Still smarting from my brutal yet inconclusive mano-a-mano over Afghanistan with a tenacious but ill-informed German isolationist, I was lazily browsing through this week’s crop of dismal Afghan analysis when I came across this.
Aptly titled “Graveyard of analogies”, it’s a new article by the eminently wise Pakistani journalist-scholar Ahmed Rashid, and it basically says the same thing I was so crudely trying to articulate when I suggested we should “take a break from that tired old Soviet analogy”. Money quote:
Since the first American bombs fell on Afghanistan in October 2001, a cottage industry of doomsayers has arisen among academics and journalists, warning that the US will fail in the so-called ‘graveyard of empires’ just as the Soviets did.
As Barack Obama takes office – and reiterates his intention to send 30,000 more troops into Afghanistan, such prophecies have returned anew, insisting that Afghanistan is a cesspool of ungovernable tribes, unscaleable terrain and unwinnable wars.
But to compare the American and Soviet invasions is misguided [...]: the Soviets had no support inside or outside the country when they blundered in with their tanks to prop up an unpopular Afghan communist government that took power by coup.
The American failures in Afghanistan were not foreordained by Afghanistan’s unyielding terrain or fractious tribal politics: they were failures of decision-making and commitment in an attempt to achieve ambitious goals with minimal resources. George W Bush, who disdained ‘nation-building’ as he ran for president in 2000, had no plans to do it in Afghanistan.
And while you’re at it — particularly if you still believe Afghanistan is “a land-bound, utterly isolated low economy country without cultural or political relevance to us”, as my esteemed blogger colleague from Germany does — read what Barnett Rubin has to say about that:
The history of Afghanistan over the last thirty-five years has been that of the end of the country’s status as an isolated buffer state. Rather than separating conflicts, Afghanistan now links them. Ten years ago Afghanistan, besides having a low-intensity conflict between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance, was also the scene of India-Pakistan and Sunni-Shia conflicts and, to a certain extent, U.S.-Iranian-Russian competition over pipeline routes. All of those conflicts have only become more intense. In addition, today Afghanistan is the theater for the War on Terror, the ill-defined confrontation between the United States and global Islamist movements; the conflict between NATO and Russia; the confrontation between the United States and Iran; the struggle within Pakistan over that country’s future; and a transnational insurgency spanning Afghanistan and Pakistan and linked to al Qaeda. Finally, there is a higher level of mobilization around the ethnic, tribal, regional, and sectarian cleavages that have always marked Afghan politics.
I’m sure a nimble mind can come up with any number of excuses to dismiss out of hand even these grand old men of Afghan studies, but one thing is incontestable: myth-mongers or war-lovers they’re not.