Afghanistan: Ten Years in a Dead End Street
Writing about web page http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-south-asia-15209793
Marking ten years since the coalition invasion of Afghanistan, former U.S. commander Stanley McChrystal has said that the U.S. and its NATO allies are only a little better than half way towards reaching their war goals. He added:
Most of us -- me included -- had a very superficial understanding of the situation and history [of Afghanistan], and we had a frighteningly simplistic view of recent history, the last 50 years.
Respectfully, I disagree. The problem was not a lack of understanding specifically of Afghanistan's history, or of recent history. The problem was a lack of history in general. They did not understand how our modern world has been created.
The most basic acquaintance with European history since the tenth century would have told them two things.
- Democracy cannot be built overnight. It is a long, long process. A successful democracy depends on the rule of law. The rule of law comes first. Without the rule of law, electoral competition leads swiftly to chaos.
- A society based on patronage and rent sharing -- the kind of state that Afghans had before it was destroyed by a communist coup d'état and Soviet intervention -- can be more stable, more prosperous, and provide more rights than one based on chaos and looting. In fact, the right kind of patronage and rent sharing can foster the rule of law.
Based on ignorance of these two simple things, coalition policies in Afghanistan have been set up to fail from the word Go. We have failed to achieve our goals because the goals were fundamentally misconceived. Tens of thousands of troops and civilians have paid for this with their lives. The immense damage that has been done in Afghanistan and neighbouring countries will persist for decades.
I'll be modest about this -- I should be. I have made few predictions that have stood the test of time. Actually I have made few predictions, period. Not having to have a crystal ball is one of the good things about studying history.
I am not saying: Look, I got it right. I'm saying: Look, even I got it right. Why couldn't they?
Maybe because they didn't know the right kind of history.