Posted by: Mike Ferruggia | October 24, 2009

Afghanistan

I’ve been trying to follow the news and read up on what’s going on, and I can’t help but think we are repeating the betrayal of Viet Nam–getting the vietnamese to buy into what we were selling, promising we’d be there, and then high tailing it out, or even more so, of the betrayal of the American Indians, to whom we sent so many intermediaries to sign treaties–peace in exchange for land–and then reneged and sold them a new treaty, and then reneged, and sold them a new one.

I am not a proponent of war. But I do firmly believe that if you do go to war you should go to win and get out. There should be 8 billion troops there, getting the job done, and coming home. What are we doing? Why would a village elder ever trust an american promise? I don’t purport to understand the situation in its entirety, but you listen to the supposed experts, and the way seems clear–we need more troops, we need a rebuilding plan-clear, hold, build, something like that, and we have to resolve the pakistan problem where the enemy is. Critics of the administration say the president should do what General McCrystal tells him to–listen to the boots on the ground. I believe the president should weigh his advice, but we should also accept that the president is the commander in chief of the armed forces, not general mccrystal. Having said that, I don’t know if they president is going to handle this right. I was very critical of dick cheney and donald rumsfeld for the way they ran the wars in iraq ans afganistan–they didn’t learn their lessons–and now I’m fearful that Obama is making the same mistakes.

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Responses

  1. I’ve been away for too long.

    Most people seem to understand, as you clearly do, that we have to build stuff in order to win in Afghanistan; that guns alone will not do the job. The general public seems to have a grasp of how basic counterinsurgency works, and that’s a good thing.

    That being the case, why are we still continuing to flounder? Personally, I think one of our biggest weaknesses as a nation is our overdeveloped devotion to procedural justice. Procedural justice is what we practice when we declare a person innocent until proven guilty, when a criminal gets his day in court, and so on. By itself, it is by no means a bad thing. But war, we fail to understand, does not afford us the same opportunities as peacetime. It offers us a different set of opportunities and obstacles. (The key word is different; it is not a matter of more opportunities or fewer, but different.)

    In war, it behooves us to follow what our common sense tells us, and never mind about establishing fair, objective procedures that are applied equally to all. There is little need for procedural justice in a war, because procedural justice exists only in order to keep the ruling parties properly in check. In war, the danger of the ruling parties abusing their power is far outweighed by the danger of the enemy taking advantage of our bureaucratic paralysis. (See what I mean about different?) To win a war, you have to be willing to do some shooting from the hip.

    Now, what does all this mean in practical terms? It means that if we all know (which we do) that Karzai is a weak, corrupt, ineffectual bum, then we should quit backing him and let somebody else get in there. It means that if our aid and development workers need to show some favoritism to a certain community or subcontractor in order to get some strategic stuff done, they they should be given the free rein to do so. This will mean some occassional snubbed feelings, and it means there will be some decisions which, after the fact, will be impossible to justify given the documentation available. On the other hand, it will make room for cunning and guile, elements which are currently totally lacking from our aid and development programs. (And how can you win a war without cunning and guile?)

    In order to change our approach, we need to change the culture at the top. USAID, insofar as I have seen in my own experiences with them, is one of the most narrow-sighted, procedurally hidebound organizations you can imagine. They have no appetite for risk, no recognition of the deviousness inherent in the human landscape they operate in, no willingness to acknowldege the unbridgeable gaps between Afghan realities and USAID’s own ideals. That is their corporate culture, and it feeds down to the subcontractors that USAID hires. All those NGOs with their multi-million dollar projects are eager to please their client, so naturally they approach Afghanistan the way USAID wants them to. Cunning and guile are put aside to make room for procedures and documentation, and as a result, little gets built.

    Change the attitudes at the top, and you will see dramatic changes in the effectiveness of the people on the ground. There are solutions to Afghanistan’s problems, but we have to stop treating Afghanistan like a civilized country if we ever want to implement those solutions.

    • Hey man,

      welcome back and thanks for the always inciteful and experienced comments. I will say that three words in your comment give me trouble personally–cunning, guile, and deviousness. I will be the first to admit, from a martial arts perspective, these are qualities that can be important. I have not really developed them in my tai chi, preferring to focus on the quiet aspects, the waiting, the creative reaction to the situation, but always abiding by a sense of “truthfulness,” as that would apply in a martial situation. I should probably do some thinking and then do a piece on “truthfulness” in martial arts and what that rteally fully means. But all of my training and schooling leads me away from cunningness, guile, and deviousness. Is this a good thing? In war, in battle, in a fight, I would not be beyond using guile and deviousness, although I think in that context it connotes something different from what we ordinarily conjure up by these words. Does it matter who is being devious? Is it ok if the good guys are devious? I tend to think so.
      If you betray the bad guys, it’s ok. If you betray your own guys, or betray people who have foolishly given you your loyalty and end up getting stabbed in the back, well, I don’t have the stomach for that.
      I always said when watching movies about guys who go deep under cover that I couldn’t see myself doing that. Gimme the gun and let me overtly kill the bad guys.
      So, it all needs to be fleshed out more, but again, thanks for some excellent food for thought.
      Also, I don’t want to seem to be trivializing the situation in Afghanistan by waxing philosophically about it.

      Mike


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