By Judd Gregg - 05/02/11 10:25 AM EDT
It is time to depart Afghanistan. Nine years is enough. This is not western Europe in the post-World War II world. It is not even South Korea, which we should also be departing after 60 years.
Afghanistan should never have been about building a nation, since there has never been a buildable nation there. It was about delivering a message that we could project power halfway around the world in a manner to destroy those who would harbor or support terrorist groups that target America.
This effort was brilliantly executed by our military and intelligence community. Unfortunately, we then got offtrack and tried to build a “stable” and “properly” governed nation.
In Afghanistan the same case cannot be made. Our national interests in this region are significant, especially as they relate to Pakistan and India, but it is difficult to see how the tremendous expense in lost lives and resources in Afghanistan will ever produce a stable government and that such a government will ever be able to limit the influence of the ethnic and tribal forces there.
This is a country where the Gross National Product is less than that of the state of Rhode Island. It is a place where the only significant, viable export is an illegal product, opium.
We have made the point that we can deliver power there in a manner that should cause any succeeding ruling group to think at some length about whether there is a net benefit to tolerating terrorists who wish to attack America.
Now is the time to move on. We have other concerns in the world that should weigh much more heavily in favor of our involvement. One of them is next door, in Pakistan.
Pakistan is deteriorating rapidly as an ally. Our role in Afghanistan may affect that, but one can argue that it is as much an accelerant of this deterioration as it is a point of stability.
We know that if we could in some way assist in bringing a level of rapprochement between Pakistan and India, it would be the most significant thing we could do to improve the region.
Pakistan’s future is critical to us and our national concerns as to the harboring of terrorist groups who wish to do us harm, possibly by even using a weapon of mass destruction.
We have not yet found an effective policy in this region. It has to be fairly obvious that we are playing on the wrong field when we commit such a massive amount of human resources and wealth to Afghanistan with little likelihood that we will produce a significantly more stable long-term situation.
The time has come to acknowledge that permanent boots on the ground there as a nation-building policy is not working and will not work. We need to re-orient our efforts towards Pakistan and India.
The key to this re-orientation is to try to help the forces of rule of law and democracy in Pakistan, which have a strong history and our considerable support.
Pakistan also has a massive fundamentalist movement and numerous significant terrorist organizations functioning as part of its culture. Some of these were created by the Pakistani-established power structure and are still probably under its influence.
There is and will be an ongoing struggle for control of the people and governing institutions between these numerous groups. We cannot have a great deal of direct impact on this, but we can give significant support to the forces that will be more likely to stand on the side of democratic governance.
The best way to accomplish this is to continue to work as mediator, lessening the deep distrust and dislike between India and Pakistan.
If this tension can be reduced in a definitive and calibrated way, then much of the energy, personnel and funds that are absorbed by this confrontation can be moved to better purposes, such as countering the terrorist activity within Pakistan. This does not require American soldiers on the ground.
It will require aggressive diplomacy and considerable assistance to assure any agreements that might lead to a lessening of the tension. The price would be cheap compared to what we are spending in Afghanistan and the results, if even marginally successful, could dramatically and positively impact our own security.
Judd Gregg is a former governor and three-term senator from New Hampshire who served as chairman and ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee and also as ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Foreign Operations Subcommittee.