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Afghanistan: Avoiding a Bad Marriage

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AP
AP

You decide to break an engagement because you start to see things in your fiancé that make you realize that maybe things won't work out. Then, every time you run into that person, you seem to be reminded of why you broke the engagement, and, in fact, start to wonder what ever made you think it would work in the first place.

Talks are about to start between U.S. and Afghan envoys in Kabul. These talks are aimed at setting conditions for the continued basing of U.S. troops in Afghanistan after the planned pullout of the bulk of our forces. Afghanistan will formally request that we agree to things that should remind us of why this was a bad relationship almost from the outset, that is, starting right after we accomplished what we went there for and decided to stay for dessert.

Most objectionably, the Afghan government would want jurisdiction over American soldiers who commit crimes while in Afghanistan. Anyone familiar with American military justice knows that it sometimes misfires, but no one can say that, when miscreants are convicted, the punishments are light. There is no need to subject our service people to the likely horrors that would not only be endured, but also probably filmed and broadcast on YouTube. Similar discussions took place with the Iraqi government at the termination of that military action. Failure to reach agreement over the status of American forces was the primary reason for our not leaving forces behind.

Almost as bad will be the insistence that U.S. troops would defend the Afghan-Pakistani border against infiltrators. What the Afghan negotiators won't explain is what the Afghan Army is for. Is it their assumption that we are training an Afghan police force supported by an Afghan paramilitary force, but that no one will be capable of actually defending the country itself?

The Afghans will continue to complain about the lack of sophisticated weaponry, including tanks and aircraft, which we are failing to provide. They feel that their armed forces should be brought up to NATO standards. Of course, NATO troops can read. NATO forces have a sense of community, a national loyalty, and generally don't shoot each other. We have told the Afghans that they are not capable of handling and maintaining such weapons. In addition, the Afghans have a track record of losing what we give them. Hundreds of thousands of small arms that we have provided in the past have disappeared without a trace. Such a penchant for mishandling materiel would preclude giving the Afghans anything more advanced than we've already provided.

One might surmise that talks between the Afghans and us will lead to a resolution and make it possible for us to leave trainers and bases in Afghanistan indefinitely. This would have to be based on a real desire on the part of the Afghans to have us stay. This was not the case in Iraq.

The Afghan government would look for the largesse we provide, billions of dollars in aid that would end up, at least in part, in a variety of Abu Dhabi bank accounts. At the same time, we would be expected to keep the government protected from the Taliban, while the government itself would see to it that it won any election that might unseat it. The population at large would be divided between those that consider us infidels, and those would expect protection from the insurgents marauding through the countryside, killing at will and arbitrarily invoking Sharia law.

One might consider the plight of the average Afghan serious enough to merit our intervention, but the world is wracked by such problems, and we can no longer afford to substitute for local authority as freely as we might like. On the other hand, the Afghan government isn't worth our sweat.

Do we have national interest in the region? Well, yes, but that means Pakistan, not Afghanistan. There is no evidence that squatting in Afghanistan is doing anything for safeguarding Pakistan's nuclear weapons. One could make an argument for getting in line to exploit newly discovered mineral wealth in Afghanistan, but it's just that, getting in line. The Afghan government has shown no preference for granting us business opportunities, just as Iraq is happy to deal oil contracts to our competitors and help Iran any way it can.

Since we have not had the gumption or common sense to simply leave Afghanistan, the Afghan government may do us a favor by making our stay untenable. We will have to endure the spectacle of our Departments of State and Defense practically begging the Afghans to be reasonable, but, in the end, hopefully, the Afghans won't budge, and we will finally disentangle ourselves from this eleven-year-old mess.