Theoretical Perspectives on the War in Afghanistan
As the sun rose over New York and Washington D.C. On what began as a quite, pristine, lovely early fall, beginning of September morning, the citizens of New York, the nation’s capital, the United States and indeed the global community were unaware of the magnitude of horror that would befall not only these two illustrious cities but how these actions would alter the geo-political landscape for years to come. The actions of September 11th, 2001 did more to change the very nature of international relations than any other global event-save for World War II and the dropping of the Atomic Bomb. Although one could argue that September 11th, 2001 influenced the evolution of geo-politics more than either WWII or the a-bomb in that the United States came under direct attack, taking the lives of 3,000 innocent Americans.
The stark demarcation or “line in the sand” to use the vernacular indicating an abrupt shift in U.S. foreign policy grown out of the reaction for the actions of September 11th was rendered demonstrably clear when then President George W. Bush stood in the well of the house and stated that nations were to chose sides; they would either be with us or the terrorists. This represented a blunt warning to all nations that the United States would make no distinction; no separate explanation between the terrorist groups themselves and the nations that harbored them. This was the newest plank in the “Bush doctrine.” The first outpost or this doctrine would be Afghanistan.
The war in Afghanistan was viewed, correctly, as revenge, justice, retribution and retaliation for the unjust and unwarranted murder of innocent civilians. Sending U.S. troops into Afghanistan was met with near unanimous approval in the House and Senate. The American people stood firmly behind the President, Defense Department and most importantly the troops. Many reasons were given as justifications-although the American people needed none, they found their justifications in the smoldering ruins of the World Trade Center, Pentagon and on a lonely, windswept field of southeastern Pennsylvania.
The war has dragged on for over ten long, frustrating and bloody years. The United States has effectively rendered Al Qaeda inoperable within Afghanistan and has created an environment wherein the Taliban is marginalized- for now. Recent events have demonstrated that the U.S./Karzi relationship is not as strong as once thought. Furthermore, Karzi’s administration and the Taliban have begun to negotiate-something that is undoubtedly not tolerated within the United States government. The recent breakdown in the Afghan-U.S. relationship on a diplomatic level has caused some Americans to voice concerns over the continued presence within that troubled nation. The growing corruption scandals, questionable election results and a variety of missteps where the Afghan government appears to be in bed with the Iranians are all lending themselves to the discussion as to whether or not it is time for the United States to return home.
There are numerous theories that are discussed to explain the continued use of U.S. resources and man power to assist, what is quickly becoming, a corrupt and patronage filled administration that runs the risk of becoming weakened, unable to enforce laws throughout the remote regions of Afghanistan which further exacerbates the environment of lawlessness and ineffectiveness. Analyzing these various theories tend to bring to the fore the philosophical constructs supporting the decision to remain in Afghanistan and why the United States views it as imperative to stay until the job is finished. Understanding these theories and their implications are integral to comprehending the nature of the war in Afghanistan. These theories are akin to a patient being diagnosed with a strain of virus that doctors have yet to fully understand; in order to treat the patient there must be a ground-up research of the nature of the disease- the various perspectives must be addressed and examined to arrive at a comprehensive picture. This analogy holds true with the war in Afghanistan; the various theories pertaining to International Relations and their interactions with each other both in concert and contrast are essential to diagnosing the problem that is Afghanistan and offer a cogent solution to dealing with this problem. This is the subject of this analysis.
The premise of this analysis is to examine the three main theories of International Relations as they pertain to Afghanistan; the Realist, Liberal and Identity. Each of these theories has their individual components which lend themselves to analyzing the conflict in Afghanistan and each attempts to offer a rational explanation as to why the struggle continues. Each of these theories will be explained, in turn, to provide a foundation for greater analysis. The war in Afghanistan will then be placed within the rubric of each of these theories and the conflict’s anatomy will be given a post-mortem level of analysis to discern the impact each of these theories have had regarding the continuation of the war. This analysis will then conclude with an overall assessment of each theory and attempt to discern which theory posits the best explanation for the continued United States involvement within Afghanistan.
