While President Obama has increasingly relied on unmanned drone strikes in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Gen. McChrystal’s memo, the one recently leaked to Bob Woodward, advocates even greater troop commitments to Afghanistan—as many as forty-thousand by next year—not to battle insurgents so much as to protect the people. The end game is to protect local communities until such time as the Afghan people can raise and train a force of four hundred thousand police and military to protect themselves against insurgents. Theoretically, this sounds simple, and I am certainly in favor of protecting honest folks from the likes of the Taliban.

But of course, there is nothing simple about implementing this plan. Afghanistan is a region in chronic disarray. Gen. McChrystal notes in his memo, “Afghan social, political, economic, and cultural affairs are complex and poorly understood. ISAF does not sufficiently appreciate the dynamics in local communities, nor how the insurgency, corruption, incompetent officials, power-brokers, and criminality all combine to affect the Afghan population.” For this new plan to succeed, ISAF soldiers will, among other elements, have to accept greater vulnerability to attack, and learn local dialects. I wonder how many Afghan dialects Rosetta Stone offers. This all seems to conform nicely to the new paradigm of counterinsurgency, wherein the U.S. forces are not occupiers, but guests. But the purpose of our visit is still unclear to me. Condoleezza Rice recently told Fortune that “If you want another terrorist attack in the U.S., abandon Afghanistan.” But there is something obsessively myopic about the remark. The F.B.I., with its arrests in Denver and New York, has proven yet again how effective it can be at preventing terrorist attacks, and it does it on less than one tenth of the defense budget.

U.S. policy in Afghanistan increasingly reminds me of the episode of The Twilight Zone in which a little girl inadvertently slips though her bedroom wall and into a dimension not unlike an M.C. Escher drawing. The laws of Euclidean geometry become invalid and useless. Consequently, whenever she thinks she is moving back toward her room, she is only wandering aimlessly through a chaotic void. Similarly, the things Americans take for granted—strong national government, police, roads—are, in Afghanistan, dodgy at best. Familiar methods will have unpredictable results. Even a win might be a loss.

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