Although you might not subscribe to either view, the exchange does offer a glimpse into how two opposing public "intellectuals" view the events unfolding in Afghanistan. As for me, a Chinese response to Kaplan, no matter what the content or form, is better than no response at all.
Kaplan's New York Times' OpEd
October 7, 2009
Beijing’s Afghan Gamble
By ROBERT D. KAPLAN
IN Afghanistan’s Logar Province, just south of Kabul, the geopolitical future of Asia is becoming apparent: American troops are providing security for a Chinese state-owned company to exploit the Aynak copper reserves, which are worth tens of billions of dollars. While some of America’s NATO allies want to do as little as possible in the effort to stabilize Afghanistan, China has its eyes on some of world’s last untapped deposits of copper, iron, gold, uranium and precious gems, and is willing to take big risks in one of the most violent countries to secure them.
In Afghanistan, American and Chinese interests converge. By exploiting Afghanistan’s metal and mineral reserves, China can provide thousands of Afghans with jobs, thus generating tax revenues to help stabilize a tottering Kabul government. Just as America has a vision of a modestly stable Afghanistan that will no longer be a haven for extremists, China has a vision of Afghanistan as a secure conduit for roads and energy pipelines that will bring natural resources from the Indian Ocean and elsewhere. So if America defeats Al Qaeda and the irreconcilable elements of the Taliban, China’s geopolitical position will be enhanced.
This is not a paradox, since China need not be our future adversary. Indeed, combining forces with China in Afghanistan might even improve the relationship between Washington and Beijing. The problem is that while America is sacrificing its blood and treasure, the Chinese will reap the benefits. The whole direction of America’s military and diplomatic effort is toward an exit strategy, whereas the Chinese hope to stay and profit.
But what if America decides to leave, or to drastically reduce its footprint to a counterterrorism strategy focused mainly on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border? Then another scenario might play out. Kandahar and other areas will most likely fall to the Taliban, creating a truly lawless realm that wrecks China’s plans for an energy and commodities passageway through South Asia. It would also, of course, be a momentous moral victory achieved by radical Muslims who, having first defeated the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, will then have triumphed over another superpower.
And the calculations get more complicated still: a withdrawal of any kind from Afghanistan before a stable government is in place would also hurt India, a critical if undeclared American ally, and increasingly a rival of China. Were the Taliban to retake Afghanistan, India would face a radical Islamistan stretching from its border with Pakistan deep into Central Asia. With the Taliban triumphant on Pakistan’s western border, jihadists there could direct their energies to the eastern border with India.
India would defeat Pakistan in a war, conventional or nuclear. But having to do so, or simply needing to face down a significantly greater jihadist threat next door, would divert India’s national energies away from further developing its economy and its navy, a development China would quietly welcome.
Bottom line: China will find a way to benefit no matter what the United States does in Afghanistan. But it probably benefits more if we stay and add troops to the fight. The same goes for Russia. Because of continuing unrest in the Islamic southern tier of the former Soviet Union, Moscow has an interest in America stabilizing Afghanistan (though it would take a certain psychological pleasure from a humiliating American withdrawal).
In nuts-and-bolts terms, if we stay in Afghanistan and eventually succeed, other countries will benefit more than we will. China, India and Russia are all Asian powers, geographically proximate to Afghanistan and better able, therefore, to garner practical advantages from any stability our armed forces would make possible.
Everyone keeps saying that America is not an empire, but our military finds itself in the sort of situation that was mighty familiar to empires like that of ancient Rome and 19th-century Britain: struggling in a far-off corner of the world to exact revenge, to put down the fires of rebellion, and to restore civilized order. Meanwhile, other rising and resurgent powers wait patiently in the wings, free-riding on the public good we offer. This is exactly how an empire declines, by allowing others to take advantage of its own exertions.
Of course, one could make an excellent case that an ignominious withdrawal from Afghanistan is precisely what would lead to our decline, by demoralizing our military, signaling to our friends worldwide that we cannot be counted on and demonstrating that our enemies have greater resolve than we do. That is why we have no choice in Afghanistan but to add troops and continue to fight.
But as much as we hone our counterinsurgency skills and develop assets for the “long war,” history would suggest that over time we can more easily preserve our standing in the world by using naval and air power from a distance when intervening abroad. Afghanistan should be the very last place where we are a land-based meddler, caught up in internal Islamic conflict, helping the strategic ambitions of the Chinese and others.
