Obama has finally decided on a surge: of 30,000 new soldiers in Afghanistan. Says Obama in his speech to his soldiers,

it is in our vital national interests to send an additonal 30,000 troops to Afghanistan.

If the only new boots that arrive in Kabul are military, then it is the wrong sort of surge. This ‘vital national interest’ gives the surge, and entire war, an imperial colour, and that is a problem. In the long term, the only people who can defeat terrorism in Afghanistan are Afghans themselves – Not Karzai, not his paid soldiers, but the Afghan villagers, tribesmen, town-dwellers… If every ‘terrorist’ in the mountain were exterminated by this new surge of soldiers, the next crop will be raised from the very streets through which the victorious soldiers will march home.

Just add guns and the ferment will start again.

The US will spend $30 bn on the war this year. If a quarter of the total expenditure on the war had been invested in civil society, Al Qaeda will struggle to find a foothold again. Eight years was enough time to have begun the empowerment of civil society. That time has been largely squandered in a narrow military war and in propping up a corrupt, unpopular, government.

Imperial armies march on the vital national interests of their home governments. They leave behind quisling goverments whose primary qualification is loyalty to the metropolis. The record of the west in this regard is abysmal. Mobutu Sese Seko and his African cohort of leaders were installed and maintained in power for decades – so long as they served the trade and security interests of the  west. Obama cannot count on a placid society here.

This obssession with a timetable for pulling out of Afghanistan is misguided. It betrays a politician’s fixation with poll figures and popularity. There are still American soldiers in ‘occupied’ Japan and Germany, fifty years after the end of the second World War. Yet, it is not an issue (at least in America) because these former enemy countries no longer send bodybags home to the USA. The proper obsession should be on ending casualties, both Iraqi and American alike. – and if this means talking to the Taliban, so be it.

Obama ought to get properly into bed with Karzai. Good governance should be delivered to the Afghans with the same accuracy, ferocity and determination that bombs and bullets are delivered to Al Qaeda. It is pedantic to preach national sovereignity when it comes to saving lives and trample it under tank  tracks when it comes to taking lives.

So by all means get the military work done, but DO NOT neglect the surge in engineers, in teachers, in architects; in hospitals, in schools, in marketplaces… The death of Saddam did not pacify Iraq, neither will Bin Ladin’s Afghanistan. The war in Afghanistan is not just a war against terrorism, it is also a war of ideologies, of lifestyles. It is the responsibility of the Allies, with appropriate cultural sensitivity, to so midwife an improvement in the lives of the majority of Afghans that THEY will withstand the ideologues of the Taliban when they resurface (as resurface they will).

Otherwise, all Obama would have achieved by his latest announcement is a surge in body bags, flying stateside.

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