AFGHANISTAN BLINKING RED.

AFGHANISTAN BLINKING RED. In case you aren't worried enough about Iraq, you should start worrying about Afghanistan, because the Bush administration is screwing that up, too. Big time. That was the thrust of this Times piece by David Rohde from this past weekend.

I remember reading Michael Scheuer's Imperial Hubris back in 2004 when it came out, and thinking that his conviction about the inevitable victory of the Taliban in Afghanistan was plausible and therefore alarming, but unduly pessimistic and altogether too certain. Zalmay Khalilzad was there as U.S. Ambassador, wheeling and dealing, drinking tea with tribal leaders, and keeping the situation calm. The U.S. and NATO seemed to be having success with these "provinical reconstruction teams" in rural areas, and according to the polls I saw, Afghans were by and large supportive of our presence and opposed to the Taliban.

But since Khalilzad left, things seem to have spiralled downwards. Poppy production is skyrocketing. Attacks -- some of them similar in sophistication and virulence to those being used in Iraq -- are up as well. We don't know a lot about military operations in Afghanistan (and unfortunately CENTCOM did not reply to my request for more information), but from what I am reading, it certainly appears that we're not fighting a counterinsurgency war according to proper doctrine.

Pace Bill Frist and Michael Scheuer, I don't think a Taliban victory is inevitable. Rather than dashing sweep operations like this one, we need more tea and hand-holding sessions with tribal leaders in order to turn them from the Taliban insurgency to the government/NATO side. The Bush administration and the Republicans in Congress, moreover, have under-resourced Afghanistan from the beginning. I've always found this inexplicable, given that country's fragility and the danger that it remain a rear staging area for al-Qaeda and affiliated groups.

--Blake Hounshell

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