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CIA Director Leon Panetta appeared on ABC’s This Week yesterday, where he laid out some of the “problems” we face in Afghanistan along with our “fundamental purpose” there and what “winning” might look like. From Think Progress:

Too bad most, if not all, of what Panetta describes is not based in reality.

“There are some serious problems here. We’re dealing with a tribal society. We’re dealing with a country that has problems with governance, problems with corruption, problems with narcotics trafficking, problems with a Taliban insurgency.”

We’re dealing with a country that isn’t a country. Afghanistan combat veteran Wes Moore was on Meet the Press yesterday where he gave this account:

“…one of the things we did–I was with a team in Afghanistan, you go out and you give out gifts to people. And one of the things that we would, we would give out to some of the tribal leaders were cutout–were maps, which were cutouts of Afghanistan.  And literally, the most popular question was, “What is this?” And we’d say, “It’s your country.”

Problems with governance, corruption, and narcotics trafficking? The problem is that the Karzai government and his family are at the root of the corruption and narcotics trafficking. From stealing last year’s election, to his brother’s (alleged) involvement in the heroin trade, to the same brother awarding security sub-contracts to a company owned by 2 of Karzai’a cousins, to this:

“In recent months…Afghan prosecutors and investigators have been ordered to cross names off case files, prevent senior officials from being placed under arrest and disregard evidence against executives of a major financial firm suspected of helping the nation’s elite move millions of dollars overseas.

Afghanistan is awash in international aid and regarded as one of the most corrupt countries in the world. Indeed, even as the United States and its allies pour money in, U.S. officials estimate that as much as $1 billion a year is flowing out as part of a massive cash exodus.

The money, as first reported in The Washington Post in February, is often carried out in full view of customs officials at Kabul’s airport, where such transfers are legal as long as they are declared. Officials suspect much of the cash is going to the Persian Gulf emirate of Dubai, where elite Afghans, including Karzai’s older brother, have villas.”

How do we on the one hand acknowledge that government corruption is a major problem while we continue to prop up the government and the president that is hip-deep in corruption?

Back to Panetta: “But I think the fundamental key, the key to success or failure is whether the Afghans accept responsibility, are able to deploy an effective army and police force to maintain stability. If they can do that, then I think we’re going to be able to achieve the kind of progress and the kind of stability that the president is after…it is going to take the Afghan army and police to be able to accept the responsibility that we pass on to them. That’s going to be the key. ”

The size of the Afghan security forces our generals say are needed to provide that stability, about 450.000, would cost about $3 billion a year to maintain. The annual budget of Afghanistan is $600 million. They can’t do it. Care to guess who will be expected to pick up the tab?

Panetta’s definition of “winning”:

“Winning in Afghanistan is having a country that is stable enough to ensure that there is no safe haven for Al Qaida or for a militant Taliban that welcomes Al Qaida…Our purpose, our whole mission there is to make sure that Al Qaida never finds another safe haven from which to attack this country. That’s the fundamental goal of why the United States is there.”

Earlier in the interview Panetta admitted that there are only 50 to 100 members of al Qaeda in Afghanistan, “maybe less.”

Emptywheel has it exactly right:

“So 1,000 US troops per al Qaeda member, at a cost of $1 million each. That’s $1 billion a year we spend for each al Qaeda member to fight our war in Afghanistan.

This sort of adds a new twist to that old Einstein quip about the definition of insanity being doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Because we’re doing the same thing over and over again–at a cost of $1 billion a year per nominal opponent–and expecting anything other than bankruptcy.”

It all comes down to this, from a McClatchy article about Iraq but it applies to Afghanistan as well:

“…a nearly inviolable rule governs this arena: Democracy cannot be imposed on any nation unless its people and its leaders all are asking for it. Otherwise the nation’s oligarchy will fight to restore the old order of things, to protect their positions and perquisites. It happens every time.