Sunday, October 17, 2010

Pitfalls of nation-building

Today's column in the New York Times by Nicholas Kristof, "Tea in Kabul," illustrates the problems with the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan. Most disconcerting sentence in the piece: "A single American soldier in Helmand Province… causes enough money to leak to the Taliban to recruit another 10 fighters trying to kill that American."

Over at the New York Review of Books, Christopher de Bellaigue has a longer, more in-depth article, "The War with the Taliban," that reaches a similar conclusion. Both articles point to the fact that the Taliban are hardly a purely religious movement (if they ever were): Kristof mentions that they sell themselves as offering law and order, as well as higher wages; de Bellaigue notes that they have partially morphed into a patriotic movement.

Whether this means that Afghanistan is less likely to fall apart into warring factions each with their own territory once the U.S. begins pulling out remains to be seen, of course. Even so, that would be a pretty meager accomplishment for a long and costly war.

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