Thursday, October 1, 2009

Obama, Gorbachev and Afghanistan

In the New Yorker's "Think Tank" blog, Steve Coll argues that President Obama's emerging Afghanistan policy is starting to look a lot like an earlier one - no not "the Surge" strategy from Iraq, but rather former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's 1980s plan on getting the Soviets out of what has come to be seen as "their Vietnam."

Gorbachev's strategy was to fight insurgents along the Afghan/Pakistan border, move Soviet troops into the major cities, try to put an "Afghan" face on military operations in the countryside and to reach out to elements among the insurgents open to negotiation (now doesn't all of that sound familiar?).

Coll goes on to say that Gorbachev had a bigger vision than just getting the Soviets out of an unpopular, costly war; he hoped to push for a global solution to the regional problem of instability in South Asia - Gorbachev wanted to have the United Nations lead talks aimed at stabilizing governments in Afghanistan and Pakistan that would isolate Islamic extremists. And who was opposed to such a reasonable idea? The United States, which continued to support the mujaheddin in Afghanistan against the government of Soviet ally President Najibullah. And the rest is history: Najibullah was deposed, a civil war among mujaheddin warlords wracked Afghanistan for most of the 1990s clearing the way for the Taliban to take power and eventually turn the country into al-Qaeda's safe haven.

Things could have turned out so much differently...
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