Thomas Friedman on Afghan Corruption

Changing the way we think about winning in Afghanistan

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Since the 2001 invasion, conventional wisdom on the war in Afghanistan has focused on routing the Taliban and exterminating Al Qaeda. But on Wednesday, Thomas Friedman argues that another front must be won before any progress can be made on terrorism. He argues that fixing the infamous corruption of President Hamid Karzai and his government in Kabul must be our top priority. Afghanistan's corruption makes stability impossible, he says, and alienates the Afghans who see the government as illegitimate, driving them into the arms of the Taliban. Friedman writes:

That is why it is not enough for us to simply dispatch more troops. If we are going to make a renewed commitment in Afghanistan, we have to visibly display to the Afghan people that we expect a different kind of governance from Karzai, or whoever rules, and refuse to proceed without it. It doesn’t have to be Switzerland, but it does have to be good enough — that is, a government Afghans are willing to live under. Without that, more troops will only delay a defeat.

I am not sure Washington fully understands just how much the Taliban-led insurgency is increasingly an insurrection against the behavior of the Karzai government — not against the religion or civilization of its international partners. And too many Afghan people now blame us for installing and maintaining this government.

Friedman proposes a new way of thinking about the path to success in Afghanistan, making a stable and legitimate state the top priority. If this becomes conventional wisdom -- and it appears to be gaining traction -- Friedman's column could mark the beginning of a new way of thinking about the war. Notably, Mother Jones's Kevin Drum, a prominent voice among left-wing liberals who see Afghanistan as "no-win," admitted that the column laid out a persuasive potential path to victory. "If Obama and McChrystal can come up with a truly plausible plan for stabilizing Afghanistan, I think I could gulp hard and support it," Drum wrote.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.