It has long been a firm belief of mine that education is the best (and probably most efficient) way to nation building and promote peace within a region. This is why I am very glad to see New York Times Columnist Nicholas Kristof echo my sentiment in his latest column.
“By the standards of history and cost-effectiveness, we are hugely overinvested in military tools and underinvested in education and diplomacy.”
First of all, it has become painfully obvious that we are spending jaw-dropping sums of money on Afghanistan and Pakistan, and we are not, by any stretch of our imagination, getting our money’s worth. The Obama administration has, as Rachel Maddow mentioned a few weeks ago, put all of its chips in on a wager to set up a strong Afghan military / national police so that the country has the ability to govern itself. The argument goes that the United States cannot leave until such a force is set up because failure to do so would mean the resurgence of the Taliban and the return of Al Qaeda. The former is already happening, and the public (perhaps maybe even the CIA) does not have much of an idea of what Al Qaeda has been up to.
For Rachel’s full take check out this link:
I am quite skeptical of this strategy of ‘military first’ when it comes to nation building. Afghanistan doesn’t need soldiers. It needs roads, access to food and water, hospitals, schools, and a government that could provide all of the above. As Kristof points out, newly-built schools have not be burnt down by the Taliban or other terrorist groups. The big question then becomes: who can legitimately speculate that Afghanistan will descend into chaos if a massive army is not established? What if all of America’s spending on Afghanistan went to building schools, roads, and hospitals? I for one believe that Afghanistan would be progressing (the way America wants to) at a much faster rate.
There is an image issue concerning the Afghan people that ought to be brought into light. Many politicians and political commentators in America believe that the Afghans are militaristic barbarians without a culture or a conscience. These same people also believe that America is there to save them from barbarism and introduce to them the modern civilization. If these politicians and pundits do not genuinely believe these things, they certainly claim so in their rhetoric.
But the Afghans are only ‘without’ a civilization only if one defines ‘civilization’ as, for example, a Western democracy. Contrary to common conception, the Taliban is probably very capable of negotiations, and as Kristof mentions, both the Taliban and the local warlords are tolerant of the construction of schools, and therefore, education.
Schools, not missiles, is the best way towards building a nation. America needs to actually engage in meaningful conversations with the Afghan people, not through the corrupt government. I’m sure President Obama understands this. Perhaps he is under external pressure to continue such massive military spending. I hope he can start the troop withdrawal on schedule, and begin helping aid groups to build schools.