Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Kenny on Afghanistan

This one is worth the read.

...Everyone wants to cut and run from a disaster. But nobody wants to cut and run too quickly, lest they be accused of what they are doing -- cutting and running.

So the sleight of hand begins. The Americans and British have changed their exit deadline to 2014, which is somehow meant to answer the criticism that their counter-insurgency strategy couldn't be taken seriously if they were going to leave in 2011, as President Obama had previously promised.


Is there really going to be a U.S. "surge" this fall that will magically defuse the Taliban, given that a test surge in the spring was an abject failure, given that more than a hundred American soldiers are already dying every month, and given that a surge would bring even more bodies home in the middle of crucial U.S. mid-term elections? And wouldn't a surge -- chasing down Taliban the way we used to -- represent a failure of the counter-insurgency strategy and mark a return to the failed counter-terrorism strategy?

Just asking.


Parliament has made the right decision. We can wallow around Afghanistan for another three years trying to save face. Or we can be adults and not get burned twice. Let us face a harsh truth: for all the efforts of our courageous troops, and the courageous troops of our allies, nation-building doesn't make sense in a nation that doesn't want to get built.

Let's quit pretending.

The big ugly truth about the world is that stories don't always have happy endings. We pooched Afstan from the get go. We didn't go there to make it a glistening example of democracy and rights, we went there to destroy the theocratic government that allowed bin Laden et al to plough airliners into buildings in New York and Washington. And we went there as fast as we could.

Then, being egocentric liberal demcracies, we figured we could 'fix' the place by promoting rights and holding elections and all that stuff. Forget our own long millenia of wars, colonialism and autocracies of one stripe or another and their blood-wake that produced the movements and ideas that we're now so proud of. Forget Afstan's long history of bloody civil wars, invasions, hard religion and the sort of effects those might have on the locals. We are so powerful we can erase our own history and theirs and start a new glorious age of suburbs and justice.

This in a nutshell, is why liberal internationalism drives me up the wall. I've heard plenty of well meaning but utterly clueless undergrads, gradstudents, professionals, and career civil servants, talking about our 'obligations' to the [Afghan] people, how we must help, how we 'broke it, we must fix it' even it it means we're there for 100 years. Or, big liberal ideas like 'responsibility to protect' and strategic recipes with clever monikers like 3D (Defence, Development and Diplomacy) and so forth that could easily compel a like-minded government to send battle-groups and CIDA people off on some new Afghanistan only to find themselves 10 years, several governments, and plenty of dead and treasure later scrambling for the exits scratching their heads raw in bloody wonder about where it all went wrong.

Don't get me wrong, I think promoting rights and democracy and alleviating suffering around the world are noble and laudable pursuits. But they must be tempered with wisdom and a good healthy dose of real critical analysis about context and likelihood of success, or at least not worsening a given situation. But no, our leaders are neo-liberals. It's ahistorical one size fits all: globalisation, capital, markets, with some sort of pretense at democracy to make us mollycoddled westerners all feel good at home in front of tele. Neo-conservatives just add [more] mechanised infantry.

Had the US gone for a walk around the block and cooled off after 9/11, they might have considered any number of different and wiser approaches. Ok, sorry, yes it was Bush-Cheney, but I'm being counterfactual here. Yes, the Taliban government were a nasty bunch and the enablers of the Al-Qaeda, but that did not automatically mean the Northern Alliance folks were the good guys. Nor, did it mean invasion was necessary or that the Taliban per se should have been framed as 'enemy.' Had we considered what the Taliban are - native Pashtun part of the ethnic landscape of two 'states' they barely recognise, very poor, hardline religious nuts, dudes that sent the Soviets home - we might have questioned the wisdom of formally going to war with them.

For example, what might have happened had we asked serious questions about how we might stop them from facilitating similar events? Treat them as the present winners in a long running civil war that isn't ours, but nothing more. They were doing a good enough job undermining their own legitimacy through their blinkered application of religious ideology, how long would it have taken them to completely undermine their own authority? Long enough maybe to bribe them enough to cough up bin Laden. Would it have been worthwhile to begin talking to Pakistan about facilitating a formally autonomous cross border Pashtun homeland? And a separate one for everyone else. Identify mitigate the grievances that drive of local conflict first (geographies of ethnicity, politics, religion, poverty). And only after that, if we'd had a mind to do so, carefully consider what might be done about rights and things. Perhaps start with something like basic human security needs sanitation, infrastructure and education. Note that war is not a human security need...

Regimes of rights and democracy can wait. Imposing these disrupt entrenched social and cultural institutions and spark conflict. In a place where violence is a first resort, this can undermine any noble effort very quickly. Leave it alone and work on the basics. It's amazing what happens to peoples outlook when they're well sheltered and fed and not in fear of war.

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