Secular Shia Lebanese immigrant academic Fouad Ajami, former unofficial adviser to George H. W. Bush, writes disapprovingly of the Obama Administration's plans to bail on Iraq while fighting the supposed good war in Afghanistan.
The new cause shall be a return to the struggle for Afghanistan. This is the liberal narrative: the bad, unilateral "war of choice" in Iraq, the good, multilateral "war of necessity" in Afghanistan. The doves on Iraq can thus be hawks on the Afghan-Pakistan frontier. The strategic gurus who preached that Iraq is a hopeless, artificial state put together by Gertrude Bell and Winston Churchill and T.E. Lawrence can try for victory and nation building in the unforgiving tribal lands of Afghanistan and Pakistan. If there is an artificial state in our world of nations, Afghanistan must be its closest approximation. If there is a false national boundary -- mocked by ethnicity and historical allegiance -- it is the Durand Line, drawn up by British power in the 1890s, between Afghanistan and Pakistan, through the lands of the Pashtuns. Afghanistan could yet thwart President Bush's successors, frustrate them in the way Iraq frustrated him.
Iraq still is an artificial state with the Kurds already ruling their area with de facto independence. Will the Arabs be able to entice or force them to stay in Iraq? Or will they reach some sort of agreement where the Kurds pretend to stay in Iraq while continuing to govern their area without Iraqi Arab involvement?
Ajami is right that Afghanistan has an even larger dose of tribalism than Iraq. Compare Afghanistan's fertility rate of 6.58 with Iraq's fertility rate of 3.9. The assorted Afghani tribal groups can afford to lose a lot of their young males at war. Plus, they do not have to listen to pacifist women since men dominate.
Note that Ajami doesn't call for splitting up Afghanistan. Would it make sense to shift the Pashtun part of Afghanistan into Pakistan? Or pull the Pashtun parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan together into a 3rd new nation? My guess is that the Pakistani central government would not take kindly to giving territory. But at the same time the Pakistanis might not want more Pashtuns added to the balance of Pakistani politics either.
By one measure the US in Afghanistan is more like the US in Vietnam than the US in Iraq. Pakistan serves as a sanctuary for Taliban fighters to a much greater extent than any neighbor of Iraqi provided sanctuary for militias in Iraq. The war in Vietnam had many differences as well. But achieving a state in Afghanistan that can be labeled "victory" seems hard to me.
I question the intellectual capacity of either of America's two political parties to think rationally about the Middle East. I wish we could wash our hands of it because I do not expect US policy in the region to be anything approaching wise.
What fraction of the US troops withdrawn from Iraq will get shifted to Afghanistan? Will Obama limit the scale of US involvement in Afghanistan in order to free up more money for domestic welfare programs?
|Share |||By Randall Parker at 2008 December 30 10:48 AM MidEast Afghanistan|