Teaching Afghanistan to fish

Topeka, Kansas -- Taj with his Grandmother, learning to fish at Lake Shawnee  Today in the Powerpoint death chamber, we discussed how to help Afghanistan during the elections, without taking over the process. (When I say “discussed,” I really mean “received a lecture.”)
Topeka, Kansas —
Taj with his Grandmother, learning to fish at Lake Shawnee
Today in the Powerpoint death chamber, we discussed how to help Afghanistan during the elections, without taking over the process. (When I say “discussed,” I really mean “received a lecture.”)

Many of us are familiar with the proverb: “Give a man a fish, and you’ll feed him for a day; but teach him to fish, and you’ll feed him for a lifetime.” I think it was a Chinese proverb, but I’m not 100% sure. (My friend, Mr. Google, gave me multiple conflicting answers when I looked it up.)

When we think about a Provincial Reconstruction Team’s role while in the ‘stan, this proverb applies. We’re charged with helping Afghanis learn how to help themselves, without simply throwing money and resources at them. The intent is that we’ll eventually be able to leave and they will continue to move forward. It’s the same generic strategy our government is trying to employ in African countries (particularly through US Africa Command.)

There are many people who would argue that the ‘stan has been unstable for decades, and it’s unlikely that a US-led coalition will be able to change things within a time periods that any of us will be alive to experience. I, too, agree that the challenge of creating stability in an area with so many unstable variables is not going to happen overnight.

Heck, I’ll even go out on a limb (as a military officer) and state that we may not be successful for decades (depending on your definition of “success.”) But if you’re looking for a rationale … a reason as to WHY we have to try to help Afghanistan learn to fish, look to our Commander-in-Chief’s words (delivered during his recent trip to Cairo.) President Obama said:

“Make no mistake, we do not want to keep our troops in Afghanistan. We see no military — we seek no military bases there. It is agonizing for America to lose our young men and women. It is costly and politically difficult to continue this conflict.

We would gladly bring every single one of our troops home if we could be confident that there were not violent extremists in Afghanistan and now Pakistan determined to kill as many Americans as they possibly can. But that is not yet the case.”

I’m not some extreme right-winged, bright-red, gun-loving, flag-waving military officer. I believe that you can be patriotic without having to verbalize or visualize it. Alternatively, I’m not a granola-eating, birkenstock-wearing, leftist nature nut. I believe in our government and think more people should support it. Really, I’m just a guy trying to serve his time as promised. I’m committed to serving because that’s what I signed up to do, not necessarily for any other reason.

But, in terms of the Commander-in-Chief’s words, I think he’s trying to tell us that if the world doesn’t help the ‘stan learn to fish, the situation right now is so unstable there that one day, someone might come and TAKE OUR FISH from US. I don’t view this as a scare tactic, but simply a fact of life. Check the areas around Afghanistan … life isn’t so peaceful there, either. Instability in one region is likely to spill over if not checked.

Would I prefer to NOT go to the ‘stan? Yes. But I can’t argue with the intent (even if I can’t immediately visualize the end state.)

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