Robert D. Kaplan is a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security and a correspondent for The Atlantic.
Li Hongmei's People's Daily OpEd
Who is gambling on Afghanistan?
14:28, October 15, 2009
By Li Hongmei People's Daily Online
Robert D. Kaplan, a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security and a correspondent for The Atlantic magazine, published on Oct.7 a signed commentary entitled Beijing's Afghan Gamble in New York Times, in which he stated that "America is sacrificing its blood and treasure (in Afghanistan), the Chinese will reap the benefits."
He specifically singled out a Chinese state-owned company, which has been on the war-torn soil for years exploiting copper. And meanwhile, he said, China has been coveting Afghanistan's other yet-to-be tapped deposits like iron, uranium and precious gems and "is willing to take big risks in one of the most violent countries to secure them." He stressed all that China "has its eyes on" would draw upon the security provided by the U.S. troops.
Indeed, American combat troops are risking their lives fighting terrorist militant in a far-flung corner of the world and the Nobel Laureate for peace and the U.S. President Barack Obama, who now has two wars in his hands, is struggling to send a "surge" of 40,000 more troops in Afghanistan to fight the die-hard Taliban insurgents.
Be that as it may, the U.S. is by no means cast in the role of the Savior, saving the entire world from extinction. Think of one question: What if the America decided to leave, or to drastically reduce its military deployment on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border? Would the radical Muslims conquer the region or even the world as a whole simply due to the absence of the U.S. military might?
Counterterrorism is a global mission involving multilateral cooperation and coordination at varying levels and in various forms, and all the forces involved in the anti-terror crusade are interdependent with shared interests. Take China and the U.S.: In Afghanistan, Chinese and American interests converge----By exploiting Afghanistan's mineral reserves, China can provide thousands of poverty-stricken Afghans with jobs, thus generating tax revenues to help stabilize an already volatile Kabul government. This also echoed America's global strategy----creating a relatively stable Afghanistan which will cease to be a haven for extremists.
The U.S. is not fighting for others' geopolitical benefits, but for its own, for the enhancement of American footprint in the strategically critical region and for a "momentous moral victory" in its dire need at the time to boost the morale of its crestfallen soldiers. This is exactly why America chose to stay and act as a land-based meddler in such a far-off corner. It is highly dubious to think the U.S. is doing so only to help the "strategic ambitions" of the Chinese and others. Likewise, it is absurd for some U.S. Hawks to say China is hiding in the wings of the U.S., free-riding on the best the U.S. offers.
That the U.S. is exhausting its national energies in the 8-year war in an attempt to put a stable Afghanistan in place resonates with the bursting expectations of the new administration. Also, it is the burgeoning hope for triumphing over the radical Muslims and winning over the world that would prompt President Obama to add troops and continue to fight.
" We have no choice in Afghanistan," as put it in Mr. Kaplan's article, "one could make an excellent case that an ignominious withdrawal from Afghanistan is precisely what would lead to our decline, by demoralizing our military, signaling to our friends worldwide that we cannot be counted on and demonstrating that our enemies have greater resolve than we do."
In this view, the U.S. is also fighting to save its face, far from generously allowing others to take advantage of its war trophies.
In all farness, President Obama, as the recipient of the lofty honor for peace, is facing a tough test for his decision-making ability and leadership in terms of adding combat troops in Afghanistan. To the rookie American president barely 9 months on the job, what concerns him most is what he could do to impress the world.
Well-documented records have manifested that in the U.S. only war and peace, the eternal theme running through the human history, can work as the yardstick for the public assessment of a president. For instance, Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal salvaging the U.S. from being further bogged down in a sweeping economic crisis somehow cannot rival the glory he brought to the whole nation by his leadership in ending up the World War II with a complete victory.
Another case involves former President Lyndon B. Johnson, who signed the Civil Rights Bill in his term creating equal rights covering the general public regardless of race, color, religion and national origin. Despite the landmark progress in civil equality he had achieved, people would prefer to remember more of his decision dragging the country deep into the mire of Vietnam War.
History at times repeats itself, but the pitfall is conspicuous, as President Obama is mulling what to do next. But now that the Nobel Committee bet such a great deal on him, President Obama must turn out to be a good gambler in return.