Afghanistan in Practice

Anand, commenting over at Joshua Foust’s Registan blog, comes up with about the best analysis I’ve seen of the strategic incoherence of our Afghanistan mess:

There seem to be three different strategies . . . on three different planets:

1) Short-term “TRIAGE” or improvement in security (McChrystal, Abu Muqawama and most of the press).
2) Medium-term Afghan capacity building (CSTC-A, OMLTs, TTs, civilian advisers to GIRoA civilian agencies).
3) Long-term economic development (UNAMA’s planet, and the planet thatNGOs, Japan’s, India’s, Germany’s, EU’s and many other internationalaid agencies live on).

Whence will the three planets meet?

Outside of the improper usage of “whence,” well put. The strategic logic the Obama administration is banking on is that Planet 1 will provide the breathing room for Planet 2 to accomplish its tasks, which will reassure Planet 3 to finally get cracking.

The problem, of course, is that eight years after overturning the Taliban, we’re still at Planet 1. Having read through two-thirds of Ahmed Rashid’s “Descent into Chaos” over my vacation, I’m no longer quite so pessimistic about the prospects for success in Afghanistan, circa 2001, in theory. In practice, though, I’m just as pessimistic about the chances of us correcting course from all of our — and other actors’ — past failures in time to prevent the outcome in Afghanistan, circa 2009, from slipping out of our control.