Afghanistan: You can't get there from here!

In the July 5, 2010 issue of The New Yorker, in The Talk of the Town section, there is a comment made by George Packer (Togo 1982-83) on the firing of General Stanley McChrystal,  Obama, and the nine years of fighting in Afghanistan.

First a little history. Packer, as some of you will recall, supported Bush and the Iraq invasion. He was right up there with ‘mister personality,’ Christopher Hitchens himself.

I had a falling out with George over his support of Bush and “Mission Accomplished,” not that he seem to notice. No, he just went ahead and wrote his award winning The Assassins’ Gate, and got a full time gig at the New Yorker.

But he also came around to his senses when he saw what really was happening in Iraq, and now he is getting as pissed off about what is happening at Afghanistan as I am. Packer knows what he is talking about, and what he is talking about doesn’t bode well for Obama. 

It seems we have been down this road many times, and unlike Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” the two roads towards U.S. recently involvements are not diverging. We are again heading into the woods (and sand) and not learning anything from our many mistakes.

In his short ‘ Talk’ piece, George writes, “After replacing McChrystal with Petraeus, Obama scolded his advisers for their bickering. But disarray among top personnel is almost always a sign of a large incoherence. American goals in Afghanistan remain vague, the men inadequate, the timetable foreshortened. We are nation-building without admitting it, and conducting counterinsurgency on our own clock, not the Afghans’.”

While we might be great at inventing IPads, we have never been ‘great’ at Nation Building.  I’d suggest that what this administration needs are a few RPCVs with ‘real’ Third World experience to tell them, and everyone else who is listening, that the road that ‘diverged in a yellow wood’ isn’t the same one as the yellow-brick road that took Dorothy happily from Munchkin Country to the Emerald City.

In fact, as an Irish cousin in the West of Ireland once said to me when I asked direction on how to get to my father’s place, “you can’t get there from here.”

It was true with nation building in Baghdad as it is true today in Kabul. You can’t get there from here!


Leave a comment
  • Speak for yourself, John. I am and have been a great nation builder for three decades, starting before the Peace Corps.

  • If there were a Peace Corps library that housed real in time documents about all the efforts of PCVs to “community build,” then the American public, let alone American politicans, would have a realistic understanding of the problems encountered. Plus, if there had been a consistent analysis through time and space,of all those efforts, we might have stumbled upon those strategies which work.

    The United States did nation build, successfully, after WWII. The factors which allowed us to rebuilt Europe and Japan are, I believe, impossible to duplicate today. First, there has to be a destruction of the existing order. This can happen via war or natural disaster. Second, there has to be military government to protect the civilian population and eliminate any possibility of armed opposition. Third, there has to be resources to maintain the civilivan population during time of transistion. Fourth, there has to be the imposition of a proven model. Fifth, there has to be means to protect the change during the time of transistion and implementation. Sixth, there has to be a committment to withdraw and allow the nation to be independent, while providing defense from outside military intervention.

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