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What Happens If We Leave Afghanistan?

Last week Via Meadia took up a question that it seems high time to mull over: What will Afghanistan look like when America leaves?

Extending this question beyond Afghanistan to all of Greater Central Asia, Rajan Menon has taken a crack at an answer in The American Interest. The results are far from heartening. A weak Afghan regime with little legitimacy is in a poor condition to face the numerous tribal militias that threaten to destabilize the status-quo. The state of mutual distrust between the slew of various tribal and ethnic groups with in the country threatens to further destabilize the situation—especially given that many of these ethnic groups spill over into neighboring states, which could find themselves dragged in to Afghan conflicts against their will. In addition, India, Pakistan, China, Russia, and Iran all have interests—often competing—in Afghanistan, and are likely to jockey for influence within the weak country, which could potentially become the focal point for violent great-and-medium power conflict in Central Asia:

India, not eager for the United States to leave Afghanistan, is likely to be Washington’s principal local partner once the United States seeks to influence outcomes there under the new circumstances created by military disengagement. Pakistan will be ambivalent as the 2014 deadline nears: It stands to lose significant U.S. aid, but it will gain a freer hand in Afghanistan. It may also find that detaching itself from America’s war takes some wind out of extremists’ sails. Russia, China and Iran will be pleased to see the large American military deployment on their flanks end. Together with Pakistan, they have opposed the retention of American bases in Afghanistan after the pullout. They, too, however, will be anxious about the aftermath.

Two things make the impending competition especially dangerous. Afghanistan, already unstable, is likely to become more so, and the reverberations will course through Greater Central Asia. Moreover, the states in this zone have no record of working together collectively, nor do they have a regional forum they can use to break this pattern. (The Shanghai Cooperation Organization cannot serve this purpose because India, Iran and Pakistan are not full members, and China will balk at giving India a bigger role; nor can the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, which includes Afghanistan, India and Pakistan, but not China, Iran or Russia.) India and Russia have long had compatible aims in Afghanistan, and Iran’s goals in Afghanistan overlap with theirs, but this alone will not provide a basis for wider collective action so long as India, Pakistan and China lack common interests and mutual trust. Ultimately, the consequences of the competition will depend on whether post-American Afghanistan acquires a government with the stability and savvy to do what its predecessors have adeptly done over the past two centuries: preserving national independence by manipulating outsiders’ rivalry.

While no one can say definitively what will happen when we leave, one thing looks clear: It won’t be pretty.

Read the whole thing.

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  • Luke Lea

    No doubt if we pull out what we leave behind won’t be pretty. But what is there now isn’t pretty either. The real issue concerns our national interests in that part of the world, which look pretty slim to me. Russia, China, India, Iran, and Pakistan of course may not feel the same way, and from their point of view they may be right. So why not let them sort it out? Why should we spend our blood and our treasure on something that really doesn’t concern us very much? That’s the question I’d like to hear answered. And please don’t talk about Game.

  • Luke Lea

    In connection to Afghanisitan I’m reminded of that old serenity prayer. Remember it? God give us the strength and the courage to change those things which can be changed, the patience to accept those things which cannot be changed, and the wisdom to know the difference.

  • Walter Sobchak

    If we leave? No when we leave. they will continue to kill cook, and eat each other. If we are wise our only intervention will be to blow up all that fancy gear we gave the Pakistani military.

  • Luke Lea

    I’m also reminded of that old riddle about making mistakes. How does one avoid making mistakes? It takes judgment. How does one acquire judgment? From experience? How does one get experience? By making mistakes.

    Ten years in Afghanistan has been a learning experience. Or should be.

  • alex scipio

    What will Afghanistan look like after we leave?

    Who cares? Why?

    We shouldn’t still be there regardless.

    Yeah, we let it drift into a Taliban state after we helped the Taliban kick-out the USSR… so what? How they choose to govern themselves is their business. Look how Egypt now is deciding to govern ITself. Look how Iran chose in 1979. Islam is THE PROBLEM. And any idea that we can make modern, Western-liberal democracies out of ANY country or cohort in ANY muslim territory is just crazily ignorant.

    IF they decided to export their Dark Ages ideology.. THEN we need to stop them. But this nonsense of trading post-Enlightenment, Information Age VALUABLE lives for pre-enlightenment Dark Ages lives in infantry fights is just insanity of the highest order.

    Afghanistan is why we invented nuclear weapons. And the West had better (soon) figure out that we are not going to win the demogrpahic war, and that our civilization and culture ARE WORTH SAVING FROM THESE BARBARIANS.

    If they attack us again NUKE THEM. It isn’t as though there is ANYTHING of value in the mulism world. It isn’t as though ANYTHING in the muslim world is worth the life of ONE SINGLE AMERICAN.

    Time for the West to grow-up and act in its best interests, and acknowledge that, yeah, OUR best interests ARE more important than any other nation.

  • vanderleun

    In the end we’re just going to have to go with Kurtz’ policy in Heart of Darkness or the classic policy of “More rubble, less trouble.”

    Not this time, but….. we’ll be back.

  • alex scipio

    History shows us how to remake an enemy into a poltical, economic and military ally: Destroy them first. It worked in Germany and Italy and Japan. Who was a greater ally 20-yrs after-the-fact? 1938 Germany or 1965 Germany?

    It worked for Rome (read: Empires of Trust) And it’s always worked for America.

    How NOT to make an economic or military or political ally: Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan.

    If we really care about the citizens of a nation and want them to become wealthy and free, wage total war and destroy their government and infrastructure and accept civilian losses as you do. If you don’t care about the citizens of a nation, and don’t care if they remain in poverty and have neither freedom nor liberty, pretend to wage a police action and reject total war.

    History is REAL CLEAR on this. For unknown reasons, the West has decided that we can cajole tyrants into freedom. Why? Why would a group in complete charge of a people and economy ever give it up voluntarily? Answer: They NEVER do.

  • Silverfiddle

    What will Afghanistan look like when America leaves?

    In short, it will look like Afghanistan before we got there.

    It’s past time to cut sling.

  • Jacksonian Libertarian

    Afghanistan is even more backward, ignorant, and uncivilized, than Iraq and I don’t think Iraq will be able to hold on to the cultural advances America planted there, so Afghanistan is likely to devolve back almost to pre 9/11 conditions. All we can do is make sure the al-Qaeda training camps don’t return with drone attacks for as long as necessary after the boots on the ground are long gone.

  • Jimmy J.

    alex scipio,
    Very astute comment. As a Vietnam vet, I’ve always known that calibrated violence meant to reduce “collateral damage” just wastes blood and treasure. War, if it comes to that, should be waged totally with a goal of unconditional surrender.

    Afghanistan may seem far away, but when it returns to Taliban control, it will again be a preferred place for jihadi training and operations. Those who think leaving Afghanistan means the conflict is over are in denial. The Islamists will keep coming until they are either eliminated or reformed.

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