January 15, 2013

The Jan. 11 op-ed by former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan Ronald E. Neumann, “A numbers game in Afghanistan,” suggested that U.S. policy will determine the outcome in that country. It will not. It is the nature of Afghan culture itself and its reaction to foreign efforts to remake Afghan governance that fuels the conflict.

In the United States, much is centralized (i.e., the social safety net, federal income tax, the Supreme Court). So, unsurprisingly, we have a cultural bias toward national solutions. Plus, such solutions tend to be simpler.

This does not fit in Afghanistan, given the historical weakness of the Kabul government. The consensus U.S. solution to the country’s security problem is, as Mr. Neumann clearly stated, a large and competent army. However reasonable this may seem to us, such a vision is revolutionary and destructive in Afghanistan. There, for centuries, the real power has resided not in Kabul but among cultural and tribal forces that are highly geographic, not centralized.

Mr. Neumann might wish to ask why the Afghan resistance to the presence of U.S. and NATO forces has steadily increased over the past 10 years. Could it be that non-westernized Afghans see the foreign military effort not as a benign facilitator of peace but as an increasingly ominous threat to their traditional way of life?

Clark Rumrill, Reston

The writer was second secretary at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul from 1966 to 1969.