Web Letters | The Nation

Web Letter

Andrew J Bacevich is absolutely spot on, the US cannot possibly "remake Afghanistan" anymore than it was able to remake Iraq--or Vietnam before that. He is also correct in his assertion--both in the interview with Russ Hoyle and in his brilliant The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism, that the belief in America's "special status" as the single moral nation in all of history is the operational basis for such policies. One of the problems with those who hold to the exceptionalist creed is that it places America beyond the normal bounds of historical analysis and causes American policy-makers to think themselves nearly infallible when dealing with what is perceived as an "immoral" enemy. Furthermore, the widespread belief in America's exceptional status among the American people, consistently fostered and supported by the media and politicians of virtually every stripe, is what makes such policies seem legitimate and sensible, despite the irrational--and often fantastical--reasoning underlying such policies.

A prime example is the resurgence of the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. The argument among policymakers is not whether the US can adequately deal with the problem--since it is just naturally assumed that America, bathed as it is in moral righteousness and superior wisdom, always knows best--but rather how to deal with it. Should we send more troops, more helicopter gunships, more Predator aircraft, or should there be a mix of military might and civil-developmental personnel? Should we begin in Afghanistan with combat operations or development programs? Do we need an extra 17,000 or 26,000 soldiers? Is it more important to build a police force or a military force first? Should we include more combat incursions into Pakistan or try to pressure Pakistan to do that themselves?

None of these are really basic policy considerations, i.e., whether or not the policy itself is fundamentally sound, these are just technical/operational choices offered in support of a policy that is already in place. There has been a glaring paucity of internal discussions among policymakers as to whether dealing with the Taliban/Al Qaeda problem should even involve Afghanistan at all. As Pakistani journalist, Ahmed Rashid, wrote in his 2001 book, Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia, the central source of support--financial, materiel, and training--for both the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, throughout the '90s (and according to most reputable sources, continuing to this very day), has come from Pakistan's army and their Inter-Service Intelligence Directorate (ISI). In fact, there is no organization in the region closer in spirit to the Taliban, Al Qaeda and Islamic jihadism generally than the ISI.

For American policymakers to be considering more military and intelligence aid to Pakistan as part of their "new" policy in Afghanistan is simply absurd. It seems a much more sensible (and considerably less expensive) policy would be to attack the Taliban and Al Qaeda at their weakest point: their supply line. In other words, smart policy would require that the US immediately cut off all military aid to Pakistan.

Of course, that would require American policymakers to acknowledge their complicity in the problem and bring into question America's morally infallible position in the world. Don't hold your breath.

Norman Michael Harman

Harpers Ferry, WV

Apr 8 2009 - 10:59am

Web Letter

There are considerable differences between dealing with a nation/states and non- state actors. Nation-states have a territory, infrastructure, people and a economy to defend. The threat of a nuclear war with mutually assured destruction deterred both the Soviet Union and the US from indulging in World War III. Containment was mutual, and not one-sided.

Non-state actors have no territory, infrastructure, people or economy to defend. They are few in numbers, and they do not have the firepower of the nation-state. However, sophisticated weapons are not needed to kill large numbers of people. They can move around and find many safe havens. The types of activities listed under non-state actors' containment have been done since, at least, the Clinton Administration. Bush is no angel, but he had Iraq in the cross hairs and not Afghanistan. The move into Afghanistan was a response to 9/11 and to deny it as a safe haven for Al Qaeda.

Obama's main focus is Al Qaeda. His goals are limited to stability, an Afghan national army, some foreign aid, and Petraeus's bottom-up counterinsurgency methods similar to the Iraqi "Awakening Movement." Hopefully the foreign aid will also be a bottom-up effort.

Foreign aid by the Bush Administration was another opportunity for corporate welfare for multinational big business. The Marshal Plan worked and it wasn't corporate welfare! Our economy survived!

Pervis James Casey

Riverside, CA

Apr 2 2009 - 2:11pm

Before commenting, please read our Community Guidelines.