What Simply Cannot Be Done


Steven Metz says a "civilian surge" is impossible:

We could belly up and provide the resources for a serious expeditionary civilian corps. But a few hundred or even a couple of thousand people is not enough. We would need many thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of advisers with linguistic skills and cultural knowledge willing to leave home and live under risky conditions for years at a time. And we are not talking about 20-somethings paid a pittance and fueled by idealism, but skilled professionals demanding serious pay for their expertise and sacrifice. (The difficulty that the State department had convincing even its hardened professionals to volunteer for duty in Iraq showed what a challenge this is.) Of course, if the pay is high enough, the experts will come. But, at a time of massive government budget deficits and a persisting national economic crisis, this is simply not in the cards.

What, then, is Plan B? If we are unwilling to pay the price for a serious civilian capability--and admit that foisting the job of development and political assistance on the military is a bad idea--the only option is to alter our basic strategy. We could find a way to thwart Al Qaeda and other terrorists without trying to re-engineer weak states. We could, in other words, get out of the counterinsurgency and stabilization business. This is not an attractive option and entails many risks. But it does reflect reality. Ultimately, it may be better than a strategy based on a capability that exists only in our minds.

This is my Tory fear: that there are some things that cannot be done. Ad there are certainly things that cannot be done when the imperial power is bankrupt. One of them is transforming Afghanistan into a place where al Qaeda will never be able to take sanctuary with Karzai as the head of government - and with an intervening power still there after eight years. We had a window. We blew it. Move on.