Tomgram: Ann Jones, Us or Them in Afghanistan?
In Washington, calls are increasing, especially among anxious Democrats, for the president to commit to training ever more Afghan troops and police rather than sending in more American troops. Huge numbers for imagined future Afghan army and police forces are now bandied about in Congress and the media -- though no one stops to wonder what Afghanistan, the fourth poorest country on the planet, might actually be like with a combined security force of 400,000. Not a "democracy," you can put your top dollar on that. And with a gross national product of only $23 billion (a striking percentage of which comes from the drug trade) and an annual government budget of only about $600 million, it's not one that could faintly maintain such a force either. Put bluntly, if U.S. officials were capable of building such a force, a version of Colin Powell's Pottery Barn rule for Iraq would kick in and we, the American taxpayers, would own it for all eternity.
On the other hand, not to worry. As Ann Jones makes clear in her revelatory piece below, the odds on such an Afghan force ever being built must be passingly close to nil. Such a program is no more likely to be successful than the massively expensive Afghan aid and reconstruction program has been. In fact, for all the talk about the subject here, it's remarkable how little we actually know about the staggering expensive American and NATO effort to train the Afghan army and police. Stop and think for a moment. When was the last time you read in any U.S. paper a striking account, or any account for that matter, in which a reporter actually bothered to observe the training process in action? Think how useful that might have been for the present debate in Washington.
Fortunately, TomDispatch is ready to remedy this. Site regular Jones, who first went to Afghanistan in 2002 and, in an elegant memoir, Kabul in Winter, has vividly described her years working with Afghan women, spent time this July visiting U.S. training programs for both the Afghan army and police. She offers an eye-opening, on-the-spot look at certain realities which turn the "debate" in Washington inside out and upside down. Tom
Meet the Afghan Army
Is It a Figment of Washington's Imagination?
By Ann Jones
The big Afghanistan debate in Washington is not over whether more troops are needed, but just who they should be: Americans or Afghans -- Us or Them. Having just spent time in Afghanistan seeing how things stand, I wouldn't bet on Them.
Frankly, I wouldn't bet on Us either. In eight years, American troops have worn out their welcome. Their very presence now incites opposition, but that's another story. It's Them -- the Afghans -- I want to talk about.
Afghans are Afghans. They have their own history, their own culture, their own habitual ways of thinking and behaving, all complicated by a modern experience of decades of war, displacement, abject poverty, and incessant meddling by foreign governments near and far -- of which the United States has been the most powerful and persistent. Afghans do not think or act like Americans. Yet Americans in power refuse to grasp that inconvenient point.