The Realist Theory focuses on war in terms of the geo-political framework. Those who are entrenched in the Realist camp do not favor war under any circumstances but rather use the advent of war as a lesson in avoidance (Nau, 2009). According to the realist theory, war is a direct result of anarchy, which is defined as the decentralization of power in the international system (Nau, 2009). This broad context can be applied within the context of Afghanistan. A critical component of the Realist definition of anarchy is the inability of the center of power to establish a critical level of legitimacy; within a specific structure, no one leader can monopolize the power of a centralized government and therefore is rendered inherently weakened (Nau, 2009). The structure of Afghanistan with the Taliban as their executive head is a classic example of this type of anarchy.
In his book “At the Center of the Storm,” former CIA director George Tenet describes a lawless nation-state wherein deals could be accomplished and support from the populace could be ascertained by less than diplomatic means (Tenet, 2007). This level of “anarchy” naturally resulted in a diminished capacity of any centralized government, turning instead, to the focus of real power within Afghanistan, the tribal regions. Tenet recounts a meeting he had the day after September 11th with President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Secretaries Rumsfeld, Powell and Rice regarding the impending nature of what had to be done in order to wage a successful campaign in Afghanistan.
The briefing was titled “Destroying International Terrorism” the heading on the first page was “Dismantling Al Qaida and Closing the Safe Haven” (Tenet, 2007). The crux of this briefing was not the dealings with the Afghan government, which would be the normal course of action when it comes to dealing with a terrorist group within a state; rather the main focus of the briefing, according to Tenet, was to work with the various tribal groups and rough coalition forces that formed the Northern Alliance — the Taliban’s main opposition (Tenet, 2007). Furthermore, Tenet describes to the President that courting support within the Pashtu tribes of Afghanistan would be a critical element in the successful endeavor of any Afghan campaign (Tenet, 2007). CIA director Tenet’s description of the necessities that must be included in any war-plan for dealing with the Taliban is demonstrable evidence that Afghanistan is implicitly built upon a culture that exacerbates the state of “anarchy” that has been defined within the Realist perspective. This construct is one of the more powerful reasoning’s as to why the United States remains in Afghanistan. This idea of “anarchy” and strong decentralization of power causing rifts in Afghanistan is brought to the fore in Seth Jones’ work “The Graveyard of Empires” (2009) that discusses the United States war in Afghanistan from both a historical and theoretic perspective.
Jones details how Afghanistan devolved into a patchwork of competing groups, ethnic and tribal, after the withdrawal of the Soviet Union in 1988 (Jones, 2009). Jones states that one of the common scenarios debated in the Reagan White House in the late ’80’s was that following the Soviet withdrawal, Afghanistan would inevitably become an ‘uneasy coalition of traditionalist and fundamentalist groups and its control will not extend far beyond Kabul’ (Jones, 2009). This seems to be the exact scenario that played out-if one combines Tenet’s observations in his September 2001 briefing with President Bush at Camp David. This post-Soviet structure is the exact reason behind the Realist argument for continuing to stay in Afghanistan, despite over a decade of conflict. They portend that any vacuum left by the United States, post-evacuation, would ultimately result in a substantially weakened Afghan central government that may fall to more hard-line fundamentalist groups that have the backing of whatever tribe they have managed to “pay-off.” This, according to the Realists would further lead the supposition that Afghanistan would descend into a lawless state governed by provincial tribes and foster an environment that would allow a resurgence of the Taliban and Al Qaida. Anarchy is but one aspect of the Realist paradigm. Anarchy is the impetus for all other components of the Realist theory to come into play. Elements such as power, security dilemma’s, balance of power, polarity and alliances and ultimately war are all outcrops of the existence of any real centralized power and an absence of true legitimacy in the form of a well established, respected, influential central government. Each of these elements is now discussed in relation to the war in Afghanistan.
