TCS Daily

A Good Occupation

By Dale Franks - July 16, 2002 12:00 AM

The assassination of Afghani Vice President Haji Abdur Qadir in broad daylight has cast doubt on the ability of peacekeeping forces to protect key ministers. Indeed, it has bought into question whether the Turkish-led peacekeeping forces are accomplishing anything of long-term strategic value, especially since they only operate in the Kabul area. There is, after all, a whole country outside of Kabul, and it is still prone to the same sort of tribal conflicts that that appear to be responsible for taking the life of Mr. Qadir.

In addition to the peacekeepers in Kabul, there are an additional 7,000 or so US troops in Afghanistan. Those troops, however, are not engaged in security or peacekeeping operations, but rather in rooting out the remaining Taliban and Al-Qaida cells in the countryside. That is certainly an important -- and dangerous -- job. But it is not the only job to be done.

President Bush, of course, is famously uncomfortable with the idea of nation building. But there is a responsibility that one implicitly agrees to shoulder when one undertakes to eliminate a country's government, as we did with the Taliban.

The United States has a duty to do what it can to increase the security and stability of the new central government. But it is equally important to ensure that such security and stability is extended to the remainder of the country as well. At some point, peacekeeping operations must be expanded, and the number of peacekeepers drastically enlarged. If our allies are unwilling, then we must be the ones who do it.

Of course, strategic, as well as humanitarian purposes would be served by doing so. There seems to be a bipartisan consensus in Congress that that the current situation in Afghanistan runs the risk, as Senator Evan Bayh put it, "that the gains we made during the war could be lost by an insufficient peace." It would be a shame if Afghanistan fell apart in tribal conflict similar to that which occurred in the aftermath of the Soviet pullout. Moreover, it would be a strategic disaster for the US if Afghanistan were to come under the control of another Taliban-like government because of the Bush Administration's distaste for nation building.

We should not fool ourselves into thinking that this is the last time the question will come up during the War on Terror, either. The President is looking at removing the government of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, even if substantial military force is required. Is it wise to assume that this can be accomplished without requiring a significant American presence in the country afterward?

In World War II it was clearly understood that a successful conclusion to the war did not just mean the military defeat of the aggressor nations on the battlefield. It also meant the occupation of those nations, and the willingness to spend years re-creating them as tolerant, democratic societies. Indeed, US forces occupied Japan and Germany for longer than it took to fight the actual war. The result of that occupation, however, was the transformation of aggressive, totalitarian states into peaceful, liberal democracies. If we wish to see a similar result in Afghanistan or Iraq, then we must be also willing to bear an equal burden.

This requires that a number of tasks be undertaken. For example, peacekeeping operations must be extended to cover the entire country. An indigenous national army must be trained and equipped to take over security and peacekeeping operations when it is able. Police and security forces must also be trained and equipped, as must civil and judicial officials.

Naturally, this will be dangerous, and we should not blind ourselves to the fact that it will extract a price in blood and treasure. American soldiers will die on peacekeeping missions against tribal warlords. Despite our best efforts to prevent it, American officials will face the prospect of ambushes or bombings by disgruntled fanatics. But we cannot allow ourselves to be deterred by fear of the cost if we expect to create stable, tolerant governments in place of those totalitarian states we eliminate.

We must also remember at all times the unpleasant strategic prospects that await us if we leave the job half finished. Our experience with Iraq is most instructive on this point. It does little good to inflict a massive military defeat on an enemy, if the end result means that we have to repeat it a decade later. Our only hope of preventing such an outcome is to do the hard and dangerous work of nation-building now.

The author is a former career soldier, and is the publisher of "The Review".

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