Maybe one definition of hell is that it is the place where more effort produces fewer results. Five years ago, I could drive from Kabul over mountain passes in safety to the central highlands town of Bamiyan. Today, the only recommended way is to fly – if you can get a UN flight. Today we have many more soldiers, contractors, and NGO’S than we did five years ago, yet it is far more dangerous today than it was then. We are getting fewer results with more boots on the ground. That tells me that many do not understand the country, the history, the people, the terrain, the language, the religion, the culture.
As hard as outsiders have tried to “re-create” the country in their own image, Afghanistan has been able to absorb the blows of superpowers, and remain essentially the same. The interesting thing to me is that the people trying to change it, change more than the country does even after Herculean efforts of well-meaning governments, NGO’s, and coalitions. Look at the Soviet misadventure for evidence.
The Congressional Research Service recently said the United States has spent nearly $230 billion on the war in Afghanistan. That amount will jump to $300 billion once Congress has approved a military spending bill for fiscal 2010. The question for all of us to ask is on what we are spending the money, and is it making a difference? Do our leaders have any idea what they are trying to accomplish? How many books have they read on Afghan history? How many officials based in Washington have stayed there more than a couple of days?
Everyone wants Afghans to live their lives in a peaceful country where families can thrive, but our ideas to achieve that goal are often built on faulty assumptions. President Obama may be a one-term president if the war goes badly, and who will decide if and when we “win.” The concept of winning is dangerous. Do we win, or do the Afghans win, and do they even want that victory as we define it?
The road to hell is paved with good intentions. The problem is that intentions which are based on faulty assumptions are doomed to failure.