Prior to September 11th, 2001 the main source of power in Afghanistan rested in the hands of the Taliban. As Seth Jones’ asserts, the Taliban’s rise to power grew out of utter discontent with the government in Kabul within the tribal regions of the country. The Taliban’s leader Mullah Omar successfully led a coup against the existing government in 1996 and quickly established a hard-line religious fundamentalist state wherein the rights of women, especially, were curtailed to the point of non-existence (Jones, 2009). Prior to the 1996 coup in Kabul, Omar and his group of Taliban fighters began to systematically take control of the major population centers throughout southern and eastern Afghanistan.
Mullah Omar was successful from the outset, capturing 9 out of 30 provinces in less than a year (Jones, 2009). His success continued throughout the coming years and between the spring of 1995 and the fall of 1996, Mullah Omar and his religious followers had captured Kabul and within two years hence by 1998, Mullah Omar had captured two main northern cities as well (Jones, 2009). This “march of the Taliban” is an example of what can happen when there is extreme decentralization and enhanced minimization of governmental legitimacy. This power structure is critical in examining the Realist theory in the context of the Afghan conflict. Traditionally, Power is defined within the Realist paradigm as the material capabilities of a country such as size, territory and resources coalescing to give the nation a degree of authority (Nau, 2009). Interestingly enough, Afghanistan was not thought of has having any of these categories. However, the nature of the Afghanistan landscape provided the Taliban with the advantage they needed. This, and support from their neighbors in Pakistan lent significant amounts of credibility-at least in Afghanistan-to the new regime (Jones, 2009).
This rise to power of a religious fundamentalist and the concomitant support for Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaida was the root cause of the September 11th, 2001 attacks. Bin Laden needed a safe have to coordinate the attack and Mullah Omar seemed willing and eager to provide it for him. This theory is another aspect of the Realist paradigm that continues to justify the continued need for U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Without the presence of the U.S. military there will be the inevitable contest between the Karzi regime and those that favor a more stringent, sharia-law based theocracy that seeks to reconstitute the previous Taliban regime. This lesson in Taliban history sets the stage for the discussion regarding the element of power within Afghanistan and how it fits within the Realist theory and how this concept of power can ultimately shape the decisions regarding U.S. policy in Afghanistan.
The Taliban’s attempt at procuring a strong centralized government was predicated on fear. If an individual did not comply with the Taliban’s strict edicts there would be significantly negative consequences including death (Hirshkind, 2002). As a result, the Taliban created an atmosphere that led to the government being more feared than loved, an offshoot of Machiavelli’s the Prince wherein the essential question is asked “Is it better to be feared than loved?” (Skinner & Price, 1998). Despite, the Taliban’s great attempts to solidify the power of Afghanistan into a centralized government, there remained a strong opposition, the Northern Alliance that was a coalition of various ethnic, tribal warlords made up largely of Tajik’s, Uzbek’s and other tribes that had fought against the Taliban (Tenet, 2007). As a result of the Northern Alliance this created a strong power shift in certain regions of Afghanistan. Entire provinces became aligned in opposition to the Taliban and were at constant odds with the regime (Rubin, 2007).
This lead to a unique, non-traditional power structure within Afghanistan; there was the centralized or quasi-centralized Taliban in Kabul and the population centers-countered by the loosely affiliated resistance of the Northern Alliance. To understand the concept of Power within the Realist model, one must understand the need for balance within the system. Given the nature of Afghan society as described thus far by Tenet and Jones, the more rural tribal areas are more than willing to assist whatever cause will benefit them in terms of monetary assistance or other material benefits. Therefore, this causes the balance of power to constantly shift. This shifting power balance is yet another facet in the argument supported by the Realists pertaining to the need for the United States to maintain their presence within Afghanistan. The United States military acts as the great leveler, the entity that seeks to balance the power structure within Afghanistan. This unique power structure lead the Taliban to foster an environment that included creating a balance of power with surrounding nations in order to lend stability to their centralized regime. The nation the Taliban relied upon to provide this stability was their neighbor to the south, Pakistan.
