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   One would think that there would be some reference to the anthropological literature on Afghanistan in the debate over our involvement.  Instead the "experts" that the public hears are journalists and  retired military.  Recent articles on the U.S. future in Afghanistan, by Max Hastings and Edward Luce in the Financial Times this week are typical of the attitude of the media but focus on different issues.  The point Mr. Hastings seems to make is that neither the Afghanistan=U.S. supported government nor the Pakistan government "are able to deliver progress to the people" of Afghanistan.  This is a problem in perception that has its foundations in a serious cultural blindness.  What is progress to Mr. Hastings and the West does not seem to be progress to the majority of the Afghan people.  Mr. Luce is concerned with the interests of the US in Afghanistan and the stability of the region as envisioned by Western military and political leaders.  This is formed without a clear understanding of both recent history - the Soviet experience - and the views of the Afghan and Pakistani people.  Mr. Luce refers to a recent poll on the feelings of Pakisanis about the threats they face and the USA is the greatest one they see.  

Perhaps the single most astounding lack of discussion in recent years is the Soviet invasion and failure.  Like the British failure a century ago, no one seems to be concerned with how culture has affected the outcomes.  As Frederick Barth, the anthropologist who studied the area in the 1950s and 60s noted, the British established a degree of tolerance of their presence by bribery not military success.  The Americans have used the same means in Iraq and call it "success" as well. The "surge" had no real affect in Iraq, but the truck loads of dollars has and without them there would be chaos. We should also note the parallel with the British experience and the Americans, since it was the East India Company that had been most involved militarily in both India and the Afghan zone at the time.  Today private military companies are doing the same.  
    It is clear that no "progress" can be made in the region with the present situation and tactics.  For Obama to listen to the military now is like LBJ listening to them about Vietnam.  Only failure can be produced no matter what it would be called in a decade or more of war.  We should all leave now and allow the Afghans to produce their own "progress".  We should also recall that the Taliban and al-Qaeda are both the products of Western military meddling, more of which can only further destabilize the area.  For every day we are there we create more volunteers for each organization.  Since Alexander the Great, for almost 3,000 years invaders have justified their crimes in Afghanistan as bringing progress or helping them. I provided a more detailed examination in an earlier post here:
andConsensus It is time to pack up and help ourselves.

Niccolo Caldararo, Ph.D.
Dept. of Anthropology
San Francisco State University

Originally posted to niccolo caldararo on Sun Nov 01, 2009 at 08:39 AM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  100,000 Soviets retreated, and they were right (8+ / 0-)

    next door.

    We are approaching the same length of occupation.

    This situation sucks.

    "Somebody has to do something, and it's just incredibly pathetic that it has to be us." Jerry Garcia

    by bamabikeguy on Sun Nov 01, 2009 at 08:45:33 AM PST

  •  I would have liked to see this diary be longer. (4+ / 0-)

    I would have liked more discussion about what the Afghans and Pakistanis consider progress.

    i can't watch [Obama] speak on tv for more than 5 minutes or else what he's saying starts to make sense to me. It's very scary.

    by Kimball Cross on Sun Nov 01, 2009 at 08:50:37 AM PST

  •  For Obama to listen to the military now is like.. (6+ / 0-)

    LBJ listening to them about Vietnam.

    Exactly!  Time to bring our guys home.  Anything less than withdrawal is insane.

    "The truth shall set you free - but first it'll piss you off." Gloria Steinem

    Save the Internet!

    by One Pissed Off Liberal on Sun Nov 01, 2009 at 08:52:33 AM PST

    •  Political suicide, as well. (4+ / 0-)

      Obama does not need a Vietnam around his neck.

      •  Cuts Both Ways (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        For Obama to over-rule McChrystal is also potential political suicide in the mid-terms and perhaps for his reelection bid in 2012.

        The mistake was to ask McChrystal for a report in the first place.  The naivety was to think that such a report would not be leaked.  With the military commander in the field asking for more troops in a very public way ... Obama has boxed himself in.

        Leaving completely is not a realistic option (I wish it was but it isn't).  Allowing the Tailban to over-run the country would also be political suicide at home.  Obama said counter-insurgency was the strategy he wanted to employ in Afghanistan and then asked McChrystal for a plan.  Now he needs to reverse course and change the strategy.  Very few politicians are willing to admit mistakes.  We will never be successful in counter-insurgency in Afghanistan. We need to do limited counter-terrorism and security operations for major population centers.  That's it.  No more.  Less in more in Afghanistan.

        •  no, 1st mistake was putting McChrystal in charge (3+ / 0-)

          but the problem was that was who Petraeus wanted, and Congress is reluctant to take him on.

          McChrystal's track record, including his involvement in the cover up of what happened to Pat Tillman, should have led to far more vetting and probably rejection of this promotion.

          do we still have a Republic and a Constitution if our elected officials will not stand up for them on our behalf?

          by teacherken on Sun Nov 01, 2009 at 09:40:29 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  well ... (0+ / 0-)

            I disagree.  The first mistake was the decision to make COIN (counter-insurgency operations) the new strategy in Afghanistan.  McChrystal was chosen in large part to fit the strategy.  If COIN is the strategy then McChrystal was a good choice (despite his troubled past with using torture in Iraq).

