Joshua Foust writes short and insightful articles about the Afghanistan War at Registan.net– one of the best sources of information about that important but undercovered war (their motto: All Central Asia, All the Time”).
For example, here is a comment about Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace . . . One School at a Time, by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin:
There is a huuuuuuuge difference between exploitation and empowerment. The first is manipulating people to achieve some end-the social engineering aspect of COIN that I think remains its fatal conceit. The second I see as helping people for their own sake. Mortenson was helping the Balti for years before he realized there was a broader context for his work because helping them was the right thing to do.
More importantly, helping people for their own sake makes literally everyone better off. The key to Mortenson’s work is that he didn’t build Western-style schools, or try, Ann Marlowe-like, to impose Western values on the locals simply because we spend a lot of money. Kip notices that he involved the locals in construction, but barely takes it to where it needs to be: when some bigwig at the Pentagon offered Mortenson millions of dollars to build schools in the region, he rejected it because it would make him suspect in their eyes. Oh, and it wasn’t idealistic NGO workers staffing those schools, either-it was locals. They did everything, he just provided the materials.
Drawing these lessons into a COIN context, one is left with the unsettling realization that, unless you’ve done the hard work Mortenson has to ingratiate yourself into their community — by spending years and years embedded with them, building enough trust so that it flows both ways and all can have faith in the outcome-nothing will happen, at least nothing good.
… Our would-be subjects are not idiots, and they know when they’re being used. As long as we look at them as objects for exploitation, rather than as people who just need some help, we will come up short every time.
Two other series that will well repay the time spent reading them:
A series examining the fundamentals of conflict around the Durand Line.
A series examining the effectiveness and utility of American propaganda in and about Afghanistan.
One of his best, both important and demonstrating his knowledge of the area, is “The Danger of American Propagandists” (20 May 2008). As in most of Foust’s post, the links are as useful as the text. This post defies excerpting, so I will just quote the conclusion. The value of the post lies in the evidence and reasoning that gets you here.
This is the story the government does not like to tell, and it is the opposite of the story that gets reported by useful idiots on their six day embeds. And this is why Afghan opinions and attitudes continue to falter in all polls, regardless of the small spots of progress the Army wants to blast all over the papers. Success is important, but failure is important as well. And by refusing to investigate this, the media is failing us. As a result, we cannot effectively gauge how well the effort is truly going.
Please share your comments by posting below. Brief! Stay on topic! Or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling)
For more information about the Iraq War
- My posts about the war
- Important articles about the Iraq War– include some about our use of airpower.
- Our goals and benchmarks, and reports about progress towards them