According to the Realist theory, the balance of power focuses on the formation of alliances and requires that states align against the greatest power regardless of whose power it is (Nau, 2009). For the Taliban, this greatest power was demonstrated within the existence of the Northern Alliance. Although the Taliban controlled the overwhelming majority of Afghanistan, Mullah Omar was aware that without strategic alliances if there was ever an attitude change within the populace, the Northern Alliance was his greatest foe (Jones, 2009). Therefore, the Taliban formed an alliance with Pakistan which had wholeheartedly accepted the Taliban philosophy of “governance” and further, the Taliban entered into a fateful alliance with Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaida, allowing the leader to create bases and training camps that were utilized to expand the terrorist network.
This power structure agreement, between the Taliban and Pakistan is another facet to the Realist argument pertaining to the delicate relationship between power, anarchy and the alliances that go into formulating a working nation-state. The natural and most logical conclusion, according to the Realist, is the onset of war-in order to maintain the balance of power and ensure that a nation does not make a preemptive strike against another-nations inevitably engage in armed conflict. This conflict, in the purview of the Realist model, is the direct result of power vacuums, unequal sharing agreements and a lack of a strong centralized government that can bestow law and order upon the more remote areas of a country. This is the situation that many Realists view to be the present reality with Afghanistan. Afghanistan, if one is to believe the Realists, is but one corruption scandal away from devolving into a state of pure chaos and anarchy; where the Karzi Regime is completely delegitimized and therefore its sphere of influence does not extend beyond the city limits of Kabul-similar to the prior regimes the pre-dated the Taliban and gave rise to the Taliban insurgency. It is this matrix that causes Realists to assert the very real need for continued U.S. presence within the region. The nature of the conflict has its roots in Afghan society, the volatile and brutal rise of the Taliban and the nature of Afghanistan to enter into allegiances with nations and groups that border on the slightly neurotic. These ingredients combined with the ability of tribal warlords to seek their own alliances in order to preserve their power base either in the group or province has the ability to undermine the central government and cause greater uneasiness within the state’s political system and ultimately create an environment that causes the centralized government to go down a path they would normally not embark upon but must to maintain their power base. Realists view this as a distinct possibility given the preceding analysis regarding the nature of Afghan society; therefore, Realists are among those most prone to ague for continued U.S. involvement. The second supposition that lends itself to the formulation of the paradigmatic analysis of the war in Afghanistan is the Liberal Perspective.
At the core of the Liberal Perspective is the issue of communication and cooperation (Walt, 1998). The Liberal Perspective focuses on the causes of cooperation and finds them in the way in which states interact with and relate to one another through repetitive processes and practices. The Liberal Perspective assumes that individuals and groups behave more on the basis of how other groups behave toward them than on the basis of how much relative power they possess or what their initial cultural or ideological beliefs are (Nau, 2009). Just as anarchy is the focal point of the Realist viewpoint, Liberal theorists tend to focus on the concept of “Interdependence” (Slaughter, 1995). This idea of Interdependence links groups and countries together through trade, transportation, tourism and other types of exchanges and this makes nations essentially interdependent on each other (Slaughter, 1995). This type of cooperation among states has a multiplicity effect; once there is cooperation on one level, this fosters the need to continuously work together on other problems, this is described as the path dependence- whereby cooperation to solve initial problems creates further problems that require expanded cooperation (Nau, 2009). Under the maxim of the Liberal Theory, this cooperation enhances the need for global institutions and therefore these institutions become more viable and integral to the success of any nation state, therefore, these global institutions are vital in the creation, development and maintenance of International Law (Moravcsik, 1997). The Liberal perspective on the War in Afghanistan takes a different approach than the realist perspective. As realists argued it was the weak hitting back against the strong, the Liberal theorists assert it was a break down in both negotiations and cooperation among all groups.
The Liberal perspective holds that in order to reduce the tendencies of terrorists to engage in their bloody activities there must be negotiations that are multilateral and therefore do not impose the will of one nation upon another with disregard for the feelings, desires or issues involving other actors and groups (Walt, 1998). At the core of the causes of the War in Afghanistan was the historical trend of the United States to involve itself in foreign constructs wherein all sides were not allowed to voice their concerns. A typical example is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Many liberal theorists assert this construct is a classic example of why the United States faced terror on September 11th and what lessons could be learned to prevent further attacks.
