“Good Enough for Afghanistan”

  • Zaki Laïdi
Part of the The Sciences Po Series in International Relations and Political Economy book series (SPIRP)


The United States definitively left Iraq in 2011, after an eight-year presence in the country. It will probably do the same in Afghanistan at the end of 2014, after dealing a symbolic blow to Al Qaeda by killing Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan in May 2011. It would seem that Barack Obama kept his end of the bargain, because he had from the outset assigned himself a limited objective in this country: “to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda and its safe havens in Pakistan, and to prevent their return to Pakistan or Afghanistan.”1 Furthermore, as General David Petraeus put it, the United States was not “trying to turn Afghanistan into Switzerland in a decade or less, [but] we are after what is, in a sense, good enough for Afghanistan.”2 This harks back to Lawrence of Arabia’s advice: “Better to let them [the Arabs] do it imperfectly than to do it perfectly yourself, for it is their country … and your time is short.”3 Thus, following a well-trodden path, what initially was a fight for civilization has become a fight for the lesser of two evils. The problem is that the Afghan conflict is not quite like others in the sense that it can only be understood and solved by reference to an infinitely more important issue: the future of Pakistan. Yet US relations with this extraordinarily difficult and complicated ally reached their nadir at the end of 2011.


Counterinsurgency Strategy Obama Administration Islamist Movement Qualified Human Resource Coalition Force 
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  1. 1.
    White House, “White Paper of the Interagency Policy Group’s Report on U.S. Policy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan,” March 2009, 1.Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    See Barnett R. Rubin, The Fragmentation of Afghanistan (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2002).Google Scholar
  3. 22.
    United States Government Accountability Office, “Afghanistan Development USAID Continues to Face Challenges in Managing and Overseeing U.S. Development Assistance Programs,” Testimony Before the Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs, Committee on Appropriations, July 15, 2010, 8, Scholar
  4. 33.
    Sir Robert G. K. Thompson, Defeating Communist Insurgency: The Lessons of Malaya and Vietnam (New York: Praeger, 1966): 112–113.Google Scholar
  5. 48.
    Michael Semple, Reconciliation in Afghanistan (Washington, DC: United States Institute for Peace, 2009).Google Scholar

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© Zaki Laïdi 2012

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  • Zaki Laïdi

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