Reviewing the Mission

by Joshua Foust on 12/16/2007

The New York Times is sounding an awful lot like us these days:

We understand Mr. Gates’s frustration [with NATO]. He might do better with the Europeans if he told another truth: Before NATO got involved, Washington never had enough troops in Afghanistan, nor did it have a coherent strategy for stabilizing and developing the country. Its decision to invade Iraq ended up shortchanging the effort even more. Too few ground troops, meanwhile, meant too much reliance on airstrikes, leading to too many civilian casualties, which fanned popular anger and resistance.

Hrm. Luckily, the U.S. and NATO are undertaking a series of top-down reviews of the mission there. This bit, however, caught our eye:

“Essentially what’s driving it is that a year ago, we were regarding Afghanistan as an outstanding success — we established democracy, we were in control of many parts of the country,” the NATO diplomat said. “Now we have significant issues with certain areas producing opium and the Taliban coming back in certain parts of the country, as well.”

Quite frankly, it is astounding they were that disconnected. Apart from the very high-profile worry about the dreaded “Coming Spring Offensive™,” for nearly two years at this point—well before the much balleyhooed handover—it’s been blatantly obvious the Allied countries are losing ground. Just last month the Paper of Record ran a report about villages in Ghazni that have never had an effective national or international presence, where the Taliban have operated with impunity since the initial invasion. That the country remains a mess after such consistent full-spectrum underinvestment (to mangle a term) should not surprise anyone.

That senior diplomats in NATO countries, or hell even in the U.S., are so disconnected, however, is deeply worrisome. How could they have looked at the country in 2006 and not seen it as teetering on the brink? How could they even pretend to be marginally aware of the country if their views are so totally out of sync with reality? This may be speaking to a deeper, far more troublesome phenomenon: willful ignorance driving bad policy, rather than just accidental ignorance. That is deeply troubling.

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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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