Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Flummoxed by Afghanistan

The news from gets worse and worse, offsetting the brightness of last week’s announcement of Obama’s new approach. (Even that announcement contained worrisome elements, but the overall emphasis was on development, which has to be the most liberal way of solving such predicaments.)

But now there are two ugly stories. Yesterday the (maybe a Pakistani branch, though I’m not sure) promised some “amazing” terrorist act in Washington D C. And today there’s a nasty real development: The Afghan government has enacted a new law rolling back the progress of women. Now a man can legally his wife, and she must have his permission to leave the house, and be accompanied by a male relative.

So here’s the situation. Obama has given up on the goal of turning Afghanistan into a . Most people say it just can’t be done. He has scaled back the goal. Now the purpose of the war is simply to make sure that al-Qaeda cannot attack the US or other countries from bases in Afghanistan. (Never mind that al-Qaeda is actually not in Afghanistan but in Pakistan, where NATO fighters are not allowed to go.)

I have a lot of trouble with the idea of abandoning democracy as a goal. I would never have invaded the country to make it democratic — that’s not the way to do it — but I feel a special kind of responsibility for the people whose lives we have disrupted by invading. We broke it, so we have to buy it, as the signs warn in china shops. We have more obligation to fix that society than we might have had if we hadn’t gone into it.

So Obama has stopped talking about the Taliban as the object of our disaffection; it’s that he worries about. There are logical grounds for this, because until now no Taliban person has been involved in a terrorist act in any foreign country. (So says Fareed Zakaria, whose knowledge I would not dispute.) Likewise, Gwynne Dyer proposes that we get out of Afghanistan and leave the Taliban alone, since he doesn’t think al-Qaeda is capable anymore of attacking the West, and the Taliban have no inclination to do so.

But yesterday there was such an expression of intent. One of them is going to amaze us with a terrorist act in Washington – something bigger even than 9/11.

This may be a reaction against the Petraeus approach: to “peel off” some parts of the Taliban and make friends of them. It worked in Iraq, so maybe it will work in Afghanistan — but maybe not. Anyhow, some of the Taliban may be feeling irked by hearing of this plan, especially if they believe it is possible.

Mostly I lean toward the idea of assisting the of villages and helping to establish good governance on the local level as a way of liberating the Afghans from the Taliban – an outcome that apparently they would greatly prefer.

Smart people, including not only Petraeus, Dyer, and Amitai Etzioni (whose newsletter I was just reading) say that the wise approach is to deal with the tribal leaders, for it is the tribes that have always governed Afghanistan. Forget trying to clean up the new national government. It’s too corrupt to fix. Just deal with the tribal elders and win over as many of them as you can (as they did with the Sunni elders in Anbar Province, Iraq).

But can we ignore ? Can we forget about creating a national police force or army? I doubt it. At least, Obama has not tried to promote that degree of devolution. But above all, this business of abusing women appalls me. There was a photo of Karzai in London today, sitting face to face with an enormously displeased Hillary Clinton. The guy looked defeated and shriveled up, far weaker than he had seven years ago when he assumed power. Now everyone admits that his government is a totally corrupt failure – but he’s running for re-election, and in order to gain support he has endorsed this horrible anti-woman law.

Can we support him after that? (Assuming that we would otherwise.) I don’t think so. But what is the alternative? If we believe in promoting democracy, some people would say that’s what we should do – help him and the Afghan people get the kind of laws they want, not the laws we prefer. But what kind of democracy violates the human rights of its female population?

I’m sorry but I have no clue. I cannot imagine any solution that I could embrace without qualifications. And that’s just when it comes to Afghanistan. If I were to discuss Pakistan here, I’d really be at a loss!

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Anonymous Anonymous said...


Jim Wallis is the editor of Sojourners magazine and author of God's Politics. He suggests that we pull out the army of Afghanistan and replace it with an international police force. Rethinking Afghanistan also proposes the same idea. I wonder what you think.

Marilyn F (HT)

5:34 PM  

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