The latest news from Afghanistan reports that rioting over the inadvertent burning of Korans by U.S. forces has begun to wane, but that tensions remain high in the country. But the attacks on our forces should lead us to ask some serious questions about what we are doing there. We are clearly not in that country by popular demand.
The U.S. invaded Afghanistan because its government, such as it was, provided a base to Osama bin Laden and his al Qaida organization. Now, bin Laden is dead. Al Qaida is less of a coherent group than a name for amorphous anti-Western radicalism. We will not root out anti-American sentiment in Afghanistan, no matter how long we stay there. We prefer the corrupt regime of Hamid Karzai to that of the Taliban, but the extent of his control over the country is limited, even with our support. When we leave, as we will have to do sooner or later, Karzai will either be replaced by the Taliban or he will come to terms with them.
It is extremely unlikely that we can hope to leave a stable pro-American government in power, as we managed to do in West Germany and Japan following our occupation of those countries. Those European nations were state societies, run by governmental bureaucracies and populated by people accustomed to bureaucratic governance. After lopping off the objectionable leaderships, we could substitute them with leaders we found more congenial. Afghanistan is a tribal society. Even the ruthless Taliban could hold sway only in regions where they can coordinate with local leaders, and then only loosely. As the recent riots show, the Afghan version of Islam is not just a religious culture different from ours; it is a different social and political culture. In sum, we are not going to establish stability in Afghanistan. If we define victory as creating an order that will not collapse in turmoil as soon as we leave, then we are setting ourselves up for defeat.