From the Sun King to Karzai

Lessons for State Building in Afghanistan

In December 2009, U.S. President Barack Obama announced the fruits of his administration's lengthy review of Afghanistan policy: temporary troop reinforcements and a new military strategy designed to reverse recent gains by the Taliban, efforts to increase the quality of Afghan governance, and a stronger partnership with Pakistan. The troop increases and the proposed withdrawal starting date of July 2011 dominated the headlines, but in the long run the effects of what Obama called a "civilian surge" will be even more important.

As General Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan, noted last August, Washington's mission will not be accomplished until the Afghan government can "sufficiently control its territory to support regional stability and prevent its use for international terrorism." But this would require a dramatic turnaround from the current situation, which, as McChrystal has put it, is marked by a "crisis of popular confidence that springs from the weakness of [government] institutions, the unpunished abuse of power by corrupt officials and power-brokers, a widespread sense of political disenfranchisement, and a longstanding lack of economic opportunity."

Register for free to continue reading.
Registered users get access to three free articles every month.

Or subscribe now and save 55 percent.

Subscription benefits include:
  • Full access to ForeignAffairs.com
  • Six issues of the magazine
  • Foreign Affairs iPad app privileges
  • Special editorial collections

Latest Commentary & News analysis