Afghan Mirage


Deployments can be brutal, but sometimes it can be very liberating to follow a vague command, pick up your body and your portable office, and just dump the whole mess in a random European city.  For instance, Reykjavik.  Yes, for some reason which is truly unknown to me, I’m sitting this evening in Iceland’s long midnight twilight, reading a weird but healthy pastiche of Le Monde, Liberation, Zhongguo Meishubao, a scholarly monograph on Jewish musicians in Berlin in the 1930s, and Simone de Beauvoir’s immense dissertation on postwar lassitude and the French left, the obsessively repetitive yet often brilliant novel Les Mandarines.

Well, as a good friend of mine would say, “Whatever, jackass.”  Let’s just  focus on Le Monde and Afghanistan,shall we?  And perhaps the original salient point on perspectives will become clear enough, and possibly even refreshing, like a volcanic lagoon or a fresh laceration.

The New York Times brings the noise yet again, where, in a headline promising progress in Afghanistan, American journalists basically act as good foot soldiers for yet another wartime president. Note that, after a bit of “lessons learned” talk from Marja, the catch phrases employed here in the NYT, nine years after the war first started, seem to basically endorse U.S. strategy in Afghanistan:

The prospect of a robust military push in Kandahar Province, which had been widely expected to begin this month, has evolved into a strategy that puts civilian reconstruction efforts first and relegates military action to a supportive role….

[According to] the Afghan National Army officer in charge [in Kandahar], Gen. Sher Mohammad Zazai. “[The alleged U.S. offensive] is actually a partnership operation.” […]

Mr. Karzai promised local people that there would not be a Kandahar offensive. “You don’t want an offensive, do you?” he asked the crowd, to general acclamation. “There will be no operation until you are happy.”

Minister of Defense Abdul Rahim Wardak said the new approach was adopted after officials considered the mistakes made in Marja and the much larger scale of Kandahar.

“We have learned lessons, also, which we will apply in the future,” he said in an interview this week. “About Kandahar, it is a different type operation…it is not going to be that kinetic.” (Kinetic is military jargon to describe fighting.)

Instead, the emphasis has been placed on strengthening provincial reconstruction teams…The idea [for which], said Frank Ruggiero, the senior United States Embassy official in the south, is to make sure “the government at the most basic level, the district level, is able to provide some services so that people who are sitting on the fence are able to say, well, the government has something to offer.”

There’s nothing wrong per se with this mode of reporting.  It essentially passes along the military line, and , to the extent that a critiquing position of the policy is offered, it is purely an auto-critique.   But does that type of coverage offered by the Times serve the interests of the soldiers, some of whom are my students, others of whom are French Legionnaires I met on the Paris Metro, others of whom suit up at the Cathcart Armory in Montreal before taking off?

Contrast the above story, in America’s paper of record, with today’s front-page editorial offered by Le Monde entitled “Dialogue Without Naive Illusions”:

L’Union soviétique avait tenu dix ans. Combien de temps tiendront les Etats-Unis et leurs alliés de l’OTAN ? L’Afghanistan, ce “cimetière des empires”, est en train de miner à la fois les ressources et le moral de l’Occident. Plus de neuf ans après l’intervention américaine contre le régime taliban (au pouvoir de 1996-2001), précipitée par les attentats du 11 septembre 2001, les grands espoirs de reconstruction de l’Afghanistan ont fait long feu. A mesure que l’insurrection des talibans se consolide, le découragement gagne. Le sentiment d’échec s’installe. Et les appels au dialogue, à la négociation avec la rébellion talibane se multiplient. Chacun admet que la solution ne sera pas militaire, mais politique.

or, in my translation,

The Soviet Union lasted ten years.  How long will the U.S. and its NATO allies remain?  Afghanistan, the “graveyard of empires,” is on the path at once to drain [miner /消沉] the financial and moral resources of the West.  More than nine years after the American intervetion against the Taliban regime (in power from 1996-2001), preciptated by the attacks of 11 September 2001, the great hopes of reconstructing Afghanistan have long been delayed/laid on the pyre.  Stimulated by the consolidating insurrection of the Taliban, discouragement has won out.  And the appeals for dialogue and negotiation with the Taliban rebellion are multiplying.  Everyone admits that the solution cannot be military, but [must instead be] political.

Etc., etc.

American papers do not necessarily need front-page editorials of this ilk to awaken a kind of heightened consciousness of Afghanistan, but a fuller appraisal of the whole enterprise, as opposed to a basic re-reading of the most recent Pentagon press releases, might be considered helpfully provocative.

After all, what’s worse: not knowing why you’ve left, or realizing you’ve stayed too long?

Kefalik Peninsula, Iceland -- photo by Adam Cathcart

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