Saturday, March 14, 2009

Empower Afghans

Somebody brought up a great point about where to draw the line in how much we help Afghanistan and it's citizens. I was having a discussion concerning Afghan children on the other side of the fence, "outside the wire". The translator said "Yes, children typically stand there, with puppy dog eyes, hoping a soldier will throw them some bottled water, candy, etc." Soldiers are torn, because they see their plight, maybe even see their own children in their eyes, and naturally, want to help.

The translator explained, "...that by succumbing to your helpful nature, you are encouraging a potentially harmful social behavior; that begging is rewarded". He continued, "We must be careful not to lull Afghans into a sense of entitlement". "If you go right outside the ECP, into the village, you will find another world; poor people on donkeys and bikes, beggars, unsanitary water, lawlessness; you'll literally be in a third world country!"

His point was made; the US must be cautious not to create an Afghan welfare state. Creating and enabling a welfare-like society would be an egregious disservice to Afghanistan. We know what that looks like, and it ain't pretty. Watch how this generation of Afghan children evolves. Will they grow up to embrace self-sufficiency? Or, will they remember begging for water and candy from soldiers, expecting entitlements that Americans (and others) have unwittingly bestowed upon them?

Like pebbles dropped into calm water, the rippling waves move from the center outward. Lets duplicate that rippling effect by enabling, rather than entitling, Afghans to farm (crops, not opium poppies), to become self-sufficient, to foster education, etc. in the hope for an empowered Afghanistan.

I'm not a military or social strategist. I don't suggest the above because it is not being done, it is, in various forms. I don't know how we'll measure Afghan progress outside the Taliban influence. Does progress mean fewer beggars, more stores being opened, more shoppers, a larger workforce, increased literacy? Time will tell.


  1. Have been following you on Twitter and just now logged into your blog. I am incredibly impressed with the depth of thought and wisdom exhibited here. From someone who is doing their country a great service, I learned so much. I enjoyed your humour especially the article about the celebutard.

  2. Thank you for this post. As someone who is especially sensitive to the plights of underprivileged children, I cannot imagine the restraint it takes to not throw them a bottle of water. My brother told me stories of Iraqi children throwing rocks at his guys when they wouldn't give them candy and I was shocked that they had been told not to. At the time, I understood his orders from a safety standpoint, but your post and the wisdom of the translator have helped me understand that stance from a "tough love" standpoint. We cannot help a country rebuild itself if we give them handouts, thus devaluing hard work and ambition.

  3. Friends in Iraq made it a practice to only give candy, shoes, clothes, etc at the schools, in order to reward that behavior... it is difficult and one that must be considered.

    I am encouraged by the unsung Vet Missions and Ag Missions to help both the Iraqis and the Afghans to farm and raise livestock. A country that can not feed itself can never come out of the shadows.

  4. My first year of teaching was in a high school on the TX/Mex border. I was amazed at the "welfare attitude" in the area and lack of respect for "free" items supplied to students.

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