfriend Molly write. Matt is stationed in Gardez, Afghanistan and Molly is a writer here in the US. Matt is battling not only the Taliban, but also the depressing holiday angst that comes with going without his home, his girlfriend, his family, and the security which comes with waking up in a bed no one is presently trying to shell.
My heart goes out to Matt and to Molly.
I'm not sure that the escalation in Afghanistan is going to solve anything or improve lives there, but since the safety of people like Matt depends on it working, I'm going to hope for now that it will. I may be in denial, hell, I'm pretty sure I am, but for the moment, I'm going to suspend disbelief and hope the Obama Administration and the ethically challenged Stanley McCrystal have their eyes on the ball.
One thing I know I do believe in is helping the Afghan economy out of the shattered state in which eight years of failed NATO and US policies have left it. There seems to be zero chance of helping the Afghans take back their own country from extremists without doing something about the 40% unemployment there and the lack of economic infrastructure in many parts of the country. If I needed a job and the only folks willing to provide three squares and some clothing were the Taliban, I might think about Islamic fundamentalism differently too.
In the spirit of saying something constructive, or as my mother would say, "something positive," I will refer readers this morning to Thomas Ricks' blog, Best Defense. Ricks is pro-escalation— I'm not referring to this when I suggest his blog, but rather to the vein of thinking he's on about stimulating the Afghan economy. Tom's engaged in a dialogue with Zalmay Khalilzad, the former US ambassador to Afghanistan, about how to aid the Afghans economically.
Yeah, I know... you are wondering why one of the Bush Administration foreign policy team shows up here in my blog in a positive light. Let's forget about that for now, too. We're not talking about the innumerable mistakes of the past decade, but about Khalilzad's contention that one of the most successful elements of post-WWII aid from the US to Japan and Korea was the commitment to supply US troops from within the occupied-country economies. The former ambassador thinks that this idea should be a much stronger pillar of NATO and US policy right now in Afghanistan. I can't see any good reason to disagree.
Khalilzad points to the recent success of this "Afghan First" policy with respect to supplying Afghan-produced water and beverages to our military there. In doing so, he highlights how little has been done in other industries which could— and should— be supplying local materials to the Afghan rebuilding and security effort. If staking local businesses to a little scratch and the possibility of a fat military contract is something we can do, I'd say let's get on with it, no? It's in our own best interest and it's got to be cheaper than shipping everything there from around the globe.
Whether or not the military escalation in Afghanistan works as a pillar of our reconstruction policy, we know that nothing we do has a chance to work without an Afghan economy that can sustain itself. So whatever it takes to get Afghans working (and our troops supplied) without stretching the supply-chain all the way back to the US should be done. We might all want to write to our Congress-people to ask what they are doing to see the "Afghan First" policy succeed.
Here's something we can all support. As my mom would say, "Let's have a positive day."