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April 9, 2014
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Jewish World Review
Feb. 10, 2009
/ 16 Shevat 5769
Our Ticket Out of Afghanistan
President Obama wants to send 30,000 American soldiers; the Germans have promised more money; the Poles have just taken charge of a province; even the Dutch are thinking of keeping some men on the ground. This is all very well, as long as everyone realizes that the long-term solution to Afghanistan's security doesn't lie in soldiers sent by Washington or Berlin but in the ones who can already be found on a square of dusty desert a half-hour's drive from Kabul.
This is the home of the Kabul Military Training Center, and it doesn't look like much from outside. When I visited last autumn, I saw simple barracks, a shooting range, and some classrooms where a few students were learning to use computers. One of the students-he'd learned excellent English during his family's 10-year exile in Iran-told me he wanted to continue his studies in the United States. (He was studying a vocabulary list: "confident … routine … someday … accomplish.") He was an exception: Most recruits are semiliterate, if they're literate at all. Many have never slept on anything but a dirt floor before they arrive at the training camp or under a roof made of anything but adobe and straw.
But that, in a way, is an advantage. If nothing else, the Afghan army is already a powerful force for upward mobility and, ultimately, stability-which Western mentors on the ground already know, though politicians back home seem not yet to have noticed. Currently, the Afghan National Army consists of 80,000-plus soldiers. At any given moment, it houses about 5,000 recruits in the training center undergoing 10-to-16-week courses. Recent innovations-an on-site bank that helps soldiers send money home, a soccer field-have brought the once-astronomical number of deserters to a trickle. The coalition forces eventually want the army to number 130,000. They should be thinking even bigger: These men-not Americans, NATO troops, or former warlords-represent the future security of Afghanistan. "Success," in Afghanistan, more so than in Iraq, largely depends on how fast and how well we can train them.
True, most of what goes on at the training center is pretty basic-how to shoot, how to carry out commands. But they don't object to fighting in principle, as many Iraqis did; they see the army as a step up in life, which many Iraqis didn't. There are "advanced" courses for officers. Potentially more important, anyway, is what we would call the army's program of civic education. Like it or not, the Afghan army instructors are in a position to teach soldiers something that no other Afghan institution has yet proved able to impart: national identity. Generally speaking, if you want people to obey their country's laws, it helps for them to feel some allegiance to the state that has devised them. A powerful, admired, multiethnic army-Tajiks, Hazars, Pashtuns, Uzbeks, and others-could help create a more compelling, nonpartisan, civic Afghan identity, which other citizens will also want to defend. Nation-building through military service has been tried before-Turkey comes to mind-and some of the time it works.
There are other reasons we should try harder to enlarge the responsibilities of the Afghan army. The cacophony of languages in Afghanistan, the complex ethnic structure, and the harsh geography all have made Afghanistan notoriously difficult to control for several centuries. Yet when Washington worked through allies-with the mujahideen in the 1980s or the Northern Alliance in 2001-we were far more successful. At the moment, by contrast, the number of civilians killed by U.S. military bombing grows exponentially from year to year, largely because of confusion about what constitutes a Taliban meeting and what constitutes a wedding. Those who know the languages and culture are less likely to make fatal mistakes.
In an ideal world, of course, it would be far better if the Afghan government were able to play the role of national unifier and if Hamid Karzai had become a beloved, nonpartisan president. But it hasn't, and he didn't. The government's bureaucrats are ill-prepared, often corrupt. Elected officials are rarely better. If we use our new "surge" to improve the Afghan army, on the other hand, expanding its role in the south and on the border, it could eventually provide basic security in most of the country. It could also create an institution that Afghans of all ethnic backgrounds admire-assuming it doesn't turn authoritarian or corrupt in the meantime. Still, it's not like we have a choice. The Afghan army may not be our best ticket out of Afghanistan, but it's the only one we've got.
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Gulag: A History
Nearly 30 million prisoners passed through the Soviet Union's labor camps in their more than 60 years of operation. This remarkable volume, the first fully documented history of the gulag, describes how, largely under Stalin's watch, a regulated, centralized system of prison labor-unprecedented in scope-gradually arose out of the chaos of the Russian Revolution. Fueled by waves of capricious arrests, this prison labor came to underpin the Soviet economy. JWR's Applebaum, a former Warsaw correspondent for the Economist and a regular contributor to the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post, draws on newly accessible Soviet archives as well as scores of camp memoirs and interviews with survivors to trace the gulag's origins and expansion Sales help fund JWR.
Comment on JWR contributor Anne Applebaum's column by clicking here.
01/27/09:Why some foreigners can't believe Obama won the presidency fair and square
01/20/09: A Flight Test for All of Us
01/14/09: Europe's New Cold War
01/07/09: Pointless Peace Proposals
12/30/08: The magnificent rhetorical legacy of the Founding Fathers
12/23/08: Do riots in Athens portend demonstrations in Paris and Cincinnati?
12/16/08: Breach of Trust: Bernard Madoff's massive fraud will cripple American capitalism
12/09/08: In praise of charismatic politicians
12/03/08: Moscow's Empire of Dust
11/20/08: Getting Past Mythmaking In Georgia
11/12/08: In Praise of Political Rock Stars
10/03/08: Election Day myths you must resist
09/30/08: Not just a metaphor: Lehman Brothers was economic's 9/11
09/04/08: Class of '64
08/28/08: Did Hillary really help the Barack cause?
08/27/08: Show of Power, Indeed
08/19/08: What Is Russia Afraid Of?
08/13/08: When China Starved
08/11/08: Two of the world's rising powers are strutting their stuff
08/05/08: How Alexander Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag Archipelago changed the world
07/29/08:The Hour of Europe Tolls Again … But are European politicians up to the task?
07/15/08: Why Does Obama Want To Campaign in Berlin?
07/01/08: Citizen Athletes: How did a guy who can't speak Polish end up scoring Poland's only goal of Euro 2008?
06/24/08: Why do we expect presidential candidates to be kind?
06/17/08: Pity the Poor Eurocrats
06/12/08: Is the World Ready for a Black American President?
05/28/08: The Busiest Generation: America seems to value its children's status and achievements over their happiness
05/20/08: Leave Hitler Out of It: The craze for injecting the Nazis into political debate must end
05/13/08: A Drastic Remedy: The case for intervention in Burma
05/07/08: A Warning Shot From Moscow?
04/23/08: Radio to stay tuned to
04/17/08: China learns the price of a few weeks of global attention
04/01/08: Head scarves are potent political symbols
03/26/08: The Olympics are the perfect place for a protest
03/19/08: Could Tibet bring down modern China?
03/12/08: Have political autobiographies made us more susceptible to fake memoirs?
03/05/08: Why does Russia bother to hold elections?
02/20/08: Kosovo is a textbook example of the law of unintended consequences
02/06/08: A Craven Canterbury Tale
02/06/08: French prez' whirlwind romance reminds voters of his political recklessness
© 2008, Anne Applebaum