The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

And The Winner Is?

May 27, 2014

Obviously, too soon to tell.  But with the new Obama announcement setting an enddate-ish, my nominee might just be:
Pakistan.  Pakistan got to have heaps of aid despite spending the entire time subverting American/NATO efforts in Afghanistan.  Much American, Canadian, British, Danish, French, Germany, Dutch, Aussie (and others) blood is on Pakistan’s hands.

Who else?  

  • Afghan kleptocrats or whatever you want to call those who enriched themselves and sent pallets of $ to Dubai.
  • Russia and other authoritarian states through which the effort flowed.  Much money spent along the way, much leverage by US and others lost along the way as dependence on non-Pakistan lines of communication grew.
  • India?  Maybe as Pakistan focused more to the north and least to the East. Plus everything that Pakistan did made India much more attractive as a South Asia partner.
  • Iran.  A distracted, exhausted US is good for business.
  • China. Distracted US, got heaps of influence in the region. May end up mining Afghan stuff if they can figure out how to get it out of the country.

Who lost?

  •  The dead and the wounded.  Not as bloody as past wars but absolutely brutal to those who participated.  The upside is our ability to save soldiers’ lives is pretty amazing.  But it does mean that we have many utterly devastated people who will need lifetime care.
    • And the Afghans who survived are not likely to get such care.

The gray in between:

  • The Afghans either go here or in the lost category.  They are no longer governed by the Taliban and that can only be a good thing.  The governments since have been corruptly rapacious and rapaciously corrupt, but they did not engage in the mass killings, the political oppression, the denial of health services, etc.  But ISAF did not provide the safe and secure environment that was their aim.
  • NATO: Everyone showed up, but with different rules, paying a high price for a mixed effort.  The alliance did show up when its leader was attacked.  It was not easy at any point, but the alliance managed to learn and do better as things went along.
    • The challenges in fighting together were not much when compared to the challenges of building governance and development together.  Coordinating the PRTs and coordinating with the Afghanistan government was always a big problem that never got fixed.
  • The U.S.  Once again, it showed a willingness to pay a significant price for a place it really did not care about.

Much is gray because the war is not over and we really don’t know what Afghanistan will look like in five or ten years.  I was asked this by a reporter today:

When our grandkids ask us, “Who won that
war?”…. what will we tell them?

My answer: they will know better then than we do now.
What am I missing or am I wrong?

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Steve Saideman is Professor and the Paterson Chair in International Affairs at Carleton University’s Norman Paterson School of International Affairs. He has written The Ties That Divide: Ethnic Politics, Foreign Policy and International Conflict; For Kin or Country: Xenophobia, Nationalism and War (with R. William Ayres); and NATO in Afghanistan: Fighting Together, Fighting Alone (with David Auerswald), and elsewhere on nationalism, ethnic conflict, civil war, and civil-military relations.