On the Bright Side

I heard two reasons for hope on the radio this week. First, Richard Holbrooke, U.S. Special Envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, announced at the G8 Summit in Italy that the government’s policy of opium crop eradication has been a dismal failure and would stop.

“They did not result in any damage to the Taliban,” he said, “but they put farmers out of work and they alienated people and drove people into the arms of the Taliban. So I need to stress this: the poppy farmer is not our enemy. The Taliban are. And to destroy the crops is not an effective policy and the U.S. has wasted hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars on this program, and that is going to end….So we’re not downgrading our effort to fight the dreadful cancer which is the opium trade. But we are going to stop making the farmers the victims.”

Hallelujah. Hundreds of millions of wasted dollars later, a light seems finally to be dawning in Washington.

I also listened to David Kilcullen, an Aussie anthropologist and top adviser to General Petraeus during the troop surge in Iraq, talking about lessons learned in that conflict and Afghanistan: “One of the things we found in Afghanistan and Iraq is that when you go into these environments, it looks like a military problem, and the military is essential. But if all you bring is military capability, you actually make the problem worse.”

With T.E. Lawrence as his model (a.k.a. Lawrence of Arabia), Kilcullen advises using a ladder approach to working with the various tribes, rather than directly pouncing on the objective, and once we’ve done that, to use humanitarian and charitable assistance to help make life better for affected populations. The jihadists know this and are reaching out with charity to Pakistanis displaced by the conflict there. We must do the same.

Could it be that shrewdness and intelligence might actually win out over the Neanderthal “all-I’ve-got-is-a-hammer-so-everything-must-be-a-nail” approach of the past 8 years? Shame so many millions have had to die whilst we are learning the more obvious lessons. But hey, General Electric, Dyncorp, and Halliburton aren’t complaining.


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