Losing the game in Afghanistan

Charles Couger Contributor
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It’s called buzkashi, and it’s Afghanistan’s national sport. The game is simple enough: horses assemble on the side of a field, players cling to their horses with one hand, and grip their leather whip with the other. In the center of the field is a goat, lying in cold blood, with no head, covered in flies.

When the game begins, players charge the headless, dead, bloodied goat carcass with whip in hand, ready to mercilessly beat the daylights out of the first player who might manage to haul the goat carcass across the goal-line. The process continues: every time a player attempts to cross the goal line with the desecrated road kill, he gets swarmed by the players on the opposing team and is consequently beaten with whips.

But, besides being an abnormal version of soccer (subtract the ball and add horses and a decapitated goat), buzkashi is a powerful metaphor for the War in Afghanistan—and the underlying power struggle between Western and Eastern forces.

Lining up on the field are the two teams: America (along with their Western allies) and the Taliban. The goat: long-term control over Afghanistan’s political establishment.

The metaphor works on two levels: Afghanistan is the political equivalent of a bloody goat carcass and, like buzkashi, the war has proved to be savage and difficult. So, after nearly a decade of fighting, it is time to ask a simple question: Is this dead goat worth fighting for?

The answer is no – for a few simple reasons.

First, Afghanistan is of very little strategic importance. The United States has numerous allies in the region already: Israel, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Pakistan, the new Iraq and others.  With so many friends in the region there’s really no reason to dump billions of dollars and thousands of lives into making a new friend.

Second, there would be few, if any, economic benefits of a politically stable Afghanistan. Unlike other nations, Afghanistan isn’t oil-rich or mineral rich. Even if prosperity justified war (which it doesn’t), Afghanistan’s leading exports are opium, lambskins and sheepskins according to the CIA world Factbook. It’s better to keep the opium out.

Third, Afghanistan has defied superpowers for millennia: Alexander, Britain, and the Soviet Union all failed to conquer it. Assuming that the US is even capable of doing what others haven’t, it would take huge amounts of dedication and resources; this is the nation that ranks 6 in Foreign Policy Magazine’s Failed States Index. The costs of the mission far outweigh the benefits.

Fourth, democracy in Afghanistan will not reduce the risk of a terrorist attack. In fact, it might increase the risk. The highly decentralized and unstable Afghanistan that existed in 2001 meant that the US could launch surgical strikes against terrorist camps, and not face retaliatory measures. Afghanistan’s government was too unstable to ever pose a threat to the US or any of our allies in the region.

Moreover, spreading democracy is not the same as spreading peace. After all, both Palestine and Lebanon are democracies, and in both nations citizens have elected candidates affiliated with recognized terrorist organizations (Hamas and Hezbollah). There is no evidence that implies that Afghanistan wouldn’t do the same. History, however, tells that the Afghan people take little offense to terrorist governments, seeing as they let the Taliban rise to power.

Coach Obama is losing a game of buzkashi that isn’t worth playing in the first place. Pouring lives and money into a war that’s not worth winning is a bad strategy. It’s time for the United States to exit – not because we can’t win, but because it’s not worth continuing. Leave the future of Afghanistan up to the Afghans.

Charles Couger is a writer and freelance journalist from Hillsdale, MI.