Pakistan: we’ll let you have your Sharia in the Swat valley, you’ve just gotta disarm.
I bet this happens more often than we know, though.
In Saturday’s New York Times, Peter Bergen rightly debunks the myth that Afghanistan is a “graveyard of empires.”
Since Alexander the Great, plenty of conquerors have subdued Afghanistan. In the early 13th century, Genghis Khan’s Mongol hordes ravaged the country’s two major cities. And in 1504, Babur, the founder of the Mughal Empire in India, easily took the throne in Kabul. Even the humiliation of 1842 did not last. Three and a half decades later, the British initiated a punitive invasion and ultimately won the second Anglo-Afghan war, which gave them the right to determine Afghanistan’s foreign policy.
But I think it’s a stretch to suggest that, because Babur ruled from Kabul in 1504, Afghanistan “might become the model of a somewhat stable Central Asian state” after U.S. intervention. Bergen is not a cheerleader, and his argument is not nearly so flimsy. But a better indicator of the phoniness of the “graveyard myth” than the history of past successful conquests of Afghanistan is the disturbing suggestion that there’s something about Afghanistan the place that causes empires to wither. Yes, there are mountains and rugged terrain and all sorts of geographic factors, but that’s not generally the sense I get when I hear the rumblings about Afghanistan exceptionalsim. It’s more like a Congo “heart of darkness” vibe, and this, I would argue, doesn’t often come with a side of racism. Debates about what in Afghan history and politics make it “better” or “worse” for invasion and occupation are one thing; a general intimation that qualities endemic to this foreboding place will doom your imperial ambitions is truly an excercise in myth-making.
(image from flickr user Michael Foley under a Creative Commons license)
In an otherwise mostly reasonable essay, Michael Crowley makes the rather repugnant insinuation that those who argue in favor of the war in Afghanistan from the standpoint of defending women’s rights against the horrific abuses of the Taliban just don’t understand the man’s world of realpolitik.
Shortly after the fall of the Taliban, in November 2001, Hillary Clinton, soon to be Obama’s woman at Foggy Bottom and a key voice in the Afghanistan debate, penned a Time essay arguing against the notion that imposing Western values there amounted to “cultural imperialism.” “Women’s rights are human rights,” Clinton wrote. “They are not simply American, or western customs.”
Stirring words, to be sure. But the day may come when cutting deals in Afghanistan means consigning some women, if not to the brutal life of the high Taliban era, to strict Islamic rules sure to offend the likes of Hillary Clinton. It may well be, in other words, that America’s moral and strategic interests are beginning to diverge in Afghanistan in a way that supporters of the “good war” may not yet appreciate. [emphasis mine]
What makes Crowley’s dismissal of “the likes of Hillary Clinton” so disturbing is that he cites, in the same article, the disgusting incident of two Taliban supporters spraying acid in three teenage girls faces as simply a harbinger of what other rank transgressions might ensue under the Taliban. To make a grudging calculation that, once all factors are considered, a compromise with the Taliban is advisable, even if it may to some extent curtail Afghani women’s difficultly reclaimed rights, is one thing. To minimize the legitimacy of defending women’s rights qua rationale for war as mere “stirring words,” and to imply, essentially, that feminist activists like Clinton may just not “get it,” is quite another.
(image of Afghani women from flickr user Feinstein International Center under a Creative Commons license)