Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Men, muj and mountains

I mentioned the other day that I wanted to talk about the geopolitical prospects for our current wars in the Middle East. I do, but on reflection I wanted to concentrate on the lesser known of the two. We've talked a lot, here and all over, about Iraq. Afghanistan, when it's mentioned at all, is usually conceded to be the "better" of the two; many of my fellow liberals who will rain down curses on Dubya and his cabal of idiots for the Iraq misadventure will pull up short on the 'Stan. " really needed to be was just that we lost our focus when that dumb bastard Cheney started pushing "Iraq, Iraq..."

You've probably heard something similar. It's become the CW of Afghanistan: the noble project that failed because Dougie Feith ("the stupidest fucking guy on the planet"), Paul Wolfowitz and Cheney's OSP ginned up a war based on nukes that weren't there.Well, I want to disagree.

Not that we should have hammered the guys who planned the attacks of 2001, or the Taliban state that harbored them. In fact, that sort of thing is practically tradition in Afghanistan - the British made punitive exeditions into Afghanistan the "most popular Central Asian outdoor sport of the Nineteenth Century" - and even the bombed and strafed Afghans seem to find them more a violent and nasty sort of diversion than "total war".

But spending years, lives and billions occupying and "building" a "democratic" Afghan government and the Afghan state?

This is foolishness.

What's more than foolish, this is a "foreign occupation" mission that probably has not been accomplished since the last Macedonian hoplite left in 323 BC and not well even then.

It boggles my mind that were are trying to "secure" and "democratize" the place. Do we think the locals will thank us? That with a few hundred years of occupation they will turn into Framingham, Mass., only with goats and Chitrali caps?

Everyone who talks about Afghanistan (except the wingnut Dick Cheney branch of the GOP, but they're still hoping that if we kill enough wogs one at a time that Usama & Co. will show up on the foredeck of the U.S.S. Missouri in morning coats and surrender - good luck with that one, Dick) pretty much accepts two broad facts-on-the-ground about it:

1. It's an unreconstructed tribal shithole where smuggling, skulduggery and intra- and intertribal warfare are pastime, hobby and career and have been since Philip of Macedon was a kid.

2. No military social or political force since Philip's time has had any significant, long-term effect on Fact #1.But the reactions to these facts seem to fall into two general types as well:

A. People - like me - who look at this stuff and say, sweet baby Jesus, trying to "establish government authority" or "keep these guys neutral" is gonna take forever and a day and is gonna last until the first GI turns his back, or the monthly bribe gets cut off by Congress to fund some fucking porkbarrel project in West Cornhole, Tenn. Why would we want to try and do what Alexander, the Mughals, Mongols and Soviets couldn't do back in the day when wholesale slaughter did nothing worse than get you on the cover of "Modern Genocide" magazine?

B. People like John McCain and Hillary Clinton (and so on...), who straightout admit all the above...but then end the sentence with " we'll just have to try harder/smarter/longer/more cunningly."

It's not that those of us in column A disagree with the folks in column B about how terrific this would be if we could do it, or the connection between the lawless shithole parts of the world and the hard men who emerge from them ready to do dirty deeds dirt cheap. It's just that we look at all the times that OTHER smart guys have said this - I'll bet that Lord Auckland and Bill Macnaghten thought they had it wired, too - and ended up in bits all over Kabul bazaar and wonder, OK, are we that much smarter, faster and stronger? Or have we just forgotten all the other nifty schemes that came before us.

If what we heard back was something truly inspired; some really innovative ideas of how to turn this clusterfuck into something else it'd be a worthwhile conversation. But instead we read about the boys from Battle Company and the supporters of their efforts describing the same process that took Elphinstone and Co. to their doom - except with tac air - and wonder...

...why?Any fool can invade - it takes a real fool to try and occupy incoherant, semivicious, impoverished Third World "countries" whose history, pastime and primary entertainment is either dictatorship or tribal warfare.

I have no doubt that most people in Afghanistan don't want to live under a repressive theocratic dictatorship, any more than I want to live in a Benedictine monastery. Not wanting to be a takifiri jihadi does NOT mean that they want to be an Enlightenment Western liberal OR an American ally, which seems to be the point of all this standing around playing whack-a-muj in Central Asia, any more than not wanting to pray at midnight makes me want to be a porn star.

I'm sure that the inhabitants of Central Asia want to be as modern and First World as they can be. What I'm also sure of is that they are unlikely to become intellectual heirs of Western Enlightenment irreligious political liberalism. Or fans of Israel. Or forget that Europeans (and now Americans) have tromped around their countries in seven league boots. The point of "nation-building" and "democratization" seems to be that if these people can just get the vote, Blu-Ray, Cosmo and Wal-Mart they will become free-trade globalists and stop attacking us.

Since our politial elite decided that the end of the Cold War meant that America's new calling was to bucket around solving the world's problems we've spent a great deal of cash and more than a couple of young lives fucking with places like Kosovo, Somalia, the 'Stan and Iraq. We seem to have managed to avoid the lessons of them all, which boil down to; no, they won't be grateful for your good intentions; yes, there will be some form of blowback eventually, and; yes, you can mortgage your treasury to the Chinese and get your young people killed and still come out with little or nothing twenty or thirty years down the road. The Talibs are in the mountains and our boy Karzai has the keys to the executive bathroom in Kabul. Time to give the logbook and lock key to the Humvee to the Afghan Army and return home... try and develop our OWN country for a change.

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