Kinzer: Surge Diplomacy, Not Troops, in Afghanistan

by Robert Naiman

USA Today reports that Gen. McKiernan – top U.S. commander in Afghanistan – “has asked the Pentagon for more than 20,000 soldiers, Marines and airmen” to augment U.S. forces. McKiernan says U.S. troop levels of 55,000 to 60,000 in Afghanistan will be needed for “at least three or four more years.” He added: “If we put these additional forces in here, it’s going to be for the next few years. It’s not a temporary increase of combat strength.”

We should have a vigorous national debate before embarking on this course. Contrary to what one might think from a quick scan of the newspapers, there are knowledgeable voices questioning whether increasing the deployment of U.S. troops to Afghanistan is in our interest, or is in the interest of the Afghan people.

Bestselling author and former longtime New York Times foreign correspondent Stephen Kinzer argues the opposite in this five minute video:

Kinzer argues that sending more U.S. troops is likely to be counterproductive. It’s likely to produce more anger in Afghanistan, and more anger is likely to produce more recruits for the Taliban. A better alternative would surge diplomacy instead, reaching out to people who are now supporting the Taliban.

Al Qaeda and the Taliban are very different forces, argues Kinzer. The Taliban has deep roots in Afghan society. Many of the warlords allied with the Taliban are not fanatic ideologues.

Afghanistan is a place of fluid loyalties, Kinzer notes. A warlord allied with the Taliban may not be anti-American, or if he is today, he need not be tomorrow. We should take advantage of these fluid loyalties, and try to follow the diplomatic solution that Afghans and Afghan leaders are advocating.

Almost all the money in Afghanistan fueling the insurgency comes from the Afghan poppy crop, the source of most of the world’s heroin, Kinzer notes. We’re trying to crush that poppy-growing culture in an impossible way, Kinzer says. Burning and spraying poppy fields will never achieve that goal. All that does is impoverish Afghans and make them more angry at us.

The entire Afghan poppy crop is worth four billion dollars a year. We’re now spending $4 billion a month on our war in Afghanistan. Let’s take one of those months, and buy the entire poppy crop, suggests Kinzer. That way we’re not impoverishing Afghans, we’re putting money in their pockets instead of shooting them and burning down their houses. We’d use some of that to make morphine for medical use and we could burn the rest.

If we continue to act as if there’s a military solution in Afghanistan, we’re just going to get further dragged down into quagmire. There is a way out, Kinzer says. We can follow a much more sophisticated diplomatic and political strategy in a way that will reduce the ability of the Taliban to attract young recruits. What we’re doing now is the opposite, fueling the insurgency. Sending fewer troops to Afghanistan, not more, is needed to stabilize Afghanistan.

If you agree with Stephen Kinzer, why not send a note to that effect to President-elect Obama?

Robert Naiman is Senior Policy Analyst and National Coordinator at Just Foreign Policy.

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