Nation-building in Afghanistan would have been a good idea in 1990 by mattsteinglass
February 24, 2009, 11:01 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Andrew Sullivan, in a measured defense of Reagan’s foreign policy, says that among the things he’d never have imagined about Reagan would be:

…that Reagan would believe that occupying and nation-building for a decade in Afghanistan and Iraq was a good idea.

Right — it’s pretty clear that Reagan wouldn’t have supported nation-building. Neither did George H.W. Bush. And that was the genesis of the Taliban. The US sponsored mujahedin armies who blew Afghanistan to pieces in a religious war against the Soviet-backed government, and then did nothing in the subsequent 12 years to rebuild the country. And so the place became a crazy mix of failed state and religious totalitarian dystopia, and one of our former mujahedin proxies used it as a base to launch a spectacular attack on New York.

The Reagan-Bush I approach to Afghanistan was pretty similar to the Bush II theory about Iraq (and, for that matter, Russia and other post-Communist states): if you blow apart the totalitarian government, a free-market democracy will naturally rise up to replace it. The problem with conservative governance in the Bush II era wasn’t an excessive commitment to nation-building. It was a utopian belief that nation-building is easy and happens of its own accord. There have been two moments when the US needed to make a substantial commitment to rebuilding Afghanistan, in 1990 and 2002, and presidents named Bush blew it both times.


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Cf. Mike Mullen on U.S. failure to work w/ Pakistan in wake of Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan:

Looking through that regional lens is difficult given our trust deficit with Pakistan. A whole generation of Pakistani military officers either doesn’t know the United States, doesn’t trust us or both. What they do know is that military aid restrictions went into effect under the Pressler Amendment in 1990. We basically cut them off for 12 years, and in the process cut ourselves off.

As one Pakistani official put it recently, “The U.S. abandoned Pakistan, and that mutual distrust didn’t allow and still in many ways does not allow both parties to find a common strategy to defeat terrorism.”

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