Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Afghanistan: the worst-case scenario

Abu Muqawama on election fraud and counter-insurgency, parts one and two. An excerpt:
I think I have been pretty honest about the difficulties of the war in Afghanistan while at the same time making an argument for why we should continue and even intensify our efforts there. And I would like to think that - for a blogger on counterinsurgency strategy and operations - I have been pretty honest about the difficulty and limits of prosecuting counterinsurgency campaigns as a third party: to a large degree, your success is dependent upon what the host nation government does and fails to do.
The rest here.

Brian Platt of the Canada-Afghanistan blog rounds up this week’s political punditry on the question of in or out, while finding his own confidence in the outcome ‘somewhat inexplicable’.

Part of the explanation for such confidence may be that, as expained in an analysis piece in The New York Times, there is no good clear option in Afghanistan other than this long haul at ground level. Here’s an excerpt from the article, Crux of Afghan Debate: Will More Troops Curb Terror?
“The notion that you can conduct a purely counterterrorist kind of campaign and do it from a distance simply does not accord with reality,” Mr. Gates told reporters last Thursday. “The reality is that even if you want to focus on counterterrorism, you cannot do that successfully without local law enforcement, without internal security, without intelligence.”

Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism expert at Georgetown University, concurred, saying the argument that terrorism can be prevented essentially by remote control was “immensely seductive” — and completely wrong.

“We tried to contain the terrorism problem in Afghanistan from a distance before 9/11,” he said. “Look how well that worked.”

Meanwhile in the UK, Michael Portillo indulges in baby-talk on Afghanistan. Norm decimates his argument. Not a difficult job for him I’m sure, as Portillo indulges in rhetorical moves which have become all too familiar in recent years. One of them is the old chestnut about ‘imposing democracy,’ which I tackled earlier here. Another is the well-worn, to the point of threadbare, notion that to argue for military intervention in case A means one must also support military intervention in cases B, C, and D, because of some common factor between A, B, C and D. Norm deals with this neatly enough:
No, an ambition of political reform in Afghanistan does not in itself mean that 'we should invade China, North Korea, Burma and others'. There's no principle, whether in international politics or in life more generally, requiring that you must not undertake one good project unless you're willing to undertake every good project of the same kind. If there were, the world would be a worse place than it is; you couldn't do anything good, because it would obligate you to do more good than you could. As it is, the Taliban regime in Afghanistan furnished a casus belli by playing host to al-Qaida; winning the war that this led to involves a project of political reform. That the war could also be lost does not falsify this last proposition.
There is another objection to be raised as well. Finding a common factor between cases A, B, C and D does not mean they are identical. For example, China and North Korea possess nuclear weapons, the Taliban do not. Concluding that a particular strategy is possible and appropriate in case A does not pre-judge cases B, C and D unless they are identical, and there are no identical cases, as any grown-up experienced politician knows. So has Michael Portillo entered his second childhood, or is it that he regards his audience as infantile?

And then there’s Portillo’s trivialising of the fight for women’s rights in Afghanistan as trying ‘to make Afghanistan a democracy full of professional women in slinky jeans,’ well, what more would a feminist expect to hear from an old tory?

In contrast, one would hope that anti-war arguments from the left would at least show some solidarity on women’s rights. Um, how does the phrase ‘fluffy issues’ strike your ear?

See also Terry Glavin on women’s rights in Afghanistan and Sudan, and more on women in trousers from Flesh is Grass.

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