Two major stories emerged from Afghanistan this week. The first had to do with how many troops we're going to leave in Afghanistan to prop up the country and its government. The second described the Kabul Bank, Afghanistan's largest, as a Ponzi scheme that fleeced depositors of hundreds of millions of dollars for the benefit of cronies and relatives of the president of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai.
Does our government ever look at the overall picture? Nothing could be more representative of the slimy, counter-productive nature of Karzai's leadership than the bank scandal. Afghanistan desperately needs the development of infrastructure to have any chance of becoming a modern state with an economy that doesn't depend on opium. The financial system would have been a cornerstone, allowing everything from major business investment to the simple transfer of wages from one place to another to feed families. Instead, a handful of Karzai favorites have embezzled a fortune, killing again whatever faith the average Afghan had in the government, and delaying the day Afghanistan can even pretend to have a functional banking system.
The same Karzai is negotiating with the administration about the numbers of American troops that will remain in Afghanistan after 2014, their role, and the rules by which they will be governed. So far, Karzai is insisting that our troops be under the jurisdiction of Afghan courts for any crimes they may commit. This is the same judicial system that has repeatedly refused to prosecute miscreants who have connections to Karzai. Personally, I am hoping that Karzai will be inflexible on this point, as were the Iraqis, because it would be a deal-breaker, and would mean that all American troops would have to come out.
What are we looking at in terms of commitment in order to prop up this fiasco of a government? The number of troops being bandied about ranges between 6,000-15,000. These would be involved in both counterterrorism operations and training of Afghan troops. They would also be targets of both insurgents and rogue Afghans in uniform, and would guarantee that we would have to continue to count casualties. We would need to pour in money to support an Afghan security establishment that could not be supported by its own government. Needless to say, some of that money would simply disappear. We would also be propping up a criminal enterprise that passes for a government, and that is willing to throw its American ally under the bus whenever it needs to deflect blame for what is a failed attempt at nation building.
But this isn't the whole story. While the administration advocates a steady drawdown of troops until the end of 2014 (still too slow a process), members of our libidinous military leadership insist that we hold at the current 66,000 until the end of the 2013 fighting season in order to solidify our gains. More Afghans have cell phones, better medical care, and more go to school. Have we endured thousands of casualties so that Afghans could have cell phones? And frankly, I'd rather see the funds consumed by our war effort going to help resolve our own health and education issues.
There are members of Congress and right wing pundits who insist that being in Afghanistan makes our homeland safer. I've never understood the connection, nor have they any proof for the assertion. I suspect that having our troops guarding our borders and using our dollars for direct improvement of homeland defenses might be just as effective, but without the casualties. We could also give our National Guard a break.
We continue to suffer from a dissociative disorder that allows us, on the one hand, to insist upon sacrificing our valuable young men and women while, on the other hand, totally ignoring the meaningless cause for which we do so. We have been in Afghanistan longer than the Soviets. If we don't stay forever, all the perceived gains (which are arguable) will be ephemeral. How much longer will we look for excuses to conduct our foreign policy from the barrel of a gun? The answer to how many troops to leave in Afghanistan is simple: zero. And the sooner, the better.