Cordesman on Afghanistan and more

The latest by Anthony Cordesman weighs whether the Afghan war is worth it. Pretty strong stuff from this establisment commentator:

The current situation is the product of more than eight years of chronic under-resourcing, under-reaction, spin, self-delusion and neglect. It is the result of one of the worst examples of wartime leadership in American history.

Although he ends up doing what every serious expert on Afghanistan seems to have done so far: say that it's "too close to call" to decide to pull out. That kind of hedging seems dangerous, purely from the strategic standpoint either there has to be full commitment or a pullout, halfway measures have been a big part of the problem. I am very troubled by his conclusion that accepts that the US should be some kind of global nation-builder:

This is not likely to be a century of confrontations between Western powers fighting conventional wars on their own territory. It is almost certain to be a century where the US must learn to fight irregular wars and exercises in armed nation building whether it likes it or not. If nothing else, the case for the war in Afghanistan may be that it is the prelude to an almost inevitable future. 

More maintaining of empire where such things could be more easily handled by the region's own powers. Has the US not wasted enough money yet on neoconservative pipe dreams? I'd rather repair bridges in Minneapolis and increase funding to California's state universities.

The report also has this intringuing line touching on the Arab world:

Moreover, it is time to stop demonizing Bin Laden and Al Qa’ida and focus on the broader threat. Massive population increases, poverty, decaying educational and social infrastructure, culture shock and alienation, and failed secularism affect far too much of the Islamic world. Yemen and Somalia are only the two worst cases, and some form of extremist and terrorist threat is likely to be a regional constant for the next two decades –regardless of whether the US and its allies win or lose in Afghanistan. Moreover, the trade-offs involved do raise serious questions abouthether the same – or a much lower – investment in helping key allies like Egypt, Jordan, and Morocco would do far more to provide overall security.

I must say that, aside from not being sure what "failed secularism" is, I am a bit troubled by this view of these countries at strategic bulwarks of stability in a troubled region — especially considering what Western-backed stability has meant for these countries in the last few decades.

Also my doubts about Cordesman have grown since reading Norman Finkelstein's takedown of his reporting on the Gaza War in This Time We Went Too Far. Still, this is an interesting — and alarming — establishment point of view.

Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.