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Afghanistan's Challenges Show the Limits of U.S. Military Power

February 7, 2013 in Foreign Policy

By Malou Innocent

Malou Innocent

Foreign policy elites on both sides of the aisle continually
advocate America’s leadership role for the sake of spreading
democracy. In doing so, they inflate their foresight and ignore the
uncomfortable fact that despite the best efforts, America’s
military and civilian establishments have faced enormous difficulty
repairing fragile states emerging from civil conflict. Bipartisan
conventional wisdom has created a system that fails to appreciate
the limits of America’s power, as demonstrated in Afghanistan.

Most policy planners are inherently ambitious. Demanding that
they restrain those ambitions overlooks why they reached their
positions of power in the first place. But the subject of war and
peace requires honest assessments of the likelihood that foreign
policy planners can achieve what they promise. Such sober
reflection is noticeably absent in foreign policy debates,
especially when they link America’s interests and the spread of

President Barack Obama has claimed that “we
protect our own freedom and prosperity by extending it to others.”
President George W. Bush declared in his 2002
National Military Strategy of the United States that “we will
actively work to bring the hope of democracy, development, free
markets, and free trade to every corner of the world.”
Neoconservative scholar Michael Ledeen went even further, saying after the disastrous invasion of Iraq that “the
best democracy program ever invented is the U.S. Army.” But in the
one region where America’s beneficence of peace would seem to
matter most, Afghanistan, foreign-policy planers have lost either
their ability or their willingness to spread it.

Elites in
Washington should question their assumptions about militarism’s
ostensibly linear connection to democracy and

The coalition, to its credit, has to some extent diminished the areas under insurgent influence
and the ability of insurgents to attack the population. But
progress remains uneven. According to the Pentagon, while enemy-initiated attacks from April
through September 2012 have decreased over the corresponding period
from the previous year in the capital, the attacks in relatively
quiet Regional Command North and Regional Command West increased by
28 percent and 44 percent respectively. Meanwhile, insider attacks
have “steadily risen since 2008” and “increased sharply in 2012,”
while Afghan Security Forces of undetermined fortitude may undo
whatever security gains have been made. Those dismal findings
should encourage elites in Washington to question their assumptions
about militarism’s ostensibly linear connection to democracy and

As a December 2012 Pentagon report to Congress stated bluntly, “The Taliban-led insurgency remains
adaptive and determined… The insurgency also retains a
significant regenerative capacity.” After decades of ruling though
fear and intimidation, as well as swift and brutal justice, …read more
Source: OP-EDS  

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