Jihad Watch : Experts “who examined the Afghan security issue closely have no doubt
that the United States could have brought true stability to Afghanistan
with a larger force, could have made the return of the Taliban and the
terrorists virtually impossible.” So assured high-ranking National
Security Council veteran Richard Clarke in his controversial 2004 book, Against All Enemies: Inside America’s War on Terror, with a certainty that seems absurd after 20 years of America’s Afghanistan debacle.
Clarke criticized limited American deployments after 9/11 to
Afghanistan, where the country’s Taliban rulers had allowed Al Qaeda
terrorists to establish bases from which to wage global jihad.
Therefore, after the Taliban quickly fell to an American-led coalition,
the “new Afghan government of President Hamid Kharzi was given little authority outside the capital city of Kabul,” Clarke wrote. He bewailed a supposedly lost
opportunity to end the factional fighting and impose an
integrated national government. Yet after initial efforts to unite the
country, American interest waned and the warlords returned to their old
ways. Afghanistan was a nation raped by war and factional fighting for
twenty years. It needed everything rebuilt, but in contrast to funds
sought for Iraq, U.S. economic and development aid to Afghanistan was
inadequate and slowly delivered.
a “career diplomat and expert on military and security issues,”
highlighted for Clarke the limited American resources in Afghanistan.
Dobbins had “worked on rebuilding Somalia, Haiti, Kosovo, and Bosnia. In
2001, he began similar work on Afghanistan,” Clarke explained. He
recalled from Dobbins’ comparisons that “in the first two years of the
Bosnia and Kosovo rebuilding efforts, funds available totaled $1,390 and
$814 per capita” in contrast to merely $52 in Afghanistan.
Clarke also critiqued American support for Afghan security forces:
The goal the Pentagon approved was only a 4,800-man
Afghan national army by 2004. Some regional warlords count their
strength at ten thousand men under arms. The initial units of the new
force were trained by the U.S. but we soon stopped support and
supervision. Many of the new recruits departed the force, taking their
equipment with them.
Meanwhile the Taliban presented real jihadist threats in Afghanistan, Clarke noted, in contrast to claims
that the Taliban remained fundamentally distinct from Al Qaeda. The
Taliban showed “effectively little difference between their leadership
and that of al Qaeda,” he wrote:
Taliban leaders, including Mullah Omar,
completely agreed with bin Laden and al Qaeda’s goals. There were
stories of intermarriage between the bin Laden and Omar families. There
were also economic, military, and political ties that were inviolable.
Yet the fragility of the Taliban’s Afghan opponents concerned Clarke,
who had advocated before 9/11 American military aid to the Northern Alliance based in Afghanistan’s Panjshir Valley and led by Ahmad Shah Masoud:
I had tried to argue that the U.S. work harder to fight
against the Taliban in its civil war in Afghanistan. The Northern
Alliance still held sway over a third of the country but provinces
switched sides as a result of combat or cash, and much of the combatants
and all of the cash came from bin Laden to help the Taliban. It was
only a matter of time before the Alliance crumbled.
Clarke also worried that Masoud, whom Al Qaeda assassinated
two days before 9/11 in a suicide bombing, was no liberal saint,
whatever his hatred of the Taliban. “Massoud was a good guy now, but
later the Congress, or the media, or some other White House staff would
focus on the fact that he sold opium, abused human rights, and had
killed civilians,” Clarke wrote.
Over $2.3 trillion
spent, and 2,400 American war dead, in Afghanistan since 9/11,
Americans have learned only too well about the weaknesses of Afghan
leadership. As he himself indicated, rival warlords and ethnic groups in
a culture dominated by sharia supremacism make any attempt to install a stable, pro-Western government in Afghanistan a fool’s errand. Any Western development aid here will usually only buy temporary support from mercenary, corrupt Afghan leaders.
Only more limited strategies to contain Taliban threats in
Afghanistan ever made any sense, such as Clarke’s realpolitik
willingness to support the Northern Alliance. Yet he surprisingly
departed in Afghanistan from his criticism of President George W. Bush’s
overly ambitious nation-building project in Iraq. A strident opponent
of the Iraq war, Clarke rejected that “calls from Washington for
democratization in the Arab world help if such calls originate from a
leader who is trying to impose democracy on an Arab country at the point
of an American bayonet.” How his Afghanistan policy recommendations
involved any fewer American bayonets than in Iraq remained unexplained.
By contrast, Clarke did provide an insightful account of the various
strategic quandaries that challenged American policymakers in
confronting Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein over decades, as a future
article will examine. Although Clarke expressed longstanding desires to
remove Hussein, Clarke favored more limited leadership alterations in
Iraq rather than Bush’s grand regime change. As Clarke’s own writings on
Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have indicated, political progress in Muslim-majority countries must proceed cautiously to have any chance of success.