Every day the attempts to justify the Af-Pak war reach new heights of creativity. Today we have an essay in The New Yorker by Steve Coll, the first in a series explaining that we must do something or other (he never explains what) for the sake of civilization.
Also, Coll never describes the consequences of our withdrawal from the Af-Pak fighting, but hints at it in apocalyptic tones.
Let’s have a contest! In the comments please give your guess as to what Coll will recommend.
- An intense program of civilian aid — a super-Peace Corps program for Afghanistan?
- Doubling down on the war?
- Like Joshua Foust’s, essays that never come to a conclusion?
I guess #2. Furthermore, I suspect he will provide much uplifting rhetoric, but no mention of the messy details of war. How many people we must kill — and how many Americans must die — for the march of civilization? Who will lend us the money for this crusade? How we will repay the war debts? Will the people of the world will pay us to wage this crusade?
More on this following Cull’s next chapter.
“Thinking About Afghanistan“, Steve Coll, The New Yorker, 23 September 2009 — Hat tip on this to Jari Lindholm. Red emphasis added. Much of the text omitted is about the march of civilization. Excerpt:
At the risk of trying the patience of those who seek from Afghan wonks a short yes-or-no opinion about General McChrystal’s assessment of the war and his argument for more U.S. troops pronto, I thought I would try a series of posts this week that seek some distance from the political heat surrounding President Obama’s first (but presumably not his only) excruciating decision as commander-in-chief. I’ll circle around to the yes-or-no, but gradually.
… The United States has a deep interest in the emergence of a stable, modernizing, economically integrated, peaceful South Asia — by which I mean the region that is centered on India, but which also encompasses Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Afghanistan.
… Now, look around the world and ask: After Europe, East Asia, and Latin America, where will this modernizing transformation occur next? The answer seems unarguable: South Asia. (The Middle East, Central Asia, and Africa await their turns.) Why? India.
… American officials and outsiders like myself often wring their hands about Pakistan. The Army and intelligence services in that country are a powerful and regressive force, as evidenced by their self-defeating support for the Taliban and other Islamist networks. Civil-military relations in Pakistan are very poor and constitute, since independence, a dismal history of chronic interventions and failures. Constitutional democracy in Pakistan, while technically present, is badly undernourished; it often seems on the verge of imminent collapse.
In recent memory, however, something like that was true, to varying ways, in Turkey, Indonesia, Brazil, Argentina, the Philippines. It is much, much less true today in those countries because they have modernized and economically integrated in successful regional compacts.
Because of India’s economic dynamism, and because of the common, enterprising culture of Punjab that straddles the Indo-Pak border, if that border were opened, and if the two governments normalized relations (they do not require a romanticized or complete peace, only a pragmatic and functional one) a broad, positive, and durable political-economic change would likely occur in South Asia within a generation.
It is along this modernizing pathway that American policy should concentrate its most ambitious investments. American Presidents had confidence in a vision of this kind after the Second World War; that is why Truman intervened in Greece and Turkey and why the Marshall Plan arose.
Why does the Afghan war figure in this assessment today?
The Taliban are a backward-looking threat to the near-term stability of South Asia — in Afghanistan, in Pakistan, and, as the Mumbai attacks demonstrated, occasionally in India. The United States has an interest in preventing the Taliban from destabilizing South Asia by acquiring influence in nuclear-armed Pakistan or by provoking a war between India and Pakistan, two still-insecure nuclear powers.
What? How did the Mumbai attacks demonstrate that “the Taliban are a backward-looking threat to the near-term stability of South Asia”? Esp given the relatively small area in which the largely Pashtun Taliban have influence.
What are the best means to accomplish this? What is the role of Afghan stability in the larger projects of defeating Al Qaeda and the pursuit of a stable, modernizing, “normal” South Asia beyond Afghanistan?
In strategic terms, the Afghan war is in some ways a sidebar to the main event in the region. Elsewhere in South Asia, in Pakistan and in India, American influence is at best indirect. Even so, these regional American interests at issue in the Afghan war are very powerful; to confirm this, consider the alternative of Pakistan’s failure at the Taliban’s hands.
Too bad Coll does not discuss how Pakistan might “fail at the Taliban’s hands”, or the consequences of such. Perhaps this is just a thrilling lead-in to his next installment.
About the author
Steve Coll is president of New America Foundation, and a staff writer at The New Yorker. Previously he spent 20 years as a foreign correspondent and senior editor at The Washington Post, serving as the paper’s managing editor from 1998 to 2004. He is the author of six books, including The Deal of the Century: The Break Up of AT&T (1986); The Taking of Getty Oil (1987); Eagle on the Street, based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning account of the SEC’s battle with Wall Street (with David A. Vise, 1991); On the Grand Trunk Road: A Journey into South Asia (1994), Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001 (2004); and The Bin Ladens: An Arabian Family in the American Century (2008).
Mr. Coll’s professional awards include two Pulitzer Prizes. … Other awards include the 1992 Livingston Award for outstanding foreign reporting; the 2000 Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Award for his coverage of the civil war in Sierra Leone; and a second Overseas Press Club Award for international magazine writing. Mr. Coll graduated Phi Beta Kappa, Cum Laude, from Occidental College in 1980 with a degree in English and history.
Source: his bio at the New American Foundation website.
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Some posts about the war in Afghanistan:
- Why are we are fighting in Afghanistan?, 9 April 2008 — A debate with Joshua Foust.
- Real experts review a presentation about the War (look here, if you’re looking for well-written analysis!), 21 June 2009
- The Big Lie at work in Afghanistan – an open discussion, 23 June 2009
- “War without end”, a great article by George Wilson, 27 June 2009
- The trinity of modern warfare at work in Afghanistan, 13 July 2009
- Powerful insights about our war in Afghanistan, part 1, 18 July 2009
- We are warned about Afghanistan, but choose not to listen (part 2), 19 July 2009
- Powerful insights about our war in Afghanistan, part 3, 20 July 2009
- You can end our war in Afghanistan, 20 August 2009
- “Afghanistan by the Numbers – Measuring a War Gone to Hell”, by Tom Engelhardt, 9 September 2009
- How many troops would it take to win in Afghanistan?, 15 September 2009