The article is called West Must Avoid Russia’s Mistakes in Afghanistan, and who better to explain how to do that than the man who led the armament and training of Afghan mujahedeen: Zbigniew Brzezinski.
His main point seems to be that the US will fail if it tries to impose its own vision of government, backed by military force, rather than allow political forces within the country emerge on their own. He also says that a major shakedown of the country to “root” out opponents will backfire. Perhaps most interesting, however, is his cost model for fighting drugs:
Simply trying to wipe out the poppies and deprive the farmers of income will not undercut the Taliban, it will strengthen them. The Europeans should pay the Afghan farmers as much as it takes to abandon drug crops. The Europeans should do that because most of these drugs go to Europe. The drug problem in Afghanistan is simultaneously a source of income for the Taliban and a serious threat to Europe. In this respect, the European responsibility for dealing with it is self-evident.
Makes sense, but good luck selling that one to the EU or even the US. Bombs are easy to explain. Who is going to be able to win broad support for a policy that pays foreign farmers to help with domestic security?
Speaking of money, the Danger Room reports that lots of it is being directed into technology companies started by ex-Pentagon executives to achieve…wait for it…nation-building:
The goal of the tech-heavy effort is not only to avoid a Hurricane Katrina repeat. It’s to get better at stabilizing failed states that could easily slip into radical hands. But first, the boys in uniform have to get over their traditional reluctance to cooperate with civilians.
Nation-building, perhaps by default, has become a core mission for the U.S. military.
Has become? Has been for a long time, albeit only small portions of the military. Russia failed at this on a much more costly scale and Brzezinski warns not to repeat their mistakes. Danger Room goes on to explain there might be a silver lining:
The project is called STAR-TIDES (Sustainable Technologies, Accelerated Research-Transportable Infrastructures for Development and Emergency Support). The acronym may be long, but the concept is simple: it is supposed to pull together cheap and effective solutions for humanitarian emergencies or post-war reconstruction.
I’ve been working on just such a plan for the past five years with an ex-military guy myself. My car was running on fuel from a STAR-TIDES-like energy plant for about six months. Wonder if there is a case now to be made for funding. In any case I think the answer here is to remove the military from the equation and get them out of the nation-building game entirely. Let them innovate for their own needs and then pass on the knowledge. No need for management by the brass or ex-brass, thank you. That’s more likely to succeed than trying to overcome the (arguably well-reasoned) American culture and laws that still separate the army from domestic affairs.