Max Boot on Afghanistan: The Case for Optimism

Max Boot, the Jeane J. Kirkpatrick Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, does not believe that negotiations between some Taliban leaders and NATO forces, under way now in Afghanistan will come to much. In fact, as he writes in a recent essay, he believes there is reason to be optimistic about the U.S. military surge in that country. Some excerpts:

Nobody should be under any illusions that such efforts will transform Afghanistan into Switzerland. But that isn't the goal. Afghans, like residents of Illinois and New Jersey, will tolerate a certain degree of corruption. What they won't accept is the brazen, unconstrained thievery practiced by all too many government officials today, who demand a bribe to perform the simplest service, whether allowing a motorist to pass a checkpoint or a farmer to file a legal grievance against an interloper who has stolen his land. Bribes are also necessary to secure many government jobs—which in turn necessitates that officials collect more bribes to pay for the cost of office. A recent survey of 6,500 Afghans by the international group Integrity Watch Afghanistan found that 70 percent perceive corruption as a problem and that 50 percent “consider that corruption fosters the expansion of the Taliban.” The figures are even higher in Kandahar and other areas where, no coincidence, the Taliban have displayed the most strength …

If coalition forces, working with honest Afghans (yes, they do exist), can reduce the overall level of corruption, they can do much to reduce the insurgency's appeal. As things stand, the Taliban posture, rather hypocritically, as the incorruptible guardians of Islamic virtue fighting against the crooks who dominate the current government and against the foreign soldiers who are seen as their enablers. Reduce the level of corruption and popular anger will be directed where it belongs—against the Taliban, with their unpopular, antediluvian ideology and history of brutal, horrifying violence.

The idea that we can strike an acceptable deal with the Taliban—one of the most popular Plan B's under discussion—is especially far-fetched. While talks are evidently going on between representatives of President Hamid Karzai and elements of the Taliban leadership, there is scant cause to think that the insurgents are willing to give up their arms or to become a peaceful opposition party. As CIA director Leon Panetta said on June 28: “We have seen no evidence that they are truly interested in reconciliation where they would surrender their arms, where they would denounce al-Qaeda, where they would really try to become part -of that society.”

… Some rural Pashtuns might see a return of the Taliban as an acceptable alternative to the kind of predatory misrule they suffer from today. But such a deal would be significantly less appealing for the vast majority of Afghans who take for granted freedoms that the Taliban would quickly quash—freedoms like flying kites, listening to music, and educating their daughters.

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