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December 05, 2008

Comments

An interesting interview with a retired Soviet general with experience in Afghanistan.

From reading this it strikes me that Afghanistan will continue to be a "failed state" for as long as we continue to define a highly centralized and bureaucratic nation state as the only template for "success". Our efforts, both military and civilian will be sysiphean until we more fully acknowledge the factional and highly decentralizing aspects of Afghan history and culture and work to support them in constructing some sort of loosely federated governing system that is better adapted.

Too bad the USA doesn't have any historical experience to draw on with being a bunch of loosely affiliated states.

Agreed TLTABQ. And heh.

Eric,

I appreciate your in depth reporting and analysis of some very difficult and complicated issues. It seems that one of our problems in dealing effectively with these in the political arena is that we aren't "allowed" to have complicated issues.

A politician with a simple, wrong, solution to a problem is always ahead of the politician who, correctly, admits to complications. We need more informed citizens and your efforts to inform are right on target. Unfortunately, you may have a small audience. It's still nice to have some understanding of the underlying complexities.....Kudos.

A politician with a simple, wrong, solution to a problem is always ahead of the politician who, correctly, admits to complications

Boy if that ain't the truth.

But let me add to it:

A politician with a simple, wrong, and bellicose solution to a problem is always ahead of the politician who, correctly, admits to complications and/or the preference for a non-bellicose solution.

To paraphrase Bill Clinton, people prefer strong and wrong. Of course, it is the misconstrual of "strong" that is also a major problem.

A politician with a simple, wrong…

Doesn’t that assume rather a lot? Like you know wrong from right and are pretty much certain?

I certainly admire that certainty – I wish I had it.

Doesn’t that assume rather a lot? Like you know wrong from right and are pretty much certain?

Fair point, Steve.

If I were looking for a general rule, I'd rephrase Oyster Tea's statement as,

"A politician with a simple solution to a problem is always ahead of the politician who admits to complications."

The trouble is, I think, that there aren't many political problems, especially in the international sphere, that have simple solutions. So any simple solution is likely to be wrong.

OTOH, I'm not sure the concepts of "right" and "wrong" really apply. It's probably wiser to speak of "reasonable," and "stupid."

From the excerpts from the article it sounds like the U.S. needs basically two things and then can call it a day in Afghanistan.

1. Bring Mullah Brehadar into the political process in exchange for his killing or handing over of Mullah Omar.

2. Haqqani needs to change his approach to foreign fighters or die, and not leave a successor with the same foreign alliances he had.

If 1 and 2 can be accomplished, then it would cost nothing for the U.S. to comply with # 3, Hekmatyar's demand that foreign forces leave.

I don't think there's a big strategic asset in Afghanistan that the U.S. is trying to protect. Bush would not have gone in if not for the sanctuary issue. He went in with less of an "agenda" for the country than many of his international and domestic critics desired.

Fundamentally, the US is not asking alot of Afghanistan, or indeed of any Afghan faction, if we are to treat it as a decentralized set of actors. It's just asking all of them to forego certain alliances.

Also, this article points out the U.S.'s past negative influence on Afghanistan. But I think the author is treating it as if that makes it obvious what the U.S. should do next. But it is not obvious. It could support arguments about the US needing to reverse negative political outcomes it contributed to in the past, or arguments about the futility of seeking political outcomes.

The only obvious conclusion to draw from the U.S. record there is that when we criticize others like Pakistan for their record, we should do it with humility. China contributed to the same situation too, so of course they should be humble when they offer an opinion. The U.S., Russia, Pakistan, Iran, India, China, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and scores of Afghan internal factions should all admit that "we" screwed up the place and that "we" should unscrew it.

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