The method used in Iraq would be a quick solution but it would be wrong
By Gwynne Dyer
WHO would have guessed that almost a month after the devastating terrorist attacks in New York and
Washington, not one American soldier
anywhere in the world would have pushed a button or pulled a trigger in
retaliation? The patience and maturity of the American public is as
remarkable as the transformation of the Bush administration from a
unilateralist, almost isolationist clique to methodical, almost plodding
The problem with the minimalist strategy is that while it would
keep US casualties down to a minimum, it would probably kill lots of
innocent Afghans with bombs and missiles, and it certainly wouldnâ€™t destroy the al-Qaeda organisation. It might not even get Osama bin Laden. It is what any US administration would have done in the late 80s or 90s, when the public was totally allergic to American military casualties, but public opinion may be more tolerant of military casualties in the wake of the thousands of American civilian dead.
If Americans will now support a truly serious response and accept the resultant loss of American soldiersâ€™ lives, then why not do the job right?
That would involve invading Afghanistan, overthrowing the Taleban regime, imposing a relatively sane and respectable government of non-fanatical Afghans in its place, and then deluging the country with food and aid so that the new regime survives.
With a friendly government in Kabul, friendly troops on the ground
and good local intelligence, the US could track down and dismantle the
whole bin Laden organisation in Afghanistan â€” provided, of course, that it didnâ€™t get bogged down in a long guerilla war instead. An invasion would get the job done, if it succeeded, whereas nothing else really will, but the risks feel so big (especially given the dismal history of previous
invasions of Afghanistan) that most American military planners favour the
more limited option.
It is the political side of the house, as usual, that is tempted by the more extreme option. The politicians will be blamed by the public if the operation doesnâ€™t actually destroy bin Ladenâ€™s organisation, whereas it
is the generals who will carry the can if an invasion of Afghanistan turns
into a new Vietnam. But beyond merely selfish motives, who is right â€” and who will win?
The right answer, in terms of capturing or killing bin Laden, destroying his organisation, and satisfying the American public, is undoubtedly invasion. If those are the results you want, then these are
the actions you must take, at whatever cost. And the cost would not
necessarily be too great, since Afghanistan has never been a difficult
country to invade.
It is much more difficult to hold, as both the British and the Soviets learned to their cost, but with the right policies there would not have to be a long guerilla resistance.
The Taleban are very unpopular with
most Afghans, and this time there would be no outside powers stimulating and subsidising a guerilla resistance to the occupation. Put in the
equivalent of a Marshall Plan to rebuild a country that has been shattered
by 22 years of war, and you could even have a success story on your hands.
But this is not likely to happen, because the instinct of the US
military is always to
minimise the risks to its own position and
reputation. The compromise that is being
proposed in Washington, therefore, is to overthrow the Taleban, but without involving```` American ground troops in any large way. Just hire the thugs of the Northern
Alliance, the losing side in the civil war that was almost over, and give
them enough money and guns to do the job for you.
They would then kill, rape and rob their way back into power, with the assistance of US air power used in the customary lavish way. Tens of
thousands of innocent Afghans would be killed and Muslim opinion elsewhere would be outraged, but the new regime, once it got power, would collaborate (after a fashion) in the US search for bin Laden and company.
It would be a classic imperial solution: get foreigners to do the dying for you, and accept a rather muddy outcome in terms of results. But it would also be the wrong thing to do.
â€œEven women can fight through computers and airplanes,â€ said Mullah
Muhammad Omar, the Taleban leader, last Thursday. â€œIf (the Americans) are men, let them come to the Afghan battlefield to see who the Afghans are.â€
And though the mullahâ€™s sentiments are not even remotely correct
politically, his advice is good. If the United States is serious about this, then it should do it the hard way.
is a London-based
Which way on Afghanistan?