Aug 092009

Seth G. Jones writes in the WSJ (“Going Local: The Key to Afghanistan : The U.S.’s strategy of building a centralized state is doomed to fail in a land of tribes“) that the U.S. is making a mistake in Afghanistan by acting as though there is (or should be) a central authority to deal with. The Soviets made the same mistake.

It’s understandable that a highly centralized government like that of the Soviet Union would do that. But what excuse if there for the U.S., which supposedly is itself much more decentralized — a federal system with greater levels of autonomy at the state and local level than you see in most large countries? We ought to be the experts at dealing with systems of federated sovereignty.

But neither the current nor the past administration seem to get it. It’s probably no accident that GWB was a great centralizer at home (Homeland Security, Education) as is Barak Obama (Health Care, Manufacturing, Banking, Housing). Neither has very good decentralization skills. And if Obama doesn’t know how to work with grassroots activism at townhall meetings, he’s not going to know how to deal with local entities in Afghanistan, either.