Image by DVIDSHUB via FlickrIn the November 2009 Harpers, a retired army officer asks an excellent question about the Afghaninam folly, which is one of the places draining the money out of places like Salem:
For those who, despite all this, still hanker to have a go at nation building, why start with Afghanistan? Why not first fix, say, Mexico? In terms of its importance to the United States, our southern neighbor—a major supplier of oil and drugs among other commodities deemed vital to the American way of life—outranks Afghanistan by several orders of magnitude.If you don't subscribe to Harpers, then, well, you should, because you regularly get great stuff like this piece.
If one believes that moral considerations rather than self-interest should inform foreign policy, Mexico still qualifies for priority attention. Consider the theft of California. Or consider more recently how the American appetite for illicit drugs and our lax gun laws have corroded Mexican institutions and produced an epidemic of violence afflicting ordinary Mexicans. Yet any politician calling for the commitment of 60,000 U.S. troops to Mexico to secure those interests or acquit those moral obligations would be laughed out of Washington—and rightly so. Any pundit proposing that the United States assume responsibility for eliminating the corruption endemic in Mexican politics while establishing in Mexico City effective mechanisms of governance would have his license to pontificate revoked. Anyone suggesting that the United States possesses the wisdom and the wherewithal to solve the problem of Mexican drug trafficking, to endow Mexico with competent security forces, and to reform the Mexican school system (while protecting the rights of Mexican women) would be dismissed as a lunatic. Meanwhile, those who promote such programs for Afghanistan, ignoring questions of cost and ignoring as well the corruption and ineffectiveness that pervade our own institutions, are treated like sages.
The contrast between Washington’s preoccupation with Afghanistan and its relative indifference to Mexico testifies to the distortion of U.S. national-security priorities adopted by George W. Bush in his post-9/11 prophetic mode—distortions now being endorsed by Bush’s successor. It also testifies to a vast failure of imagination to which our governing classes have succumbed. This failure of imagination makes it impossible for those who possess either authority or influence in Washington to consider the possibility (a) that the solution to America’s problems is to be found not out there—where “there” in this case is Central Asia—but here at home; (b) that the people out there, rather than requiring our ministrations, may well be capable of managing their own affairs, relying on their own methods; and (c) that to disregard (a) and (b) is to open the door to great mischief and in all likelihood to perpetrate no small amount of evil. Needless to say, when mischief or evil does occur—when a stray American bomb kills a few dozen Afghan civilians, for instance—the costs of this failure of imagination are not borne by the people who inhabit the leafy neighborhoods of northwest Washington, who lunch at the Palm or the Metropolitan Club and school their kids at Sidwell Friends. . . .