March 27th, 2009
12:24 PM ET

The winnable war

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/WORLD/asiapcf/03/19/afghanistan.fighting/art.soldiers.afp.gi.jpg caption="Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers listen to a speach in Nadi Ali district, Helmand province."]
David Brooks
The New York Times

I came to Afghanistan skeptical of American efforts to transform this country. Afghanistan is one of the poorest, least-educated and most-corrupt nations on earth. It is an infinitely complex and fractured society. It has powerful enemies in Pakistan, Iran and the drug networks working hard to foment chaos. The ground is littered with the ruins of great powers that tried to change this place.

Moreover, we simply do not know how to modernize nations. Western aid workers seem to spend most of their time drawing up flow charts for each other. They’re so worried about their inspectors general that they can’t really immerse themselves in the messy world of local reality. They insist on making most of the spending decisions themselves so the “recipients” of their largess end up passive, dependent and resentful.

Every element of my skepticism was reinforced during a six-day tour of the country. Yet the people who work here make an overwhelming case that Afghanistan can become a functional, terror-fighting society and that it is worth sending our sons and daughters into danger to achieve this.

In the first place, the Afghan people want what we want. They are, as Lord Byron put it, one of the few people in the region without an inferiority complex. They think they did us a big favor by destroying the Soviet Union and we repaid them with abandonment. They think we owe them all this.


Filed under: Afghanistan • David Brooks
soundoff (3 Responses)
  1. Neo

    C'mon this is not Jamestown circa 1607. People know what to do. Let them do it .... or not. Do they want to be modernized? If so tell them to Google It. America has to stop micro managing, everything and everyone.

    March 27, 2009 at 2:12 pm |
  2. Michael "C" Lorton, Virginia

    In the first place, the Afghan people want what we want--and as I sit here writing my comment to your article-–knowing what is happening to our economy because of corporate greed and corruption---I wonder if the Afghan people still want what we want--sometimes the poorest and simplest form of life is not that bad---and I would say to Afghans--be careful what you wish for-–you might just get it.

    March 27, 2009 at 1:25 pm |
  3. Michael C. McHugh

    I have never known that it's winnable, but unfortunately we can't just walk away and let the Taliban take over again and use it as abase against the West. It's similar to what Jefferson said about slavery: "We have a tiger by the ears and we can't hold on to him, and can't let him go." I do think that the country needs a lot of social and economic development, and we'd better make sure that gets down to the grassroots level. I don't see a chance of winning otherwise.

    March 27, 2009 at 12:34 pm |