        •  Leaving completely is not a realistic option? (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          allep10, Words In Action

          Oh but it is.  It is the only realistic option.  Our wanton bombing and killing in Afghanistan has done nothing but fuel the insurgency there.  Take it from one who knows:

          Not worth fighting for

          No matter what you think of the Taliban (I don't much care for them myself), they are Afghans and have much more business being there than we do.  Our continued bombing of wedding parties and the like only makes them stronger.

          "The truth shall set you free - but first it'll piss you off." Gloria Steinem

          Save the Internet!

          by One Pissed Off Liberal on Sun Nov 01, 2009 at 10:54:02 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Not In The Near Term It Isn't (0+ / 0-)

            It's pure fantasy to think that we are going to pick up and leave Afghanistan completely in the near term.  Maybe it makes you feel better saying it but that doesn't change how utterly unrealistic it is.  It's like saying you want everyone to recycle more.

            Did you read David Rhode's account of his captivity by the Taliban in the NYT?  

            Your statement that the Taliban are Afghans ... that is only partially true.  Many are Pashtuns from the NW tribal area of Pakistan and there are also many foreign jihadis as well.  

            Allowing the Taliban to overrun Kabul would be a disaster for the US.  We can prevent that with less troops than we have there today.  

        •  Obama&Korea (0+ / 0-)

          Yes, you are right, Truman had the same problem, a general in the field who was on the verge of going rogue and a public that could not understand why the war was going on so long but could not accept an American defeat.  I think this is the closest America has ever come to nuclear war.  Had the Russians pushed the Chinese and given them full support America would have been fighting a long and bitter war over Korea unless MacArthur's threat of nuclear bombs was believed.  No one apparently wanted a full scale war though had the Soviets pushed it they were at the height of their power both industrially and internationally, history might be quite different today.  The mountains of dead would likely have eclipsed WWII.
            For Obama, McChrystal should be fired and the troops brought home.  But Obama is no Truman and Truman went on to try and fight a war that only Eisenhower could end ignominiously.

    •  Dad and I are both of a certain age. Dad spent (7+ / 0-)

      four years in the Air Force in the mid-late 60s. We were just saying this morning that Afghanistan is looking more and more like Vietnam every day. It is time to bring our men and women home.


  •  Its not going to happen. (0+ / 0-)

    Noone is getting out NOW.

    Laughter is a force for democracy - John Cleese

    by GlowNZ on Sun Nov 01, 2009 at 08:53:40 AM PST

  •  Anthropology and history. (4+ / 0-)

    Your diary covers both, and both offer much needed perspectives on this conflict.

    Nothing amuses me more than the easy manner with which everybody settles the abundance of those who have a great deal less than themselves. --Jane Austen

    by feeny on Sun Nov 01, 2009 at 08:57:26 AM PST

  •  The cultural differences are so profound (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ybruti, Jahiz, NY brit expat

    that most Americans can not grasp the situation.

    Take for example "mans best friend" In the West we love dogs and in Afghanistan you won't find any dogs.

    Dogs are considered evil and are the spawn of Satan. They have been killed for centuries there.

    The idea that American families often treat a dog as member of the family is unthinkable to them.

    This is just a small example of the differences and how the idea of creating a stable/rational state in our image is ridiculous.

    •  correction: (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      NY brit expat

      I should have said in certain parts and tribes and religious factions in Afghanistan.

      Dog fighting is big in Kabul.

    •  An Afghan friend (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      jethrock, NY brit expat

      long in the U.S. still remarks with wonder at our love of dogs - "dogs everywhere!"

    •  I have an Iranian friend who can understand (0+ / 0-)

      some Afghanis talk (not sure which language).
      Several years ago, some Afghan soldier was being interviewed on CNN, and he was explaining how he would get his reward in heaven if he died---the young virgins. This was all via a translator, of course.  Except that's not what he really said---he actually said that he was looking forward to all the young boys he would find in paradise.
      Another small difference.
      Pisses me off that the correct translation wasn't given though... more "news", American style.

    •  I think you're right... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      the cultural differences are immense, and creating a rational/stable state that reflects the western values is an absurd and losing strategy.  

      That being said, I do think there exists some possibility to influence educational standards and political freedom. But, we can't do that by fighting a military battle with insurgents. Our only option, I think, is to change the strategy to be solely socially supportive. Of course, this means we have to stay there for the long haul, and I don't think there is the political will for this.  

      Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

      by Jahiz on Sun Nov 01, 2009 at 09:42:43 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  What I'd like to see is an expanded... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    NY brit expat

    international presence. This could be in the form of UN peace-keepers bolstered by NATO serviced by a dozen or so military bases throughout the country. We could maintain a dramatically reduced military there in a supportive role instead of as an aggressor. Change the mission to social support (food, water, better schools, etc.) and shrug off the offensive strategy.

    Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

    by Jahiz on Sun Nov 01, 2009 at 09:21:43 AM PST

  •  Leaving cultural differences aside for the moment (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jethrock, cassandra123

    I want to stress history. Honestly, given its history and responses to international aggression, they should be handing out t-shirts saying "Afghanistan, Graveyard of Empires."  

