The failures of the last eight years, on top of a legacy of 30 years of conflict, will pose formidable challenges to any strategy. The Afghan public is losing confidence both in its government and in the international community, as even ISAF has acknowledged. The former mistrust is the result of the government cutting deals with warlords, tolerating corruption and injustice, and failing to deliver basic services. The latter is the result of the ineffectiveness and corruption of foreign assistance and civilian casualties.
Despite talk of coordination and good intentions, foreign assistance, with few exceptions, has been generally ineffective. The United Nations' refusal to publish the results of its agencies' work has cost it credibility. U.S. indictments of a U.N. official and U.S. military contractors for corruption have only reinforced skepticism of foreign motives.
Only an Afghan administration truly committed to good governance will have any success against these challenges. The international community should therefore help design a five-year road map of governance in Afghanistan that lays out mechanisms for restoring the country's full sovereignty through the building-up of strong, transparent state institutions. Meanwhile, the Afghan government should lay out its framework for national peace-building and cooperation with ISAF.
Rules of governance must be enforced, while limits must be imposed on government officials and elites. Oversight of foreign aid and extractive industries must be created to ensure accountability and efficiency. Government credibility requires both an ability to listen to grievances and the mechanisms for resolving them. Ordinary civilians should be the center of gravity of the state and the international forces.
The debate over Gen. McChrystal's proposed strategy has been reduced to the number of troops, but the issue is more complex. Military success will depend not simply on troop levels, but on political victory in creating security, governance, development, and peace.