19 July 2010



THE HASHISH ARMY. The projected start of withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan a year from now, is predicated in part on training and expanding Afghan military forces, particularly the Afghan National Army (ANA). A video interview with US Special Forces training personnel suggests that this may prove to be impossible, at least to US standards and expectations. And therein lies the problem -- the clash between cultures. Most US personnel have yet to understand or accept the fact that Afghanistan exists as a national entity mostly on paper and on maps. The country is a sometimes-cooperating, sometimes-competing loose confederation of tribes and ethnic groups, whose history of discord (and resistance to invaders, from Alexander the Great to the USSR to the US) goes back millenia.

On the video, the US officer's disdain for Afghan troops is painfully apparent -- he calls them children (as racist American whites once called blacks children), and bemoans the fact that they operate on a different timeline than he does. How unfortunate that this condescending frontline representative of the US comes across so harshly as the prototypical ugly American. The use of hashish by the troops is only a symptom of the much larger disconnect between US and Afghan cultures, both military and civilian. Greg Mortenson's books Three Cups of Tea and Stones Into Schools demonstrate how it is possible, with respect and humility, to establish personal connections with village and tribal leaders, which ultimately is the ONLY way in which we will defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan -- by providing resources and then empowering Afghans to choose for themselves. Native peoples will always choose an ally who is tolerant and understanding, over an oppressor who is brutal and rapacious. The Taliban is the latter. It is up to the US to become the former.

Adding to the complexity of the war in Afghanistan is the reality that it doesn't address the true source of terrorism. That source lies across the border to the east, in Pakistan, whose government allows safe haven to both Taliban insurgents, and also to Osama bin Laden, the Saudi-born founder of Al-Qaeda and a financier of terrorist acts around the globe. The political and military web becomes even more tangled and sticky when you consider that Pakistan is a nuclear power, and a fierce enemy of another nuclear power (and US ally), neighboring India.

Diplomacy amid such a morass is a delicate tightrope walk at best. Military intervention is as doomed to failure as it was in Vietnam. The US is in quicksand in Asia. The wrong spark at the wrong time could set off a conflagration. And we're worried about a little hashish?

Strange bedfellows.

IMMIGRATION ALLIES. Politics makes for strange bedfellows, as we know. President Obama has discovered an unexpected ally in his push for immigration reform -- the evangelical Christian right. Laurie Goodstein writes that as the proportion of US citizens who are Hispanic has risen, so has the number of influential evangelical leaders. An unlikely and potent alliance has formed between Latino and white evangelicals, and the Latinos are crystal clear in their support of Obama's immigration reform proposals, whatever their differences may be with his other policies. Poetic ironies abound. One can only smile, and hope that Governor Jan Brewer, who signed into law Arizona's offensively racist immigration law, is squirming in her seat. If a proposed INS federal lawsuit seeking to overturn the Arizona law is successful, her continued credibility and tenure will be cast into severe doubt. As well they should. Shame on her.

RANGO. Now, just for grins, a preview of Rango, an animated movie due out next March in which Johnny Depp does voice-over for a gecko. Enjoy.

No comments:

Post a Comment