Wednesday, August 06, 2008

The Unbearable Idiocy of Certain American "Foreign Policy" Wonks

Have a glance at Conn Hallinan's "Afghanistan: Not a Good War" in Foreign Policy in Focus and you will be subjected to an almost pornographic illustration of the craven, shallow and moronic habits of mind that prevail within what passes for the intellectual content of American "anti-war" polemics.

All in aid of the case for abandoning the Afghan people by simply assembling the more powerful nation-state powers in the region and cutting a deal with the Taliban, the column begins with a revisionist straw man, ends with a silly and meaningless platitude, and in between, almost every paragraph contains a non-sequitur, a logical fallacy, or an embarrassing, transparent error. It's simply so bad, so shallow, so wrong and so stupid, one wonders where to start.

But one has to start somewhere, so let's go with Hallinan's claim that the Afghan people exhibit a "strong ambivalence about the presence of foreign troops." If you follow his citation, you will see it leads to an Environics poll (pdf) released in Canada last year, which Hallinan misrepresents in this way: "Only 14% [of Afghans] want them out now, but 52% want them out within three to five years. In short, the Afghans don't want a war to the finish."

In fact, that's pretty well exactly the opposite of what the poll actually shows: Forty-three per cent of the Afghan respondents said they want foreign troops to remain in their country "however long it takes" to defeat the Taliban and restore order, while 15 per cent said they want foreign troops to remain for three to five years, 12 per cent said two years, and 11 per cent said foreign troops should remain one more year.

Further contradicting Hallinan's claims that there exists a "strong ambivalence about the presence of foreign troops" among Afghans, is the mere fact of the poll showing that the Afghans who support the presence of foreign troops (a presence Hallinan ridiculously describes as an "occupation," a favourite stoppist canard) actually outnumber those who want foreign troops out immediately by about five to one. In any public opinion poll, in any country, on any issue, results like that are about as far from "ambivalence" as it's possible to get.

But even if you don't know much at all about Afghanistan, you only have to be a person of average intelligence with your wits about you to notice the sleight of hand at work within the essay itself, at its very core. You should be able to see it without checking Hallinan's facts or following his citations at all. (Should I mention that Hallinan, a prevost at the University of California at Santa Cruz, is also a denizen of that swamp that emits its noxious vapours via Counterpunch, the far-right Ayn Rand sect than runs, and is also one of those apples that falls not far from the tree? Oh What, and The, and Hell.)

The "West's story line of the enemy as a tightly disciplined band of fanatics" does not even exist, so it is no wonder Hallinan provides no evidence for it; no one who knows anything about Afghanistan asserts that the country's armed "insurgent" groups, drug-runners, gangsters and thugs (even those we all tend to collectively describe as "the Taliban") are in any way tightly disciplined or united.

And that's where Hallinan's house of cards collapses on account of its own internal idiocy. The Taliban leadership itself is especially and violently disunited on the matter of negotiations, power sharing, and deal making. Yet negotiations, power sharing and deal making constitute the very course Hallinan counsels.

We would all like a negotiated peace to be possible. The Afghans themselves wish this was possible, although accommodating the Taliban is a proposition you could accurately say Afghans really are "ambivalent" about, as the same poll shows. But in order for any deal to work, the main body of belligerent, obscurantist crackpot gangsters would have to agree to put down their guns and knives, accept the Afghan constitution, and be prepared to do such things as run for office, like everyone else. And they haven't, don't and won't agree.

Setting aside the matter of how long a "peace" like that would last and what would have to be conceded in otder to secure it, more to the point is the fact that the Karzai regime, with the assistance of the United Nations and the International Security Assistance Force, has already negotiated the disarming, surrender and rehabilitation of tens of thousands of "insurgents"anyway. Further to that, for good or ill, but certainly to the chagrin of Afghan human rights activists, Karzai persists in inviting Taliban leaders to accords in exchange for what amounts to amnesty and even the control of specific ministries in Kabul.

What these facts betray and reveal about the "Let's Talk With the Taliban!" trope as it's deployed by the likes of Hallinan is the emptiness of its content, which should alert you to the good sense of immediately scrutinizing its function. And when you do that, you notice that its main utility in the so-called "West" is as a polemical gimmick designed to conceal the absence of any emancipatory, progressive, sensible alternatives available within the "anti-war" discourse, while in Afghanistan, its main purpose is as a kind of balustrade for the most enthusiastic supporters of deal-cutting, democracy-crushing and women-betraying - which is to say the most reactionary, misogynist, cynical and corrupt of the Kabul elite.

No wonder then, the plaintive, pride-hurt and oft-heard American refrain: "Why do they hate us?" Here's your answer: You will be hated. You don't get to decide about that. But you do get to decide who will hate you, and who will not. So suck it up and decide, and then you might be better equipped to confront your pride, and your shame.

In the meantime, for particularly sensible Americans of the left, pay attention to Platypus.


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