Sunday, October 18, 2009

arguing about Afghanistan

Daniel Davies speaks on Afghanistan, and comments ensue. Dan Hardie is mostly making sense; he argues that there are essentially three options - a strategy of trying to win the tribes, one of defending the cities and key locations and pouring in aid to the Afghans, or one of unilateral withdrawal. The first would be expensive, the second, long, and the third wouldn't guarantee an end to or even a substantial reduction in fighting.

Paying people off, it turns out, can have serious negative consequences, especially in terms of the exit strategy. But it's probably to be preferred to more violence, if possible. I've said before that there might be a lesson in the Soviet withdrawal and the accompanying stabilisation of the Afghan government, which was a sort of mix of all three options - getting Ivan out of the wilds where he wasn't provoking anyone, providing enough training and equipment to keep the mujahedin from trying to take any of the cities, and providing enough aid (and bribes) to persuade quite a lot of them to jack it in.

I'm beginning to think that the determining factor for any policy in Afghanistan is turning out to be whether it's possible to identify any issue, territory, group, or whatever to concentrate on. Here's Spencer Ackerman, making the excellent point that the "surge" in Iraq happened with a smallish increase in forces, highly concentrated geographically on Baghdad, and a political shift highly concentrated on getting the NOIA on our side. If the solution is meant to be "counter-insurgency, everywhere", then there's no point - there will never be enough men or enough money.

Meanwhile, Ackerman also criticises the idea of "going to the local level" as a response to the corruption and general Schlamassel of the Afghan government. He has a point, but it's got to be better than this risible turdspurt from Thomas Friedman...actually, I avoid his stuff, and as a result I'm surprised by Airmiles' superficial, colonial dickishness every time.

We have been way too polite, and too worried about looking like a colonial power, in dealing with Karzai. I would not add a single soldier there before this guy, if he does win the presidency, takes visible steps to clean up his government in ways that would be respected by the Afghan people.

If Karzai says no, then there is only one answer: “You’re on your own, pal. Have a nice life with the Taliban. We can’t and will not put more American blood and treasure behind a government that behaves like a Mafia family. If you don’t think we will leave — watch this.” (Cue the helicopters.)

Cue the helicopters. His solution to the whole problem is a crappy Hollywood image, and one that involves acting quite a lot like the Mafia family he mentions.

He is, however, right that it's going to be very difficult to convince anyone that their local governor is fantastic but that Karzai is a crook, and nothing to do with us. An alternative example is mentioned at Abu Muqawama; peace, after all, reigned in Afghanistan for fifty years through the middle of the century, while Europeans, Americans, Japanese, and many other peoples were busy slaughtering each other in ever more horrible ways. The question, of course, arises as to whether this is causation, rather than irony; was Afghanistan stable because everyone else was too busy to interfere with it?


Jon H said...

I assume by 'cue the helicopters' he's referring to the helicopters evacuating US staff in the fall of Saigon.

Which is not really the best image to bring to mind if you're not trying to imply a disorderly rout. Not exactly Hollywood though. Are you thinking he meant Apocalypse Now, choppers with guns blazing?

That said, he does have a sick predilection for tough talk. "Suck. On. This." and so on.

ajay said...

The other problem with going to the local level is that Afghanistan, bizarrely, has one of the most centralised governments in the world. Karzai appoints all the provincial governors, and police officials down to district level. They're not nobles, they're satraps (as Machiavelli would classify them) and so they've got even less structural legitimacy than Karzai has.

Malcolm said...

Just want to thank you for drawing these disparate threads together.

Commentator said...

Why Obama and the Brits will fail in Afghanistan:

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