A 24-Month Retrospective, Briefly

by Joshua Foust on 6/28/2011

The last day of March in 2009, I was in the process of coming home from Afghanistan. I read newly-elected President Obama’s big strategy for Afghanistan. My response?

My thoughts: That’s it? Al Qaeda is bad, Al Qaeda is in Pakistan, so let’s expand the war there while flooding the region with civilian experts that don’t yet exist? Flooding Pakistan with yet more practically unaccountable American money? Expanding the drone war? …

But overall, this doesn’t say much we haven’t already heard. None of this is a surprise, since the Obama team has been publicly focus-grouping every proposal in here. But this brings up a different point: given how thoroughly banal this is: who is the intended audience? Does Obama intend this to be his intention to the rest of the world, or does he intend this so be for his domestic constituency? I suspect it is the latter.

I wish I could say things have changed a bit. But they haven’t. A month later, I pondered the “irreversible momentum” we were experiencing in the eastern provinces of Afghanistan.

To summarize: the military is expanding its reach (many civilians would say “usurpation,” though I think that mischaracterizes it a bit) into civilian duties while proclaiming premature victory in areas it can barely control. This is a recipe for disaster. I don’t get it—do any of you?

The only thing I take comfort in, looking back on this two very tumultuous years later, is that President Obama has decided to back off on the worst excesses of this period. None of this will end well for Afghans—something Fotini Christia argues eloquently, even if she misses the fundamental problem of America wanted to destroy al Qaeda while Afghans (at least the wealthy ones she speaks with in Kabul) want to destroy the Taliban. That’s been the fundamental challenge all along, and our confusion at how to do both, if possible, and then to choose between them, if we must, has been at the heart of why our leadership has proven so fantastically incapable of making solid progress against the insurgency for the last decade.


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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on Registan.net.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. 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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