    Afghani response to how they perceive foreign interference has always been harsh; given the terrain, this general view of the people in the country, our inability to fight a long-term guerrilla war, and the complete and utter stupidity with which we have waged this campaign (going back to the soviet invasion and our support for the insurgents, some of whom were foreigners that we and the Chinese  backed against the Russians that imported Wahabism to a new area) has literally made it impossible that we can restore a state to this society. Add to that Pakistani support of the Taliban during its time in power and that the war has spread to Pakistan and the illegitimacy of the politicians we are backing and we are looking at a mess that will literally wind up burying us. The parallels to Viet Nam are serious and not exaggerated.

    The problem is that have in large part created this mess, the Afghanis will be the ones suffering, and, yet, we really need to cut and run seriously before we further draw ourselves and allies into a mess that will take too many lives (one is already too many). Strategy in this conflict (and similar ones) needs to be re-examined and the stress needs to be upon diplomatic, political, social and economic encouragement rather than military options.

    No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable (Adam Smith, 1776, I, p. 96).

    by NY brit expat on Sun Nov 01, 2009 at 09:30:21 AM PST

  •  There is no chance at all that Obama is (0+ / 0-)

    bringing troops home from Afghanistan. Iraq? Hope so. The anthropology of domestic imperialist politics is what's relevant here.

  •  With all due respect (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Norm DePlume

    "Anthropology", the discipline as a whole, does not "say" anything as simple as a yes or no on political questions.

    That's not to say that anthropological studies could not or should not be used as data on which politicians can base conclusions -- together with those provided by political, historical, linguistic, religious, and military experts.  However, Dr. Caldararo hasn't actually provided such data, nor does he seem to consider the effects of changing times and circumstances; the set of political pressures on the Afghans are very different from what they were only 30 years ago, let along 40, 50, or 100 years ago; the military capabilities of the U.S. Army are considerably different from those of the armies of the British Raj or of John Company (which was not in any way remotely comparable to Blackwater, btw).  

    With reference to more recent history, calling the Taliban "a product of Western military meddling" is both untrue and ethnocentric, in that it ahistorically suggests that "the West" (itself a highly problematized term) created the Taliban, as well as denying agency to the persons who were part of the Taliban movement -- as if they couldn't make up their own minds, and were simply puppets of "the West".  In fact, there's a very complicated history of fundamentalist movements, particularly in Pakistan - unrelated to, and explicitly rejecting "the West" - which lies behind the formation of the Taliban.  To reject this history as irrelevant, and to take the conspiratorial view that everything that goes on around the world is the result of the Black Hand of the USA and its capitalist cronies is both unrealistic, insulting to indigenous peoples and their movements (good and bad), and pretty poor anthropology.

    •  While I see your point, I disagree (0+ / 0-)

      on the origin of the Taliban: ultimately the Taliban were formed and led by the Mujahideen, and Bin laden himself was considered one of these warlords at the time. The groups of Mujahideen that eventually turned into the Taliban (there were two) were the ones who were receiving comparatively less funding from the CIA weapons/aid pipeline. So one argument for how the Taliban came into power was that they had to fight all the harder because the Pakistani and U.s. governments trusted them all the less.

      Then came the Pakistani madrassas deciding to provide them with troops, as they appeared a credible source of Islamic religious rule. But the point the diary makes is true: our meddling in the Soviet war in Afghanistan opened up opportunities for both al qaeda and the Taliban; ironically one by providing too many weapons (bin laden) and the other by not providing enough (the Taliban).

      I don't know half of you half as well as I should like, and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.

      by tote on Sun Nov 01, 2009 at 10:00:16 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  State (0+ / 0-)

      You did not read my earlier post.  However, regard what anthropology "says" about the situation: the anthropological literature does not support American involvement and I have given the reasons why with a reference to one of the few in depth studies.  Most of what you read on Afghanistan is by journalists based on conversations with people for a few days or weeks.  What can you quote or cite?

  •  I am writing a similar paper (0+ / 0-)

    for a security topics class at Columbia. I'm expecting to argue that some of the Soviet era puppet leaders had a lot of the same intinsic advantages that the Taliban had, but there is something more that has caused to the Taliban to be so good at insurgency, and the answer lies mostly in culture.

    I don't know half of you half as well as I should like, and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.

    by tote on Sun Nov 01, 2009 at 09:42:14 AM PST

  •  Afghanistan is not a country as most folk would (0+ / 0-)

    define 'country'. Never has been.

    Though one can make a silk purse from a sow's ear (really!) I don't think that one can make a country out of the Afghanistan territory.

  •  Mais natrurelment! (0+ / 0-)

    As Hoh recently (and courageously) said, Afghanistan is a collection of tribes with the thinnest veneer of nationhood on top. But i think we can do well re the Al Qaida problem if we abandon our current 'westernization' approach and start working with tribal leaders. And I wish we'd get over our moralizing over bribery and start calling it client grants. It's amazingly cheaper than boots on the ground and wins us friends in the end.

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