Critical to the reduction in the threat level posed by any terrorist groups is to allow those groups or at least their representatives to partake in negotiations. Incorporating the Israeli-Palestinian example would result in allowing all sides from both Israel and Palestine to participate within the negotiations; as a result these negotiations will be seen as fair and legitimate and ultimately having the effect of reducing the risk of terrorist attacks (Moravcsik, 1997). The Liberal theory places heavy emphasis on the triumph of diplomacy over brute military force; the liberalist reject the notion that solution to international conflicts rely on a shifting balance of power; rather solutions are found within the common rules and institutions that include all actors within a state, including the traditional and non-traditional actors (Rubin, 2007).
A recent example of this inclusion of non-traditional state actors was evidenced when Hamid Karzi, President of Afghanistan, stated that he would be willing to negotiate with members of the Taliban to bring peace and stability to the region. In March of 2010, President Karzi, acknowledge that Pakistan was assisting in brokering a negotiation with the leading members of the Taliban in order to bring about an end to the violence in Afghanistan (DeYoung, 2010). President Karzi had the backing of both the Egyptian and U.S. Presidential administrations to engage in high level talks in order to reach a peace agreement that would effectively end conflict within the region (Deyoung, 2010).
These negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government are a classic example of the liberalist theory in action. Here are the two diametrically opposed groups in terms of both political and religious ideology sitting down and having a mutual discussion as to how to end the conflict that is decimating Afghanistan. Under the Liberalist rubric, President Karzi would be implementing the core principle of the theory in that there does not have to be a massive change in the balance of power, resulting in anarchy which further devolves into an enhanced state of violence in order to solve an international problem. Rather, President Karzi is placing his faith in the triumph of diplomacy over realism. President Karzi is attempting to place the members of the Taliban into the negotiations to allow them to have a forum to voice their grievances and exchange their ideas as to what represents the best way to cease the conflict between the two groups.
Furthermore, President Karzi’s actions tend to demonstrate a more individual level of analysis in relation to the liberalist perspective. Karzi is not acting from a position of power, indeed his position of power is not relevant in these discussions, and he would be taking his cues from the interactions with members of the Taliban he would be negotiating with. The manner in which these individuals interact and negotiate through the course of their meetings would ultimate dictate how President Karzi and the Taliban solidify and create their relationship.
Recent events within Afghanistan have shown the liberalist theory to operate well within the abstract of academia, or with more civilized nations; however with a region that is intensely tribal- which is Afghanistan — the liberalist theory tends to be counterproductive. According to a news report in Afghanistan News, on November 17, 2010, repudiated Taliban leader Mullah Omar essentially called any suggestion the Taliban would negotiate with President Karazi as “sand that was thrown into their eyes to cause a distraction” (Stepped-up military operations only way to bring Afghan Taliban to negotiating table,” 2010). This, unfortunately, was not the only piece of news that suggests Karazi’s use of the liberalist theory was unsuccessful. In May of 2010, Time magazine reported that the convening of the newly created “Peace Jirga” was to be delayed and there was growing consensus that the momentum for any meaningful peace talks to commence and yield substantive results was, essentially, nonexistent (Hauslohner, 2010).
This body of evidence is not to suggest that diplomacy is to be abandoned in all circumstances; clearly some groups and states are easier to negotiate with than others. The Taliban, prima facie, appear to be a group that does not have any intentions to negotiate, they are content to bide their time and effectively “wait-out” the presence of U.S. troops and make their move to undermine the sovereignty of the Karazi administration, delegitimize the central government and remove all the progress present within Afghanistan. It is the practical reality of many international situations that is the undoing of the liberalist theory; this theory is plagued by the existence of those groups that are never interested in negotiating and only focus on the use of force to upset the fragile balance of power (Nagl, 2002). Therefore, in these situations, the liberalist theory tends to collapse under its own weight. The final perspective that will be used to analyze the war in Afghanistan will be the Identity perspective.
