What is state failure? See my conceptualisation of state failure on the right flank below.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

When "Othering" becomes a strategic factor...

...is always. It just tends to go unnoticed.
A former U.S. NSC official, Hillary Mann Leverett is weighing in on the debate about Afghan politics in this way:
"When I joined the U.S. National Security Council (NSC) staff in late 2001, senior Bush administration officials were already developing an opinion of the Northern Alliance as a cohesive group of heroic and relatively moderate regional commanders who united to combat the rigidly Islamist Taliban. This assessment continues to influence much Western discussion of Afghanistan. It is also, to be blunt, a myth."
This single paragraph is very distorting, in a subliminal sort of way. In fact, the surprising thing is that this sort of view of the Northern Alliance, as a united force for good-as-Americans-define-it, which could have been - wrongly - very popular, was gone real fast. The U.S. military cooperated with former NA leaders post-2001 not so much out of a belief in this myth, but out of pure cynicism, so it would seem to me. They were given the task of counterterrorism as opposed to state-building, and so they were just doing what they could. And the Bush administration was deeming former NA leaders, the none-too-appreciatingly labelled "warlords," acceptable in its practice, strategically (by intention at least, in a negligent way). If it seemed like truly positive admiration for them, I bet it wasn't perfectly honest, or it rested on the assumption that these people were as good as Afghanistan deserved. Truth be told, what they offered, was certainly better in many parts of the country than what the Taliban had offered.
Meanwhile, although I don't have illusions about what it takes to become a commander in the sort of times Afghanistan has been through, I don't think it's truly a plausible option to just bash everyone there. There will be no Afghans left for the sort of Afghanistan that the West is ready to accept with its perfect armschair standards.
The buck doesn't seem to stop anywhere. The better-off or influential figures in the region in general, be they former NA commanders, or Taliban, or businessmen, or Afghan government officials, they are all declared bad, or at least not good enough. The Pakistani Taliban are bad as well (well, since June 23, 2009, in practice*). Anybody (that is basically everybody) involved in the illicit economy in Afghanistan and the region is bad. Corrupt, criminal, or terrorist. Apparently, even the wives of all these people are bad. Remember? Baitullah Mehsud was blown up while his wife was massaging his leg. An unnamed US official reportedly even had the taste to say "no one is expecting him home for dinner tonight" (and this is NOT an Onion TV quote, to be clear).
I mean, it's obvious the whole region is one huge challenge for us all to handle, and everything there is at least structurally, indirectly, interlinked and interrelated with everything. But come on, one shouldn't just drop a huge normative atomic bomb on the discourse of who one should strategically work together with. This is important if one wants to get to an end-state that is different from the world that gave birth to, and was then defined by, these current partners. But it would take resources and trade-offs to achieve a lasting and positive transformation of that kind. Which brings us back to the wider issue of the right strategy - and I promised to post about that soon.
* I mean, look at major air strikes against the TTP leadership in the LWJ's aggregation, starting on June 23.

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