The discussions here of Afghanistan's Endless War have not only extended across boundaries, but also across time. This is because of my belief that the importance of Afghanistan cannot be understood unless the observer acquires a solid footing in the country's historical context as well as regional context. This of course holds true for many subjects of modern interest, but in the formulation and execution of strategy driven by governmental policies, we are constantly reminded of how easy it is to become beholden to any number or accumulation of short-sighted, narrow-minded tactical maneuvers aimed at winning the day rather than empowering our future.
Mr. Goodson writes with the foresight and wisdom of someone aimed at cultivating the empowerment of our future, including the future of Afghanistan, towards something worth creating for generations to come. This is why I cannot recommend this book enough as it relates to the current affairs of Afghanistan, and Chapter 6, simply titled "The Future of Afghanistan," does not disappoint in rounding off the previous chapters. Here, Mr. Goodson discusses the bedrock upon which a new Afghanistan must be laid, the required constitution of that bedrock, and how it must be cultivated and strengthened over time. He also steps back to clarify the lesson Afghanistan provides to the rest of the world in regards to failed states.
Laying the Bedrock of a New Afghanistan
Mr. Goodson explains in this chapter that Afghanistan's descent into state failure up through 2001 resulted in "the rise of society over the state" and that meant "the rise once again of the local community, or qawm." He follows that there are three key changes that must take place for "reintegration of the society and reconstruction of a functioning state to begin:"
- Widespread ethnic-based fighting must cease,
- A reasonably legitimate government must be established, and
- Normality must return to Afghanistan.
We can see from articles in the news reporting from Afghanistan starting just over a month ago that the effort and aim of U.S. forces and allies is first focused appropriately on #1, while paving the way for a parallel effort enabling #2 to take hold in cities like Marjah and more recently the larger population center of Kandahar:
- Feb 9: New Battles Test U.S. Strategy in Afghanistan
- Feb 9: U.S. Starts Afghan Surge
- Feb 13: Marjah's Long Game: Months of Patrols
- Feb 27: In Afghanistan, U.S. plans major push into Kandahar
- March 9: Afghanistan Coalition Looks Past Marjah
The goal of course is to ensure that efforts at succeeding with #1 and #2 result in #3--returning Afghanistan to normalcy. Mr. Goodson rightly points out not just the dangers facing this effort within Afghanistan but also the historically negative influence by neighboring countries that fueled conflict through 2001 and that continues today. He writes correctly that:
"No Afghan government will have any policy success or be able to rebuild the nation's shattered economy without outside support, so the role for outside actors of all sorts, but especially the United States, is crucial to the reintegration of Afghanistan."
Thus the importance of a clear, well executed regional strategy, as I have pointed out in discussions of previous chapters. It is not enough to simply create pockets of stability within Pakistan and retreat from the country and region--we must ensure that Afghanistan is left integrated with the global economy via those outside actors exporting the people, resources and knowledge aimed at building positive outcomes. This thinking is reinforced in a recent series of related blog posts by Dr. Tom Barnett:
- March 13: Can't get Afghanistan regionalized
- March 13: Bad developments for India in Afghanistan
- March 19: India and Russia growing nervous over Obama's Afghanistan strategy
- March 20: Obama's hurry to leave Afghanistan precludes strategic imagination
Failure to rebuild Afghanistan via the establishment of strong, sustainable links to the global economy may, as Mr. Goodson writes, "delay development in these regions for years to come and will certainly mean decades of continued neglect for Afghanistan."
An Example for All Failed States, For Better or For Worse
Where Mr. Goodson dives into discussion on failed states and their role in the 21st Century, he outlines the illustrates his prescience in understanding the key patterns developing in the world up through the summer of 2001, and what would take place since then through today. In essence, what he writes is what Dr. Barnett later mapped visually below in "The Pentagon's New Map":
Mr. Goodson starts his discussion making two key points: 1) that "state failure is not only a political phenomenon, a mere exercise in changing borders on maps. Subtler and harder-to-measure forms of social, cultural, and economic failure and dysfunction can occur within or aside from the existing political framework," and 2) "Third World state failure is a threat to security--perhaps the most important security issue facing the world early in the twenty-first century...While wars between major powers with large conventional forces are becoming less common, new security threats are emerging. If liberal democracy is indeed the ideology and form of government of Fukuyama's Last Man, and if pacific relationships among democracies are the norm, then the transitional countries from Second and Third Worlds will provide the security threats of the next century."
He goes on to summarize that states will either be constrained by integration or fragmentation (Barnett's connectivity and disconnectedness respectively), and that, lastly, the degree to which a state is in or near failure can be measured against the following four variables:
- Strength of the state--the stronger are less likely to fail
- Stability of the population--the more stable are less likely to fail
- Economic well-being of society--the stronger the economy, the less likelihood of failure
- Geostrategic position of the state--the greater the geostrategic importance, the less likelihood of failure
Prior to 9/11, Afghanistan had reached the point where its state was weak, population degraded, economy in shambles and geostrategic position on the back burner for the major powers. Once 9/11 struck the U.S., we saw its geostrategic position suddenly thrust back in the spotlight and now a tremendous amount of resources--some positive, some nefarious depending on their origin--flowing into the country in attempts to shape Afghanistan's future. For the sake of Afghanistan and the future of the world, our leaders must recognize and understand both the patterns of history and those patterns shaping the events of today, just as Mr. Goodson did in writing and publishing Afghanistan's Endless War.