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?


  1. Good to see you back on international politics and conflicts. More please.

  1. 1 random Afghanistan links « Alternate Seat of TYR

    […] January 31, 2010 in Afghanistan Jean-Dominique Merchet writes about the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, and argues that the political preparation and the overall strategy of it give cause for optimism. I’ve thought this before, and then doubted it. […]

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