A Reasonable End to the Afghanistan War

Last year, I wrote:

Liberals and the left need an Obama administration. Otherwise, it is unlikely that Americans will withdraw from Afghanistan.

As more people talk about leaving Afghanistan to its fate, its worth a second to look around and ask what an appropriate future for Afghanistan loosk like.

Afghanistan’s most important future partner is China.

Afghanistan’s most important future association is the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.

A reasonable goal for US efforts in Afghanistan is to allow it to become a functional member of the SCO, the club for natural resource suppliers of the People’s Republic of China.

5 thoughts on “A Reasonable End to the Afghanistan War”

  1. Since the Left shouted down Bush’s Iraq policies with cries of “No blood for oil!” perhaps the Right will now shout down [1] Obama’s Afghan policies with cries of “No blood for copper!” [2]

    But seriously, I agree with your thesis that Afghanistan is a regional issue and the U.S. will do well to regionalize the problem to the extent possible. The question is: So what must be done to make Afghanistan a “functional member” of the SCO? I’m not really up on my central Asian comparative politics, but my limited knowledge of the region leads me to believe that most SCO members are essentially national energy companies masquerading as modern nation- states.

    Currently, Afghanistan appears to be a collection of tribal fiefdoms masquerading as a modern nation-state.

    If this is true, then the U.S. can choose one of two routes:

    1. Build a centralized, Gazprom style corporation-state whose raison de tre is to extract wealth and act as a counter party to those who wish to invest in the Afghan mining business. In this model the central government must maintain enough capacity for violence to guarantee the safety of foreign investors and workers.

    2. Focus on turning regional warlords in mini-me Gazprom-like resource extraction corporations that will be more interested in doing business with China then with Jihadism. Under this model each warlord/CEO only needs to be able to guarantee the safety of workers or investors in his small region. Under this model the central government exists primarily to facilitate business deals between outside investors and regional rulers.

    The second model seems more in line with the realities of A-Stan (as I understand them) and with the “Oil Spot” COIN strategy. Logically, a centralized corporation-state may emerge after a couple of decades, but its also possible Afghanistan will simply never have a strong central authority in Kabul.

    [1] http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/08/31/AR2009083102912.html

    [2] http://business.timesonline.co.uk/tol/business/industry_sectors/natural_resources/article2910583.ece

  2. Ok, good baseline for discussion. It implies that the US is not going to take up Britain’s old role in the Great Game of jockeying for central Asian supremacy, and also that Russia won’t want to challenge China in Afghanistan, right?

  3. Robert
    There are two reasons I do not believe Russia and China will play out some sort of Great Game over control of Afghanistan:

    1. The Russians have had their fill of Afghanistan. They took heavy casualties fighting there in the 1980s and back then their army was in way better shape than it is today.

    2. Even if the Russians cared about A-Stan for some reason, the Chinese would quickly come to same conclusions about the GG that a computer named Joshua comes to at the end of the movie “War Games”: The only way to win is not to play. China’s main interest is in seeing that Afghanistan’s mineral resources are extracted and brought to market, as long as that happens with enough regularity to keep prices fairly stable they don’t give a hoot about what type of government Afghanistan has or if its Russia, the U.S. or India fighting the Taliban.

    The Great Game style competition for A-Stan in the 21st century would more likely come from Iran, Pakistan and India. Each of those regional players has a economic and security interest not only in Afghanistan’s resources but also in its general stability or instability and in the type of government in Kabul. Recently, India and Iran have been involved in constructive ways, investing in infrastructure projects and helping tamp down on opium smuggling, respectively, while Pakistan has historically supported the Taliban and viewed Afghanistan as one large training camp for terrorists to use in its proxy war against India in Kashmir. In the future, even if India and Pakistan can make progress over the Kashmir issue, it seems reasonable to assume that Shia Iran and Sunni Pakistan may continue to have different goal WRT Afghanistan’s future.

  4. Brent,

    But seriously, I agree with your thesis that Afghanistan is a regional issue and the U.S. will do well to regionalize the problem to the extent possible. The question is: So what must be done to make Afghanistan a “functional member” of the SCO? I’m not really up on my central Asian comparative politics, but my limited knowledge of the region leads me to believe that most SCO members are essentially national energy companies masquerading as modern nation- states.

    Exactly what I’m thinking!

    Robert61,

    Ok, good baseline for discussion. It implies that the US is not going to take up Britain’s old role in the Great Game of jockeying for central Asian supremacy, and also that Russia won’t want to challenge China in Afghanistan, right?

    Yes and no.

    The US is not going ot take up Britain’s old role, because Britain had fixed interests (protecting the territorial security of the Indian Empire) and we do not. We can be an “offshore balancer,” though we have more general interests (economic connectivity, etc.) [1]

    Russia will continue to block us. They continue to be an aggrevation worse than the Taliban. They must be managed until their regime changes.

    [1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Offshore_balancing

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