Afghanistan’s future hangs in the balance as its weak national government struggles to maintain support and legitimacy in the face of a widening insurgency, warlords, the heroin trade, and a disappointed populace. Across an arc extending from Afghanistan to East Africa, violence now also surges in Iraq, Lebanon, Somalia, and beyond, to Sudan’s Darfur region.
Everywhere, politicians, generals, and even diplomats talk of military strategies and maneuvers, but everywhere something utterly different is needed. Stability will come only when economic opportunities exist, when a bulging generation of young men can find jobs and support families, rather than seeking their fortune in violence.
We are seeing again and again that a foreign army, whether NATO’s in Afghanistan, America’s in Iraq, Israel’s in occupied Palestine, or Ethiopia’s in Somalia, may win a battle, or even a war, but never the peace. Peace is about dignity and hope for the future. Military occupation saps dignity, and grinding poverty and economic disarray sap hope. Peace can be achieved only with a withdrawal of foreign troops, and the arrival of jobs, productive farms and factories, tourism, health care, and schools. Without these, military victory and occupation quickly turn to ashes.
The United States government has proven itself blind to these facts, but the international community also remains ill equipped to assist in the restoration of peace following conflicts in impoverished countries. Repeatedly, a fragile peace has broken down because of the lack of economic follow-up. Despite grand promises of foreign aid, economic reconstruction, and development in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, and elsewhere, the actual record of international assistance to post-war reconstruction is gravely deficient.