Monday, January 31, 2011

Afghanistan: no end in sight.

The Kutuzov curse
The Americans and ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) Iforces] are fighting a formidable war in Afghanistan, but there is no end or staying power in sight. One ends up questioning why so many lives have been lost, so much money spent, such a quantity of technology applied, to such little avail.
What comes to mind is the tactic that the Russian Generals Kutuzov and Bagration used to lure Napoleon into an ever-expanding spider web, which encouraged the French to overreach. The Taliban follow a similar path, obliging the American and  ISAF forces to adjust to enemy tactics rather than impose their strategy on an elusive enemy.
The Peruvian Nobel Laureate for Literature, Mario Vargas Llosa, not known for being pro-American, now calls Islamic fundamentalism the definitive “enemy”.
 It has been pointed out that this faceless, borderless, metamorphic enemy which pursues a strategy of metastasis worldwide is often immune to “traditional “warfare. In Afghanistan, the US and  ISAF have no alternative but to rely upon a “hit and run” model, supported by high- tech weaponry.  However, advanced technology is no match for a psychological situation where the other camp is addicted to a culture of death.
There is a growing clash at all levels (established government, Afghans, Taliban) between a tribal society, ruled by traditional rules and allegiances and a centralized, rational intervention force.
The Taliban did not “deliver” Osama Bin Laden because the rules of “giving shelter” that apply in that cultural model do not allow such a transgression. There were other motives as well, certainly, but one should not underestimate the “firewall” aspect of ingrained tribal customs.
Is this war “winnable”?  Maybe, but then what? Fundamental Islamism is a fifth column which can no longer be confined to a geographic area. Should we envisage a formula of permanent dispersed warfare that would distract us from our own priorities?
Under the current strategy we will never be able to evict this perverse Hydra from the face of the earth. We know that the ”beast” still feeds mostly in the elusive Bermuda triangle of Afghanistan/Pakistan/India.
 Afghanistan does not represent a homogeneous “ensemble.” Pashtuns, Tajiks, and Uzbeks divide Afghanistan, rather than uniting it, while Pakistan becomes an unreliable ally by the minute .THe US have there a geopolitical interest which is far more important than Afghanistan “an und fur Sich”.
India is a friendly democracy which fears for its own priorities in the region and will not accept living under the cloud of failed states (one nuclear) on its northern border.
Meanwhile China, Russia and the Caucasus look on or  give reluctant minimalist logistic  support to the Americans, without sharing the burden and  cash[ing] in [on] for their lip service.
I  share the belief that the United States has no real vested strategic interest in [the region] Afghanistan, other than to fight terrorism through other means  such as “intelligence” and micro interventions (drones, special forces).
Once the US troops leave, one might expect a wave of political Darwinism, with political, ideological and religious opponents fighting it out amongst themselves in the absence of the “Western Satan.”
The outcome will largely condition [our] policy in the future. [We].The lesson learned from the Iraq debacle is that the enemy you know can be more desirable than an alternative which lurks in the shadow. Besides, those costly interventions “a la carte” are amoral, since other similar situations in broken states, such as Somalia, Sudan and Zimbabwe, continue to deteriorate in a climate where indifference is fed by greed.
After Saddam, we got an emboldened Iran, its geopolitical power multiplied by two with the weakening of its rival, Iraq. Such miscalculations must be avoided at all cost in the future. The strategy should be to isolate, and only intervene[ in last instance,] with planned timing, economy of means, international support and attention to a timely “finish” (as was the case with the first Iraq war).
This form of containment is not passive. Humanitarian aid, education, and development of infrastructure are goals that are better pursued by the UN, which is not tainted by the burden of an occupant reputation. The US has its own priorities both at home and as  the leader of a multi-polar world.
Overstaying in Kabul is not in America’s interest. Despite America’s [this country’s]  many negatives (a damaged K-12 educational system, an economic model that is penalizing the middle class, to name just two), these are offset by a record number of Nobel Prize winners and creative entrepreneurs. America continues to attract minds. It should pay more attention to winning hearts.
Some commentators predict the end of American supremacy. Newly emerging countries have made extraordinary strides which generate disruptive innovations. China, first of the league, creates uneasiness not only in the West but also amongst its fellow dragons. Let us not forget that while some might dislike the USA, they still want to emulate them, whereas the Chinese are looked upon with envy but there is no love left for Beijing’s “pull model”.
 Meanwhile Beijing is all too happy to see the Americans do the dirty work in Afghanistan, which fits into their own handling of the Muslim minorities in Western China .
 The same goes for the Russian Federation, which faces an Islamic insurgence both at home and in Chechnya, Dagestan and Tajikistan. Moscow wants to stay clear of another engagement in Afghanistan but is fearful of an American debacle. Its support for the Americans comes more from self interest than genuine solidarity.
The added value of the American way of life should never be endangered, as it is today, by following a policy which is more an imposition than a choice. The US has friends, but the US and its [western] allies should not lose oversight of their fundamental interests, which are not rooted in the graveyard of Empires.

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