Going Local: The Key to Afghanistan

Going Local: The Key to Afghanistan - Seth G. Jones, Wall Street Journal opinion.

The rapidly deteriorating situation in Afghanistan is now President Barack Obama's war, one he pledged to win during his election campaign, promising to "reverse course" and defeat the Taliban and al Qaeda. One of the biggest problems, however, is that since late 2001, the United States has crafted its Afghanistan strategy on a fatally flawed assumption: The recipe for stability is building a strong central government capable of establishing law and order in rural areas. This notion reflects a failure to grasp the local nature of Afghan politics.

In many countries where the United States has engaged in state-building, such as Germany and Japan after World War II, US policy makers inherited a strong central government that allowed them to rebuild from the top down. Even in Iraq, Saddam Hussein amassed a powerful military and intelligence apparatus that brutally suppressed dissent from the center. But Afghanistan is different. Power has often come from the bottom up in Pashtun areas of the country, the focus of today's insurgency.

It is striking that most Americans who try to learn lessons from Afghanistan's recent history turn to the failed military exploits of the British or Soviet Union. Just look at the list of books that many newly deployed soldiers are urged to read, such as Lester Grau's "The Bear Went Over the Mountain" and Mohammed Yousaf and Mark Adkin's "The Bear Trap," which document some of the searing battlefield lessons that contributed to the Soviet defeat. Yet, outside of some anthropologists, few people have bothered to examine Afghanistan's stable periods. The lessons are revealing...

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