Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Burial Ground Of Empires

I'm not convinced as to what the US should do in Afghanistan, the talk is having up to 60K troops there by next year and taking a harder line with Karzi over crime and corruption and leaning more toward helping localities than the national government. This includes a concentration on combat with Taliban and al-Qaida with a shift in training and reconstruction to NATO.

I'm real sure that had BushCo not taken their eye off the ball in Afghanistan for Iraq things would be different today but that is not the question and whether it holds an answer is very debatable. Positioning one's self today on what should have been is not paying history its due but engaging in wishes. We are in the now in Afghanistan and the course has nothing to do with what could have or should have been. We can easily beat any forces there like a cheap drum in a stand up fight - and they also have no reason to let us. Crime and corruption is endemic for several reasons, at least one is cultural in regard to corruption and the fractured and dislocated nature of the nation is another.

For a farmer poppy isn't much more profitable than other crops, but a little counts and in the face of danger from the Taliban and al-Qaida that's about enough encouragement. Farming in a profitable manner requires an infrastructure, both physical and legally. They have neither. Any form of trade requires this and it also requires some level of trust that is absent in a broken country. One thing that has plagued Afghanistan for a very long time is the fractious nature of tribalism and provincialism what they will cooperate on is invaders.

Here is a tremendous danger for NATO and the US, if we become seen as occupiers we're screwed. This business of killing civilians in military engagements has got to stop if that isn't to happen. We know that engagements in populated areas are going get civilians killed, or at least we ought to. The opposition knows this as well and knows perfectly well the damage our side will incur from doing it. Killing people is a fairly straightforward affair, killing only those you want killed is a bit more difficult but then the Catch22 rears its head. Killing people doesn't fix the system required for civilized life required to get the local's cooperation and if you fix it and the people that need killing keep blowing it up... Around and around and what is left is spent blood and treasure and resentments.

I don't know that it doesn't make more sense to leave with the clear warning to everybody in the neighborhood that if they screw with us we'll level the place and then rearrange the rubble a couple times for good measure. That's real tough on civilians but there is also the issue that at some point a nation has to take some measure of responsibility for what it does and allows to happen. If that seems bloodthirsty I'd like to point out that the slow bleeding of nations is also inhumane and as nationalistic as it might seem I'd rather someone bleeds other than us when it come to that.

Whatever it is that we'd like to see in Afghanistan it should be clear enough by now that we cannot go to a place and impose on them the thousand year culture that we have in a couple years, or even a couple decades. The US is a peculiar institution developed across centuries of European culture, primarily English, but with several centuries in development N American aspects that to go to South Asia mountains and tell them how to do it is like expecting a fish to understand English. Even with our English Law culture our democracy building in this country has been a messy and protracted business and we're still not all that good at it. We thing we're doing well when 60% of our population votes. I'm not even going to go into the issue of some of the cretins we manage to elect. We also can't even come up with a good explanation for why a good portion of people vote the way they do.

Contrast the US with Afghanistan, a mountainous inhospitable terrain peopled by a deeply religious tribal people who have suffered under one colonialism after another and previously under various empires with an extremely low education rate and gender policies that belong to an age we can't remember and a legal system incomprehensible to us (where it exists at all) in a place that is just plain broken and has been for decades. What exactly is it that we propose to do there?

That is an honest question, what is the end result that is desired? It certainly can't be as silly as a clone of the US, so what is it? We're pretty displeased with where Iraq has gone, it is now one of the most corrupt nations on earth and misogynistic to boot. We only like Saudi Arabia because they sell us oil. Packistan has us completely pissed, what model is it that suffices? Is it sufficient that they muddle into whatever forsaken mess as long as al-Qaida doesn't get to play? If this is the case then AK47s are cheap and spreading them into every neighborhood and shack with the exhortation that al-Qaida doesn't get to play or we just don't care. A weekly overflight of B52s would be a reminder that's hard to miss.

I'm damn unhappy with our nonexistent plans for Afghanistan, the place eats armies. It has historically and the Soviets ignored that to their loss. I keep my fingers out of the blades of my powersaws and I unplug them before I change a blade because I know the damn things can eat wood and that means fingers don't fare well. We know the same thing about Afghanistan, it isn't called the burial place of empires for no reason and we're not real damn special.

It has been, perhaps validly, pointed out that the Taliban flourished because Afghanistan was left to rot in its ruins. I'm trying very hard to understand what it is that we are doing that is any different minus the killing part.

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