Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Obama's Afghanistan Speech

I fell asleep at 7pm yesterday so didn't actually watch the speech. But I did read the transcript which is available here. The short summary is 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan.

Writing about Afghanistan and Pakistan from the military angle is not something I do a lot. There are better experts for the topic. But once in a while I want to write about the reasons why I don't write about it. Heh.

First, neither Afghanistan nor Pakistan is a stable country in the way we usually define that term, and that is crucial to remember. Pakistan is a volatile place, for example. Afghanistan is really a group of tribal areas, with Kabul stuck up on top like a cherry on a cake, and the tribal areas are not under the control of whatever president might sit on the cherry. The role of tribal ties and the role of religious ties must be kept in mind when discussing concepts such as democracy. Likewise, the role of women as property. Corruption is endemic in both places and governments don't work very efficiently for the many poor.

All this means that nation building is most likely doomed and that importing some Western form of democracy is also probably doomed. Or so I think. Anything that would truly change circumstances would have to start inside those areas and with extensive education. That the Taliban groups attack schools in general and girls' schools in particular is therefore quite logical. That's where real change could be born, though income redistribution is also necessary.

Second, the analysis of this speech and the whole Afghanistan question ultimately depends on whose interests we are focusing on. Is it the interests of the United States? The world? The populations in those areas (including the women)? This point seems pretty obvious, but most of the debates I've followed tend to mix it up too much.

Third, what is "victory" in Afghanistan? To get out of there with our skins intact? Obama now discusses allowing those Talibanis into the government who respect the human rights of others. Perhaps such creatures could be found if women are not defined as human, but all this sounds to me like preparing the stage for leaving Afghanistan as we found it, though with more dead people: The country taking the bottom or near-bottom position in every kind of list of economic well-being or health. And how does Pakistan relate to all this? It is Pakistan, after all, which supported the Taliban, and it is Pakistan which has nuclear weapons.

Finally, I agree with Obama that the mess in Afghanistan is not his fault. But he is the one who must find an adequate broom for the clearing operations. Whether 30,000 extra troops is that broom remains to be seen.