Tuesday, December 8, 2009

2024: An Afghan Odyssey

Though it's quite dubious that Karzai himself will be in power fifteen years from now, that didn't stop Afghanistan's corrupt president from predicting that Afghanistan would not be able to pay for its own military operations until 2024.

Asked how long he would depend on NATO allies for support in pacifying the country, Karzai responded, "For another 15 to 20 years, Afghanistan will not be able to sustain a force of that nature and capability with its own resources.”

The comment was strange for a couple of reasons. First, there seemed little harm in giving a far shorter timetable, since no one in the press bothers following up on political timetables. Second, predicting what will be happening in Afghanistan fifteen to twenty years from now is completely unreasonable given not only the turmoil that has taken place there in the last two decades, but because of how dramatically things could shift in Pakistan or the United States. Most basically, it is very difficult to measure how much maintaining such an army would cost, since we have not achieved that goal yet. We can't even control all of Afghanistan with OUR OWN troops. Finally, while the New York Times took the comment to suggest that Karzai would need our cash for decades to come, "resources" can mean different things to different people. Worth clarifying that he will not need NATO military support for another 15-20 years.

If anything, this was a desperate cry for help. Karzai was basically promising that as long as he will be in power, his government will be impoverished and incompetent. Secretary Gates responded to Karzai's comments by noting that an economically stabilized Afghanistan would not have the need for such a large military force, which is true in theory. The problem is that Afghanistan will be dirt poor for decades, probably forever, unless they get massive oil pipeline revenues. In poor countries, the military is a steady paying job that will always be high in demand. Correspondingly, it will be high in supply, as poor countries like North Korea and Pakistan can feel militarily muscular and address huge unemployment problems in one fell swoop.

An inopportune comment from Karzai, who is so shady that you must always speculate about the motives behind what he says. Hmmm.............

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