And The Winner Is?

by on 2014-05-27 in Duck- 5 Comments

Obviously, too soon to tell.  But with the new Obama announcement setting an enddate-ish, my nominee might just be:
Pakistan.  Pakistan got to have heaps of aid despite spending the entire time subverting American/NATO efforts in Afghanistan.  Much American, Canadian, British, Danish, French, Germany, Dutch, Aussie (and others) blood is on Pakistan’s hands.

Who else?  

  • Afghan kleptocrats or whatever you want to call those who enriched themselves and sent pallets of $ to Dubai.
  • Russia and other authoritarian states through which the effort flowed.  Much money spent along the way, much leverage by US and others lost along the way as dependence on non-Pakistan lines of communication grew.
  • India?  Maybe as Pakistan focused more to the north and least to the East. Plus everything that Pakistan did made India much more attractive as a South Asia partner.
  • Iran.  A distracted, exhausted US is good for business.
  • China. Distracted US, got heaps of influence in the region. May end up mining Afghan stuff if they can figure out how to get it out of the country.

Who lost?

  •  The dead and the wounded.  Not as bloody as past wars but absolutely brutal to those who participated.  The upside is our ability to save soldiers’ lives is pretty amazing.  But it does mean that we have many utterly devastated people who will need lifetime care.
    • And the Afghans who survived are not likely to get such care.

The gray in between:

  • The Afghans either go here or in the lost category.  They are no longer governed by the Taliban and that can only be a good thing.  The governments since have been corruptly rapacious and rapaciously corrupt, but they did not engage in the mass killings, the political oppression, the denial of health services, etc.  But ISAF did not provide the safe and secure environment that was their aim.
  • NATO: Everyone showed up, but with different rules, paying a high price for a mixed effort.  The alliance did show up when its leader was attacked.  It was not easy at any point, but the alliance managed to learn and do better as things went along.
    • The challenges in fighting together were not much when compared to the challenges of building governance and development together.  Coordinating the PRTs and coordinating with the Afghanistan government was always a big problem that never got fixed.
  • The U.S.  Once again, it showed a willingness to pay a significant price for a place it really did not care about.

Much is gray because the war is not over and we really don’t know what Afghanistan will look like in five or ten years.  I was asked this by a reporter today:

When our grandkids ask us, “Who won that
war?”…. what will we tell them?

My answer: they will know better then than we do now.
What am I missing or am I wrong?

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  • RedWell

    Reasonable, but I’d like to push back on some of these.

    Pakistan: that aid did little for the stability or wealth of either the government or the military. Maybe the ISI came off well, but the fact that the US has been right next door and Pakistan’s military and political institutions have been demonstrated to be relatively ineffective is a far greater negative than the positive of a few billion dollars of aid over a decade.

    Iran: the US (under Obama, anyway) still managed to coordinate painful sanctions, and before that, Iran was playing proxy war against the US to little avail. And before that, Iran was actually helping the US, to a limited extent, against the Taliban. Having a problem on its doorstep may be more problematic than a focused, undistracted US, which really wouldn’t have been able to do much more about Iran’s nuke program, anyway.

    China: I’m not buying the China infiltration claim. In fact, the Chinese have concluded that Africa, thousands of miles away, is a more reasonable investment. What China may have gained is easy observation of US military capabilities, but that is a two-edged sword because it own relative, untested abilities are clear.

    The US: There is the perennial danger of overstretch and wasted resources here, but this was no Vietnam experience. The rudiments of a stable state are in place. Maybe those won’t last, but the US has made and is maintaining a long-term commitment. The dividends of actively defending US interests (no matter how increasingly esoteric in this case) and demonstrating a willingness to apply effective force are real but intangible. In addition, while it may be impolitic, the fact that the US has been doing rather than training for war gives it a leg up over rivals like China and keeps its military focused. Whether that focus is outstripped by fatigue or strain, though, is a difficult question. Lessons should be learned here about when and whether a war is prudent, but Afghanistan wasn’t just about a place that we kind of care about but not really too much; it was about the principles of building doing what Americans tend to think is good: crushing threats but also building a society based upon rule of law and the other accoutrements of liberal democracy. That’s idealistic, and the US remains mediocre at actually doing it, but to my mind, the long war in Afghanistan is difficult to explain without that element. Does the US care about Afghanistan? Yes, to some extent. Has the war ever been only about Afghanistan? Most assuredly, no.

  • Ronanfitz

    Pakistan behaved just as a regional power with a divided political elite and politically important security establishment would be expected to do in a neighbouring country invaded by outside powers.
    Im not trying to excuse ‘Pakistani’ behaviour, but whatever blood is on their hands is also on the hands of those Western political elites who have a seemingly endless propensity to dream up interventions without thinking through the consequences coherently beforehand.

  • Jarrod Hayes

    I would say that the NATO experience is a bit more win than you give it credit for. I met with SACEUR General Philip Breedlove last week and he makes an important argument that Afghanistan has been very significant for interoperability, something that NATO will have to work hard to maintain.

  • Stephen Saideman

    Well, I think the NATO experience was perhaps a wash at best. Yes, heaps of technical interoperability by various combinations of countries but also heaps of resentment due to differential burden-sharing produced by the variations in caveats and other means by which countries managed their troops in the field. Thanks for providing excuse for me to plug

  • Jarrod Hayes

    Happy to help ;). As usual, you make a good point