Overthowing the Taliban

Steve Perry sperry at usinternet.com
Thu Oct 4 13:39:06 PDT 2001

the taliban may be ugly buggers but i'm mystified how you suppose the u.s. or anyone else could gain in the long run by our efforts at installing a new, improved client regime. where's THAT worked? i'm more inclined to believe in tales of alien rectal probing than in this.

-----Original Message----- From: owner-lbo-talk at lists.panix.com [mailto:owner-lbo-talk at lists.panix.com]On Behalf Of Michael Pollak Sent: Thursday, October 04, 2001 3:10 PM To: lbo-talk at lists.panix.com Subject: Overthowing the Taliban

Christopher Hitchens said:

> Smash the Taliban

I've been was a critic of Hitchens since back when denouncing for him for rightward drift on this list would call down on you heated vitriol. And he's wrong in almost everything else he's said in the last two weeks -- he's wrong about Islam, he's wrong about the left, he's wrong about causality, morality and explanation. But he's more than half right about this. As usual, he's expressing it wrong and supports it for the wrong reasons. (He's as violently anti-religious as his foes are anti- secular.) But like a stopped military clock that's right once a day, he's still right.

There were originally three options on Afghanistan:

1. Do nothing;

2. Attempt to overthrow the Taliban and replace it with something better; and

3. Make a limited intervention that only tries to ferret out Osama Bin Laden.

I've defended option two. But I admitted from the first that option one was an honorable one that mustered arguments equal and perhaps superior to my own. I still believe that. However, I don't believe option one is any longer an option. I believe the only options available in reality now are options two and three. And option three is horrible. A limited intervention where we then retreated to leave Afghanistan to hang would be the worst of all possible worlds for everyone involved, most of all for the people who live there. It would re-ignite the civil war and perhaps spread it to neighboring countries. It would do little or nothing to minimize future terrorist attacks, and would instead on balance increase their likelihood as well as the likelihood of our being their future target.

So if we have a choice between Ron Paul's "marque and punish" and Hitchens' position, I think we have to support the latter. But reformulating it into less snappy and more reasonable terms: we should support the effort of Francesco Vendrell and the UN to build a new government through the instrumentality of the king and the loya jirga. This something Vendrell has been pursuing for a year with increasing success. All the surrounding countries have finally accepted it in principle, even Pakistan and Iran. And if given sufficient support, it has a chance of succeeding in its goal. It would set up a political process that would take place in parallel to the working out of the military jockeying that will follow the initial assault inside the country.

Building a legitimate government in Afghanistan is a pretty daunting task. But all the writers who seem to me to know the most about the country -- Barnett Rubin, Ahmed Rashid, Olivier Roy and Ashraf Ghani -- seem to agree that it can be done and that the UN the King offer the best path forward.

I also believe that, strange as it may seem, the chance of the US supporting Vendrell and the UN in their efforts at postwar reconstruction is high, for ironic reasons. Half the administration hates the idea of state building with all their being. But reality is a tough nut, and they are having a hard time parrying the realization that leaving Afghanistan to explode like a fission bomb again is not a good idea. So the letting the UN carry the ball may well emerge as a compromise, just as letting Solana carry the ball in Macedonia emerged (another daunting project still in process and subject to a million reasonable doubts as to its ultimate success -- but which has been conducted on completely different and much better principles than anything that preceded it in the Balkans, and so far, IHMO, still contains the foundations of reasonable hope.)

At this point, therefore, I think support for "hands off" policy will mean in effect a support for the "limited intervention" policy, since it is now impossible to stop the latter from going forward. Hands off will simply encourage the forces within the administration who want to leave Afghanistan to hang immediately afterwards. Who hate coalitions and slow political problem solving. And who want nothing better than to be in and out quickly so they can go give the in-out to Iraq. Which is why it is important for left intellectuals to add their support to those who want to support Afghanistan afterwards. That side needs support, and getting it, has the possibility of success. Such support might possibly be important not only for shaping what happens in Afghanistan, but also for influencing what happens afterwards, in the Middle East. Bogging the adminstration down in coalitions is an end devoutly to be wished.


__________________________________________________________________________ Michael Pollak................New York City..............mpollak at panix.com

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