The Identity perspective or Identity theory is predicated on the ideas that foster communication rather than the act of communicating itself. Under this rubric, it is the ideas that define the norms, values, cultures and beliefs that governments and institutions hold and for which they pursue and hold on to power (Woodward, 2002). Taken together, these various ideals are what drive the interactions among various state actors, including the non-traditional actors-in the case of Afghanistan this is category includes the various tribal groups (Sweeney, 2009). These ideals are the influence underlying how the various tribes of Afghanistan interact with each other and the centralized government; often times these ideals can clash resulting in a communication or negotiating breakdown.
The Identity perspective was discussed within Bob Woodward’s book “Bush at War” (2002). Woodward describes numerous instances wherein President Bush remarks to his war cabinet and various staff members that the modernization of Afghanistan and the subsequent removal of those individuals and groups that are blocking the evolution of that nation into a viable state is essential to the introduction of a new ideal of freedom and a new cultural norm of equality (Woodward, 2002). The Identity theory is often utilized when discussing how incorporating a new ideal can construct a new societal norm that has been previously unrepresented or unknown to members of a specific society.
There are many components to the Identity perspective and a working knowledge of each of them is required for an adequate analysis to be conducted. The first component of the Identity perspective is referred to as the Social Constructivism; this essentially holds that identities emerge from communicative actions, social discourse and the shared knowledge that ultimately results (Booth & Smith, 2002). This theory is similar to the “Marketplace of Ideas” framework established by John Stuart Mill in his treatise “On Liberty” (Siebert, 1983). This construct fosters the matrix that allows individual state actors to learn from the various ideals, values and norms from other actors and incorporate those various and diverse ideas into their decision making processes. The second component of the Identity perspective is the Internal Identities. These identities derive from the capabilities of individual human beings or agents to think creatively and shape or critique the social discourse within which they are involved (Nau, 2009). In terms of countries, these identities focus on the domestic political structures that govern daily life within a nation state (Checkel, 1998). These structures can be utilized for good or for ill and they are the main focal point of any incursion when a nation state is either retaliating an act of hostility or planning for a preemptive strike.
In George Tenet’s book “At the Center of the Storm,” he recounts the various meetings conducted with the team he declared to be the “Red Cell”- a team of highly trained field operatives and analysts whose sole purpose was to prepare the various strategies for war in Afghanistan. One of the common themes throughout the various planning strategies included reaching out to the local Afghans to essentially introduce them to a form of government and daily life they had previously been precluded from experiencing; according to Tenet and Woodward, the Bush Administration framed the critical elements of the war plan and the conflict within Afghanistan as more than a fight for the “hearts and minds” of the Afghan people but more along the lines of brining the institutions of freedom to a deprived region of the world (Tenet, 2007; Woodward, 2003). According to both authors introducing the Afghans to the essential premise of democracy and individual liberty would foster the environment to permanently dismantle the Taliban, Al Qaida and prevent further expansion of terrorist networks within the region.
The Identity perspective is a relatively straightforward methodology within which to examine the war in Afghanistan; furthermore, this perspective is often conjoined with other perspectives, namely the Realist perspective. Generally, those who advocate for the realist perspective are generally inclined to advocate for the introduction of those institutions that can shape the values and norms of a populace and furthermore undermine the stability of the regime they seek to remove. Although there are similarities with the Realist perspective and the Identity perspective, there are critical differences that shape the Identity perspectives approach to Afghanistan.
Whereas the Realist perspective would adopt a position of regime change as being enough to secure the balance of power; the Identity perspective views this action as not enough. The Identity perspective goes one step further than the Realist. The Identity views the necessary change as occurring within the very nature of government and a modification of the political identities that can be the true impetus of change (March, 1999). Therefore, according to the Identity perspective, the process of creating a viable Afghanistan is not only limited to the forceful removal of the Taliban, incorporating groups within the negotiations but rather the fundamental change in the political mindset of Afghanis in order to ensure that meaningful change occurs. The main challenge with the Identity perspective is that it incorporates values, norms and cultural backgrounds of the various actors involved in establishing the new identity.
