Merchant of Death
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Afghanistan Gets Harder and Harder
The prospect of building a successful strategy in Afghanistan is getting more and more complicated. The government of Kyrgyzstan is going to close a key resupply center, the Manas Air base-largely, it seems, at the instigation of the Russians. (Guess whose side Russia is on?)

The broad policy reassessment underway seems to point to retreat on governance issues and an emphasis on the military hunt for the Taliban.

Obama said Tuesday night in an interview with NBC News' Brian Williams that there is already "convergence between myself and the Joint Chiefs and my national security team about what we have to do." Obama added that "there's a shared view that Afghanistan is getting worse, not getting better."

"Afghanistan is really hard," Obama told NBC. "And we're going to have to bring all the elements of American power to bear in order to solve the problems."

The Joint Chiefs' plan reflects growing worries that the U.S. military was taking on more than it could handle in Afghanistan by pursuing the Bush administration's broad goal of nurturing a thriving democratic government.

This could be recognition of reality-we do not have the time and resources to do a multi-pronged approach.

But it would be shortsighted, because the Karzai government as made such a hash of things through its tolerance of and participation in mass corruption and abuse. The Taliban, my sources there say, is not popular at all. But the situation is bad enough that they are actually viewed as the lesser of the two evils available to govern. And that is damning indeed.

Plans to roll out U.S.-armed tribal militias also appears to be foundering, with little popular support. The one indication it is a good idea is that the Taliban seem to be so opposed to it.

It is clear, as my colleague Daveed Gartenstein-Ross noted that the groups would depend on strong leadership, perceived to be fair and non-abusive to the local population, not on a leadership picked by the outside world. For much of the time since 2001 the U.S. has gone along with Karzai's decision to appoint some of the country's worst thugs and warlords as leaders around the country, feeding the cycle of violence.

And the Swat Valley in Pakistan remains in Taliban hands despite Pakistani government efforts to retake the region.

Swat is not the tribal backlands.

Until two years ago, Swat was a jewel in the crown of Pakistani tourism, frequented by foreign and local holiday-makers escaping to the mountains for skiing in winter or more refreshing climes in the punishing heat of summer.
But the area descended into chaos in mid-2007 after radical cleric Maulana Fazlullah embarked on a terrifying campaign to enforce a Taliban-style Sharia law, prompting thousands of people to flee.

With all the other things going on in the world and all the resource demands that exist, it is not at all clear the new administration will have the time and focus to deal with the situation, which is in a downward spiral.

But one thing is clear. If we don't get Afghanistan (and Pakistan) right, we will pay a heavy price, although not as heavy as the Afghan people.

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