Thursday, August 14, 2008

Afghanistan and triage?

People write less about Afghanistan because everyone's largely in agreement that the war is just and the ends are worthy, and so it's interesting and a bit refreshing to see this analysis in today's New York Times. The author, whose name is Bartle Breese Bull (really, that is his name: I'm insanely jealous. I want my name to be Bartle Breese Bull) argues that a "surge" in Afghanistan is a bad idea, because our goal shouldn't be occupying the country, but rather to simply disrupt terrorist havens and thwart terrorism overall. To that end, very little of what went on for 9/11 happened in Afghanistan itself, he points out. And counterterrorism requires far less troops than we have there now, he claims. He also dismisses other arguments as irrelevant or counterproductive (stopping poppy growers, developing a "moderate Islam," etc.).

To his argument, I'll lend one more: development in Afghanistan is demographically impossible. Afghanistan's population has tripled in the last 50 years or so, from 8 million to some 25 million. It's due to soar to nearly 80 million by 2050, a 10-fold increase in a century. For a mountainous, landlocked, arid country with limited arable land and very little in the way of natural resources and no reliable means of income apart from poppy cultivation, Afghanistan is careening towards a Malthusian abyss. It may simply not be worth the money we are pouring into the country to stop what, at this point, can pretty much not be stopped.

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