Beautiful, downtown Kandahar. Hey, it works, says Jim Lacey, so let's go.
Jim Lacey is a professor of strategic studies at the Marine Corps War College.
Good. Judging by his recent piece at NRO, he has common sense, the basis of any successful strategy. Lacey went to Afghanistan recently, and didn't fall for the old "fragile and reversible" routine, as House Speaker Boehner recently did. In fact, Lacey thinks Afghanistan can "swim on its own."
Fying into Kandahar, a "working" city of about 800,000 people, Lacey was struck by the following:
Every day 800,000 persons get fed, without the help of American soldiers or any foreign-aid workers. If every westerner left Afghanistan tomorrow, they would all still get fed.
This raises a question: What are we still doing there? If the answer is nation-building, then it is time to declare victory and leave. The nation is built. It may fail again later, but that will be a problem for the Afghans. As of this moment, Afghanistan has a functional society and a working economy. How it works is ugly beyond measure, but it works, and everyone gets fed.
As we are not going to pour hundreds of billions of dollars a year into bringing Afghanistan up to Western economic standards, we must accept that all we can do from this point forward is tinker around the edges. One needs to ask — as I did before I left for Afghanistan three weeks ago — if it is worth the cost in blood and treasure just to stick around and tinker.
If, however, the answer is to stop al-Qaeda from using Afghanistan as a base, then it is time to bring a taste of strategic reality to the picture. Al-Qaeda and its associated movements have moved on. Their main bases are now in countries like Yemen and Pakistan. I would also expect to see cadres moving into some of the Arab countries that are experiencing political upheaval. Al-Qaeda loves nothing more than taking advantage of chaos and instability.
Where you will not find al-Qaeda is in Afghanistan, at least not in any substantial numbers. While I was in Kandahar, General Petraeus announced that the Coalition faced about a hundred al-Qaeda fighters. Did anyone do the math? There are over 140,000 Coalition soldiers in Afghanistan, or 1,400 for every al-Qaeda fighter. As it costs about a million dollars a year to deploy and support every soldier, that adds up to $140 billion, or close to $1.5 billion a year for each al-Qaeda fighter. ...
Again, Uncle Sucker -- and that means you and me -- are spending $1.5 billion per year per "al Qaeda" fighter running around A-stan. How about calling your US representatives and chewing them over that?
Meanwhile, Lacey has just one question:
In what universe do we find strategists to whom this makes sense?