After his listening tour, it's likely that President Obama will order more troops to Afghanistan. Not as many as General McChrystal sought some months ago; yet, many enough for one of my compatriots to gnash is terrible teeth, roll his terrible eyes, and generally go Maurice Sendak on ya'll.
Perhaps Eric Martin is right: None of us is an expert in this field, a distinction shared with, well, the experts in this field. Which is to say that there are no experts in the field of complete chaos; the subcontinent; the dispossessed. There are only a few who know enough to be stupid, and many more willing to pretend (and thus be truly dangerous). Obama, Biden, Clinton, McChrystal, and Patreaus. There's irony to come in this piece, but I'd add Eric Martin to that list without any: I frankly trust his judgement as much as any of the foregoing.
But, really, who are we? Dilettantes, who have no f_cking clue what we're doing.
I mean that with the greatest respect. A lot of these folks are smart and know a lot about a lot of things; foxes who are good enough to fake it when they meet hedgehogs. Smarter, even, than me. (Heaven forfend!) They're trying, but some problems are a little too hard. The Brits of the East India Company hedgehogged more of the relevant ley-lines than we'll ever hope to, but still ended up with Midnight's Children. Who are, sixty years on, still trying to get home.
Midnight's Children. I've been rambling, but I'll stop here. The partition of India and Pakistan is the problem that we are dealing with in Afghanistan. The British did the best they could when they beat their hasty retreat from the subcontinent. The Gandhis did the best that they could when they won and then ruled. We did the best we could in Charlie Wilson's War .... but, Wolverines! didn't translate well into Pashtun.
The partition is why Pakistan devotes unGodly sums to not-quite-match its much larger rival in arms. The partition is the cause of Pakistan's military-industrial complex (correctly diagnosed by Eric, below). The partition is why Pakistan makes deals with devils of varying kinds, including Talibani of both Afghani and Pakistani descent. Unity would have been worse, but that don't mean that partition doesn't sweat the donkey balls. (An old saw that Kierkegaard once invoked whilst reading a Tarot deck.) (I swear!)
You want candid? I don't think that 34,000 more troops will be enough to fix this. I think that the 40,000+ more troops requested by McChrystal months ago might have been better, but I still don't think that even this number would've fix this.
Unlike Eric, however, I think that we have to try.
Why? Because the dilettantes -- the ones who agree with me, at least ;-) -- do know more than us. Because there is still a chance. Because no one has yet explained how withdrawing from Afghanistan makes Afghanistan stable. (Where is that whitepaper? I, and several hundred thousand Afghanistanis, are dying to read it.) Because no one has yet explained how we fight the Taliban if the Afghani government turns against us (or disappears). Because, like the partition in the subcontinent, there are fates worse than the status quo. Because there is still a chance. Because the Afghanis and Pakistanis who want us to leave Afghanistan -- who promise us that we'll be loved and admired for doing so -- don't necessarily have our best interests at heart. Because this was always going to be slow. Because there is still a chance. And because we made a promise to the Afghanis, which doesn't get voided just because we'd like so much for it to be so.
You remember that promise, right? You probably made it, like I did, sometime in the winter of 2001. When every day was colder than the last. When every day was shorter than the last. When winter climbed up the beaches and you smoked cigarettes in dive bars in Alphabet City and wrote dreadful poetry about winter climbing up on beaches. (You know you were there, back when you could still smoke in New York.) You resolved that, this time, we would not just destroy; we would rebuild. We would try, at least.
Well: Here's your chance to finally fulfill one of your resolutions. It's probably the last one, at least for this war.