The question President Obama, along with his dysfunctional Congress and Senate is faced with is: send more troops in or pull everyone out? Gates says he (Obama) isn't ready to make a decision. Pelosi says there's no support. Apparently, McMullin couldn't get past the president's simile and metaphors. An ex-journo I know says pull everyone out right now. My neighbor thinks we're shit. All of this is grounded in politics and appearances. But the reality is that the boots on the ground perspective is much different.
There are no easy answers. I play this out different ways, and each time the only conclusion I come to is that we have to look at the outcomes in either way. More troops in? Yes, but it has to be with a different strategy, following COIN and getting out of the FOBBIT mode. The thought of pulling out also comes with problems. One is that the women who voted for the first time, and girls finally going to school would see their future greatly diminished. Second, the vast number of underreported efforts and successes by both troops and also non-NGO/US-AID projects would dwindle, eventually coming to a halt.
Here are three that would be in danger of losing all the strides they have made.
First up, if you're not familiar with Baba Tim's Free Range International Blog, then stop in. BabaTim is a retired Marine who became a contractor. To put it in simple terms, he lives and works among the Afghan people doing precisely what COIN had tried to set out to do. You might want to read a post he wrote called What To Do, Part 2. He, along with others run work for cash projects that focus on rebuilding much needed infrastructure. This gives the locals an alternative revenue source. It takes knowledge, stealth, and intuitiveness to do this. BabaTim and his crew are some of the many who are providing an option.
MIT graduate students have worked via a grant from the National Science Foundation as well as private organizations to set up a Fab Lab in Jalalabad.
"A fab lab is a high tech workshop where we foster the emerging possibility for ordinary people to not just learn about science and engineering but actually design machines and make measurements that are relevant to improving the quality of their lives."
Amy Sun and the team have been successful at teaching teenagers to set up "Fab Fi" aka Wi Fi, around Jalalabad. Earlier in September, on the FabLab blog, she writes:
"I’m writing this post from waaay up here, my connection via a local meshed node through various hops which find their way (automagically) to the FabFi1 long haul connection out through the GATR which beams my message into orbit and back and finally finally to a server at MIT in Cambridge MA. It’s so very cool.
What’s cooler is what’s happening around me. The water tower is super crowded with people and even more FabFi. It’s a party! Our goals for today are to replace and upgrade every existing FabFi connection and add two more ~3.5km each. Right now it’s a mess of people in salwar kameez’s schooching past each other on the narrow ledge carrying router boxes, reflectors, rope, cables, meters, and so on in every direction. Every now and then there’s a shout followed up something getting thrown UP to the top of the tower, or slightly comical attempts to convey what needs to be fetched from below."
Fab Lab is the silken thread for children and teens into a new future. Without Fab Lab, their prospects are bleak. Make no mistake, Afghanistan isn't even a third world country. The changes that are taking place will take a generation to take hold. The disintegration of projects like Fab Lab would be a serious blog to the building of their society.
Lastly, there's Sarah Chayes's company in Kandahar. Arghand. Not only is run by and for Afghans, it also uses local raw materials. Arghand specializes in silks, body oils and and soaps. Chayes's products are sold in the US at boutiques. It's strictly a low budget operation. But make no mistake, the work she does makes it possible for farmers to make a living by not growing opium. Chayes, who is also well known for her NPR commentaries on Afghanistan and appearances on Charlie Rose is there on her own, without government assistance. She is thoroughly committed to a new Afghanistan, and feels that how this scenario plays out will greatly effect not only this generation, but those for the next one hundred years.
In a recent editorial in the LA Times, Chayes wrote:
"Lower your sights' is the wrong vision for Afghanistan. As U.S. officials talk down our goals, Afghans are listening and wondering what happened to our promises."
These are just three groups making a change. The struggle to bring peace, security and independence will neither be easy or bloodless. However, to pull out (where it's assumed everything will go back to an imaginary normal) would be to sell short the prospects of promise. While definite changes in strategy are called for, including increasing the down time between deployments, shifts are required across the board to get rid of this mentality:
"The State Department and US AID implementers live in the US Embassy complex – a gigantic walled ultra posh compound with everything you could ask for, great gym, extra pay, dirt cheap booze and cigarettes. But they never leave – and there is a mindset which develops when you live behind gigantic walls with lavish security and that mindset is THE REASON why reconstruction is so slow." –BabaTim, Free Range Int'l
Obama would be wise to listen to the roar of the troops, the advice of his generals, and the recommendations of NATO.