Incite -- (v) 1: give an incentive; 2: provoke or stir up; "incite a riot"; 3: urge on; cause to act
Monday, August 16, 2004

The real quagmire?
Written by: Beck

Conventional wisdom these days assumes more and more that the situation in Iraq is something of a quagmire. While the situation hasn't even been going on long enough to really be called a quagmire, and while I believe you can make a strong argument for why things are substantially better in Iraq than is reported in the mainstream press, one thing is certain (at least in the mind of that nebulous monster Conventional Wisdom): things are going better in Afghanistan than in Iraq.

And in the immediate term, that's entirely true. For now. I can't help but worry, however, that the long term situation in Afghanistan is far more fraught with quagmire-esque perils than Iraq. While many Iraqis choose to exuberantly celebrate their new found freedom from the tyranny of Saddam via shooting at Americans, in the main, Iraqis are better educated, more worldly, and more cosmopolitan than their Afghani counterparts. Meanwhile, Afghanistan remains relatively pacified (certainly more so than Iraq) with a significantly smaller contribution from coalition soldiers.

Yet I can't help but marvel at the news items which periodically creep out of Afghanistan. The opium trade is alive and thriving, something which I have a hard time imagining occurring in Iraq. Groups of surviving Taliban or Al Qaeda fighters pop up every now and then to cause trouble. Then every once in a while, a disgruntled member of the loose alliance of warlords will attack one of his neighbors. Take this recent example:
Forces of the newly trained Afghan National Army took control of an air base in the western province of Herat, where 21 people were killed Friday night after a local commander attacked the base, the president's office announced Sunday. Two more battalions of the new multiethnic army were dispatched to the province on Sunday, forcing back the forces of the governor, Ismail Khan.
Yes, you read that right, the national government is dispatching troops to retake an airport that the local governor saw fit to attack and capture. Again, can you imagine the forces in the US losing control of an air strip?

Despite three bloody wars, the British couldn't keep Afghanistan subjugated. The Soviet Union, with all its resources & its reputation on the line, along with a compliant socialist puppet government, couldn't keep Afghanistan subjugated. The Taliban never even managed to completely conquer the entire nation, as rebel war lords continued to occupy and rule private chunks of the mountainous nation. In Afghanistan's entire history, the only successful uniters have been of the ruthless warlord variety, a long legacy of rule from the sword dating back to Ghengis Kahn, though even counting the Mongols' exploits, the country was never fully unified until 1747.

Perhaps more than any other nation on Earth, Afghanistan is a land of anarchy and chaos. The United States and her allies have managed to impose a sort of calm on the scene for now, but I can't imagine the peace lasting forever, especially when American troops ultimately withdraw from the country.

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John Beck

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