KABUL- As one walks the streets of this ancient and haunting city, imbibing its culture and recalling its history, one can easily recognize why it has suffered all of it's life with a condition that can only be described as "perpetual dysfunction." But it is not a condition of its own making. It is a condition that has resulted from hundreds of years of being a geographical ping pong ball, slammed back and forth between the world powers of the moment. From the time of Alexander and Napoleon, in it's early history, up through the 19th and 20th centuries when Britain and Russia seemed to spend every other weekend invading some part of the territory, the same lesson has been repeatedly taught and repeatedly forgotten: No matter the investment in time and blood and money, Afghanistan is not only unconquerable, but she is also incurable.
Afghanistan is only well when she is least sick, and that is when she is left alone.
As an international disaster relief volunteer, I have traveled the world to aid countries that have suffered from the devastation of natures wrath. I came to Afghanistan to see what a "man made" disaster looks like and to judge the difference for myself. There is only one..."Man made" disasters are exponentially worse.
I am sure that none of this is lost on President Obama's advisors, those who have formulated his "new approach," to at least make an attempt to palliate some parts of this long suffering Central Asian patient. After eight years of Cheney and Rumsfeld, who dosed Afghanistan with placebos and sent the "universal panacea" to Iraq, the current administration has been left with few choices.
Battered from the right for spending too much time to make a decision on the Afghanistan issue, and from the left for spending any time on it at all, Obama finds himself in political no mans land. As the head physician, he must either endure the status quo, an unwise option when there are American and allied lives at stake, or he must cease tending to the patient. Both betray America's geopolitical Hippocratic oath, not to mention that without a foreign military presence, the resurgent Taliban is likely to return to power.
There is an important concept in medicine known as homeostasis, which is the ability of a system to reach a balance or equilibrium in order to survive. If a system does not succeed in reestablishing equilibrium, if it cannot fully use the freedoms available to it because of some internal or external law, relation, or control, adaptation is thwarted. This leads to further dysfunction or even total destruction of that system.
By the eminently applicable principle of homeostasis-- to which by history and culture the Afghans are uniquely suited -- the long-beleaguered Hindu Kush should be left to find its own equilibrium. That outsiders do not understand the relevance of that dynamic to Afghanistan is one more example of the ignorance and fear that have made Afghanistan a singular tragedy in modern history.
It should not come as any surprise; say those who know President Obama, that it required some weeks for him to arrive at this crossroad, the result of which could end up defining his first term in office. When his decision making process is measured by the standards of his predecessor some can find him overly ponderous. But given the choice between from-the-hip spontaneity or slow deliberation, when it comes to world events, the latter is not only the wisest, it is the smartest. What Obama finally revealed to the world with his December national address could best be described as a "clinical trial."
It's most important facet is that it does not administer the medicine, aka the money, orally through the now realized sieve known as "Karzai's Gullet." But rather this new and obviously more practical approach is to single out parts of the patient that are most apt to be ameliorated, like small provincial areas where success can be measured more deliberately and with more accuracy. And from an economic perspective, this allows the expenditures to be allotted in smaller, more easily accounted for increments. Then, according to this new approach, if the patient responds favorably, it will be given more medicine. Finally, something that actually makes sense! If this is what results from extended deliberation in Washington, please, let's have more of it.
I'm sure that President Karzai is less than elated now that this administration has opted to by-pass the head, and deal directly with the lower limbs of Afghanistan's wobbly central government (Karzai has yet to even appoint a cabinet). A clinical trial is supposed to contain dual conditions, so that one can be measured against the other. I would argue that the Bush years, Test A, if you will, showed only patient digression. We have to try test B, for there is no paradigm for a Test C.