"The Lost Opportunity"
Dexter Filkins writes about corruption in Afghanistan. I don’t have much to add — suffice it to say that there’s a lot of corruption in Afghanistan and that this is a big problem.
What I do think it’s worth reflecting on is what a big deal it really turns out to have been that the Bush administration screwed up back in the winter of 2001-2002 and failed to capute Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Mullah Omar, and the rest of the top al-Qaeda / Taliban leadership. Had we done that, I think we still would have been under a general moral and prudential obligation to try to assist the people of Afghanistan. But transforming Afghanistan into a prosperous, stable government with an effective central authority has always been a tall order. And if we’d achieved our core security objectives back six and a half years ago, then the stakes would be much lower if down the road foreign troops started to wear out their welcome for whatever reason. We could just leave.
But since Bush blew it back in the day — in part because he was always short-changing the war in Afghanistan in order to horde resources for his planned invasion of Iraq — the effort to build-up a workable Afghan central government shifted from a secondary objective to a primary one. Rather than being something we were trying to do since we were engaged in Afghanistan for other reasons, it became the reason that we were engaged in Afghanistan. For a few years that seemed to be working out okay. But the job was an objectively difficult one, and over the past two years it’s run into a lot of problems, not least of which is plunging Afghan support for the foreign presence. And having committed ourselves in this way, while leaving our main objectives un-achieved, it’s now much more difficult for us to leave than it would be if the nation-building had stayed in its proper, secondary status.