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.