Saturday, September 12, 2009
Do they think America is on their side?
The Clarion Content has declared our recommendation to President Obama and Congress for a policy on Afghanistan, "We (the Clarion Content) believe America and its allies should rapidly and massively draw down their forces in Afghanistan to a level of small counterinsurgency ops only, while supplying significant development aid, especially for literacy and modern irrigation." We imagine the first response of many politicians on both sides of the aisle to be, but Afghan President, "our guy," Hamid Karzai would be thrown out. This is our pre-response to that argument. Call it a pre-joinder, if you will.
Firstly is this whole perception that Karzai is American's guy, and indeed he is. His administration is widely considered corrupt and incompetent. Afghans have centuries old traditions of resisting centralized rule. America is foolishly attempting to buck the trend that is the socio-cultural norm. Worse, by backing a sullied regime America is tainted by its failings.
What would be so bad if Karzai fell? Rather than having to hypocritically look the other way, America could harp on the corruption and failings of any replacement. America's position could be reversed, instead of being co-opted by the existing dishonest structure, it could work to expose venality and dirt.
But what if the new regime were hostile to America? All the better for holding their feet to the ethical fire. Should America see a Kim Jong-il-esque figure rise to power or a Burmese Junta, it would be able to call it out for what it is. Furthermore, America could continue to wield a big stick. Proponents of our existing policy would tell you that America could not give aid to things like irrigation and literacy without Army boots on the ground.
We disagree, again withdrawal is the catalyst to a position flip. Right now, it is on America and allied forces to keep the peace so that services can be distributed and life can proceed as normally as possible. If America withdraws and Karzai falls, maintaining order, providing sustenance and stability is on the successor. America, rather than being blamed for the failings of the status quo, can give aid that highlights the issues of any less than optimal regime that succeeds its puppet. The objection might be, but it (the Taliban or other successor) will resist American help. Again, by allowing the other party to become aligned with and acknowledged as the force of the center, America has turned the tables. Right now, the Taliban and other disgruntled groups whether strictly separatists, clan aligned, tribe aligned, ethnically aligned or else-wise can foment enough trouble to make it very difficult for America and its allies to achieve the political stability necessary to move its development goals forward. Post the fall of Karzai, America can take a very carrot and stick approach. It could make clear to a successor regime, that you are only in power with America's grace. America might not be able to take over, but it could surely bomb you and yours back to the hills and caves. America's price for allowing you to stabilize the country is proceeding with its irrigation and literacy aid programs.
But the new regime, especially if it were affiliated with the Taliban, might still push things that America finds morally objectionable would be the claim of the defenders of the status quo. For example, literacy programs won't be extended to females. The Clarion Content surely agrees that, as always with these things, the devil will be in the details. The Americans will need terrific negotiators, and a brave, firm hand. For example, literacy programs will be extended to Afghan females, but only in classes taught by females.
The most obvious rational for America to change its Afghan policy is, of course, that it is not working. Thousands of Afghan civilians are being killed annually, alienating the populace, undermining America's high hopes and intentions, not to mention its standing in the wider world. Hundreds of American military personnel are being sacrificed on the altar of the military industrial complex. It is time to go a different route.
President Obama's course on Afghanistan has been a tremendous disappointment to the Clarion Content, one of the many ways in which his presidency seems to have fallen victim to the culture of Washington. The more things change, the more things stay the same is doubly true in DC. The President's naive insistence on tackling health care reform above all else has left many important priorities shunted aside. Where are the wholesale changes and advances to infrastructure that the Obama presidency was supposed to bring? Has the work started on the first high speed rail-line? Where are the public access internet connected computers? Heck, where are the plain old bricks and mortar projects as the American economy continues its slow implosion? Just this week the Clarion Content was reading about cracks appearing in the Bay Bridge between San Francisco and Oakland and thinking back on the terrible tragedy that befell Minnesota. The 73-year-old California structure carries about 260,000 vehicles a day. Has the President done anything to push the pedal to the metal on infrastructure investment?
Now we read the President is going to open talks with Iran. To what end? Another needless distraction in the face of much greater problems at home. Every time we look up from our desks, it looks more like Jimmy Carter all over again. Good intentions, lousy execution. Problems in Afghanistan, attempts to reign in Iran, massive unemployment, an economy teetering between stagflation and a double dip recession with no clear bottom in sight. This is a terrible time to be pouring blood and treasure into a Central Asian war for no gain. Hopefully, President Obama is about to change course.