Later On

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Afghanistan

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Via Andrew Sullivan, Janine Davidson has an interesting column in today’s WaPo. It begins:

Tom Johnson and M. Chris Mason have an excellent short piece, “All
Counterinsurgency Is Local
,” in the latest Atlantic magazine.

They critique the NATO counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan for its ill-conceived emphasis on strengthening national-level governance and its disregard for the smaller districts, where the real center of gravity is for Afghan society.

Politically and strategically, the most important level of governance in Afghanistan is neither national nor regional nor provincial. Afghan identity is rooted in the woleswali: the districts within each province that are typically home to a single clan or tribe. Historically, unrest has always bubbled up from this stratum-whether against Alexander, the Victorian British, or the Soviet Union. Yet the woleswali are last, not first, in U.S. military and political strategy.

This is a simple, yet not-so-obvious observation. Despite headlines that emphasize military operations and chasing bad guys in Afghanistan and Iraq, at the end of the day counterinsurgency is about armed competition for governance. Thus, good counterinsurgency strategy should focus at the level of society where governance takes place.

In contrast, classic counterinsurgency theory, combined with the U.S. emphasis on democratization and mirror imaging, has led to a conflation of counterinsurgency with nation-building. The thinking goes that we need to help countries govern, by which we mean develop the capacity to carry out their obligations — both internally with respect to their citizens and internationally with respect to other nations. The intervening force (us) can’t leave until local systems are able to take on these key tasks of governance and resist further subversion and rebellions. Ideally, we’d like to leave behind a nation-state with which we can sustain diplomatic relations. Thus, we identify governance from the perspective of the Westphalian international system and a Weberian bureaucratic structure.

But Johnson and Mason make an interesting point. How good is this Westphalian/Weberian approach in a society that looks to local-level authorities for its basic needs? …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

27 September 2008 at 11:28 am

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