Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Time and Tide

Uncle Kevin came by some time ago to comment on the previous post. He made several points that were important and incisive.

The Afghan/Pakistan region is currently one of several in which an wide confederacy of actors are operating against whom we have complaints.


It is merely the case that Afghanistan is a useful place with which to do battle with this confederacy. The local civilians merely get in the way, or are useful as methods with which to engage the confederacy.

The first bit is self-evidently true and is substantially confirmed by Filkins' account. The reason the war in Afghanistan was not a completely crazy idea a la Iraq is that Afghanistan/Pakistan really IS a reasonably convenient place to engage the coalition of groups we generally refer to as "al Qaeda." It is also self-evidently true that the United States has altogether legitimate grievances with this coalition.

However, as Uncle Kevin and I seem to at least partially agree, it is not self-evidently true that it is a good idea to use third-world battlefields to engage this coalition in a proxy war in the way that we did with the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Even if we grant paleoconservatives their fairly well-accepted assertion that American "projection of power" was crucial in bringing about the fall of Soviet communism, it would certainly seem logical that combating a diffuse transnational group of intelligence, counterintelligence, and sabotage experts would require a different approach than did combating the USSR.

After all, in a resource war based on petroleum, narcotics, and illegal weapons smuggling, is it really that hard to imagine that a coalition of wealthy hard-liners in Tehran, Sana'a, and Mogadishu might be able to outlast a group of wealthy hard-liners in Houston, Washington, and New York? The US military is big and scary, but it doesn't have any idea how to stop these guys, who have billions of dollars and are able to "project power" merely by convincing some poor grieving person that the best way to honor their brother's memory is to blow up a bus.

And of course it is always the civilians who bear the real cost of war, though even the sort of semi-idyllic bribery-based warlordism I described in my earlier post was and is bad enough for the Afghan population. It should probably be specifically conceded that the war in Afghanistan HAS indeed brought real benefits to some segments of the Afghan population.

Continued US operations there will kill more people, but more importantly (from a purely self-interested POV, anyway) they will be a giant waste of time.

New ideas, please. We're losing.

1 comment:

Uncle Kevin said...

Of all the metaphors for the AfPak war (as the current administration tends to refer to it) I tend to find the most appropriate to be South Central LA. Our ability to "win" in Afghanistan must be put into the context of our ability to have particularly "fixed" LA, Watts, or any of the other major locations of crime and violence in the US. One can even look a bit more internationally and realize that we have tried, repeatedly, to achieve the kinds of objectives in Haiti that we profess to be pursuing in Afghanistan.
The fact that we have not been successful in any of these places, or huge sections of Miami, Detroit, Harlem, or any of the other similar places, speaks to the futile nature of our ambitions in Afghanistan.

And one can begin to believe that the professionals in the state department know this. Furthermore, there is assuredly more than one smart guy in the DoD who understands this as well. Which leaves one with the concern that effectively "something else" is going on.

It is. It's called denial.

There are answers to the problems in all of these places. They are answers no one wants to hear, nor even begin to pursue. Watts is simple to "fix", and in some sense quite expensive. You need to economically improve the situation of literally hundreds of thousands of people. From there you can have the education systems, and medical infrastructure to deal with the long term problems there.

But we won't do that. Instead, we'll continue to do just enough policing to keep the problems from moving out of their current communities and those troubles from causing too much of a disturbance. The populations will remain relatively compliant and economically unable to affect the larger political system, nor interrupt commerce.

And that too is what will happen in the larger Afpak region. We will engage, overtly and covertly, in preventing the region from becoming able to sustain activities outside of their region.

And unless you are ready to change the entire socio-economic structure of our planet, there isn't much more to be done. Our primary goal will soon be to figure out how to get us physically out of there, at least in any publicly acknowledged way. We will probably achieve it using alot of money and some short term violence.