Win, Hold and Lose

September 02, 2009

by Ted Galen Carpenter

Although President Obama insists that America's goal in Afghanistan is to disrupt, degrade, and defeat al-Qaeda, it is apparent that the objective is much broader than that. U.S. and NATO officials speak of supporting an indigenous political structure that will provide security to the Afghan people and implement good governance. Since the U.S.-led invasion that overthrew the Taliban government in late 2001, hordes of Western military and civilian personnel have been involved in everything from setting up schools to drilling wells to building roads. Although they avoid using the term nation-building, that is clearly what is taking place.

Not only is Afghanistan an extremely unpromising candidate for such a mission, given its pervasive poverty, its fractured clan-based and tribal-based social structure, and its weak national identity, U.S. and NATO officials should also be sobered by the disappointing outcomes of other nation-building ventures over the past two decades. An audit of the two most prominent missions, Bosnia and Iraq, ought to inoculate Americans against pursuing the same fool's errand in Afghanistan.

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This article appeared in The National Interest Online, September 1, 2009.

Ted Galen Carpenter, vice president for defense and foreign-policy studies at the Cato Institute, is the author of eight books, including Smart Power: Toward a Prudent Foreign Policy for America (2008), and the co-author with Malou Innocent of the Cato report, Escaping the "Graveyard of Empires": A Strategy to Exit Afghanistan (September 2009). He is also a founding member of the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy.

Posted by coalition at September 2, 2009 09:59 AM

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