This is contentious when dealing with a society that is as tribal and fractionated as Afghanistan. The full weight of history is incorporated within the new identities formulated and therefore this ultimately leads to competing ideologies being debated and further exacerbates the very real likelihood the situation will become more tenuous after regime change that before, therefore undermining the entire system that it was designed to change (Lui, 2005).
Since the swift defeat of the Taliban in 2001, the United States has found the task of governing or in the alternative creating and maintaining a working government within Afghanistan the most difficult portion of the mission thus far. This concept remains the only undisputed component of the entire scope of the American involvement within Afghanistan. The removal of the Taliban at first was seen as the triumph of Western democracy over totalitarianism. Minority groups that were once living in fear of persecution and even death on the whim of a religious leader could reintegrate into Afghan society without fear or repercussions. However, with the introduction of Western democratic institutions into a society that had never experienced such freedoms has created a paradigm where there is a significant level of power distance between those in the “political class” and the Afghan electorate.
The recent Afghanistan parliamentary elections demonstrate the severity of the legitimacy problem President Karzai and his administration are facing. However, the blatant admonition that President Karzai openly takes money from nations such as Iran demonstrate to the Afghan populace the government is more concerned with securing their own financial positions than engaging in the work that must be done in order to secure the future of the Afghan people. This persistent problem has not only created a legitimacy problem for the Afghan government but also for the United States.
The United States government has spent the better part of a decade putting its full weight behind the Karazi regime by consistently supporting the regime and its various remunerations. However, when service men and women are dying in defense of a corrupt regime, the attitude here at home becomes one of pervasiveness and one that begins to question the role of the United States within Afghanistan. The initial advancements into Afghanistan were the logical result of the events of September 11th. However, ten years hence, the presence of Al Qaida has been greatly diminished, with NATO defeating the last substantive offensive encroachment by the Taliban in late 2002. Therefore, the question becomes, should the United States withdraw from the Afghan theater and allow a more global, UN or NATO force take its place?
This issue has been the subject of heated debate and policy construction followed by even more elaborate policy deconstruction. The Afghan issue was one of the focal points of the 2008 Presidential campaign. Then Senator Barrak Obama campaigned on removing the troops from Afghanistan citing that it may time to rethink the established game plan within Afghanistan. Conversely, Senator John McCain, who had previously argued for the surge of troops in Afghanistan, predictably offered a proposal to retain the current troop level in Afghanistan. The debate over the appropriate course of action within Afghanistan marked another occasion wherein foreign affairs influenced the American political landscape and in November of 2008, the American electorate sided with Senator Obama’s vision for the future of U.S. military policy in Afghanistan-electing him President of the United States.
However, despite the lofty rhetoric of candidate Obama, President Obama’s military strategy is markedly different. United States’ troops are still in Afghanistan and President Obama has even engaged in his own version of a troop surge approving the use of an additional 200,000 troops in Afghanistan. Therefore, the question remains, should the United States withdraw and under what theory? Clearly there are those who assert that if the United States announces a firm time-line for leaving Afghanistan in total, this will allow the Taliban to simply engage in a “rope-a-dope” strategy where they can wait out the United States troops and therefore reemerge in the rural lands of Afghanistan and once again seek to undermine and delegitimize the central government of President Karazi-given the recent corruption taints and parliamentary elections that appeared to be decided before the votes were cast-this could very well be a substantial possibility. Still, however, there are those that assert if the United States were to leave Afghanistan but simply engage all sides in the debate over Afghanistan’s future and the best approach to achieve that-however, recent events dictate with a hard-line group as the Taliban this avenue may be more difficult and perilous of them all.
Finally, there are those who will assert the United States simply cannot leave in the recognition of an arbitrary deadline-many would argue this deadline was in response to United States domestic political strategy rather than concise planning-until there has been a pivotal redirection in the basic political realities of the situation within Afghanistan. Whether this is nation building or attempting to realign the political institutions of a nation that has been largely governed by tribal law is inherently difficult, to say the least; whatever avenue is chosen the decision to leave Afghanistan will certainly have repercussions that will inevitably and undoubtedly alter the course of American foreign policy within the region for many, many years to come.
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