Friday, April 16, 2010

History Can Help Us in Afghanistan

We have been told by our leaders that the challenges in Afghanistan represent a new kind of war and that we need new and modern thinking to ultimately win. I am certainly in favor of new and modern thinking, especially considering that we have new and modern weapons and technology at our disposal. Sometimes though, it is s good idea to look to the old “tried and true” methods first. You see, we have been here before.

The United States was in the Philippines and in Korea long before we got involved in Afghanistan. In both of those countries we were faced with very similar problems to those of Afghanistan.

In the current war the objective has been divided into 3 major parts: 1) Militarily defeating the Taliban; 2) Establishing a stable and reliable infrastructure and economy; and 3) winning the loyalty of the people to their government. Substitute the word “communist insurgents” for the word “Taliban” and you have exactly the same objectives as we faced in both South Korea and in the Philippines.

The difference in our approach with Afghanistan this time seems to be a better military methodology but a less effective effort to establish the civilian government. The better military approach is the result of our having a better trained, better equipped and more experienced armed forces. The problem with the effort to establish a stable and functioning civilian government seems to be in our determination to give the Afghan people an “American style” corruption-free democracy.

That was not our objective in South Korea nor in the Philippines. In both of those countries we were perfectly happy to have civilian governments which were, in fact, controlled in the shadows by the country’s military.

The best example is in the Philippines were Marcos, who had the title and position of “President” was in fact a military dictator. It was years before the Philippines were ready for true democracy. When that happened, President Regan knew how to handle it. He told Marcos to straighten up or loose American support. When the Philippine people saw Marcos was no longer enjoying American support, they forced him out of office. South Korea’s military strong men were also gradually moved out in favor of a functioning democracy, but again, that happened naturally as the people became ready for it.

We need to lessen our expectations for a true democracy in Afghanistan and let the people become more confident and trusting of the central government. The important thing is to rid the country of corruption and to have a strong and reliable government. It may be a while before the Afghan “George Washington” comes along. In the meantime an Afghan “Marcos” may be work out just fine.

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