Thursday, October 08, 2009

Internationalise Afghanistan


Those of left and right with simplistic ideas about what President Obama's strategy should be for Afghanistan fail to appreciate just how complex a "Vietnam" he has inherited from President G W Bush: "Now we're in, how the hell do we get out with least damage?" 

This of course arose - as we and many other professionals, not attached to or paid by the US or UK governments, predicted in 2002 - because the invasion of Iraq by President G W Bush lost America the astonishing world-wide support it enjoyed after "9/11" and Afghanistan inevitably lost to Iraq its priority for money, troops and expertise. And now after 7 years of neglect, the US faces defeat or an endless unpopular guerilla war. At present Americans see this as an American problem that America - or rather President Obama - has to solve.  

But for years now we have urged that "Afghanistan" be internationalised through an effort (by no means impossible) to recover that world-wide consensus the calamitous G W Bush threw away. 

Why not impossible? Because, provided, the US now makes it plain (even tacitly) that it has abandoned the Cheney/neo-conservative aim of a uni-polar world (US hegemony in the 21st century) and now genuinely seeks international cooperation in place of 'Bushian' confrontation, that consensus can largely be rebuilt by determined yet sensitive diplomacy. 

For virtually all countries have a major national interest in the stability of Afghanistan - even of "Afpak". So there is a real chance of gaining and exerting immense pressure from all parties on all parties to obtain that stability.

Fortunately President Obama, unlike his predecessor, is prepared to talk and negotiate with all concerned. The principal powers with a major interest in stability in Afghanistan are Iran, Pakistan, Russia and ex-Soviet Central Asia, the European Union, non-European NATO countries (Turkey & Canada), China (increasingly), India, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Egypt, the Gulf States, other Arab and Islamic countries from Morocco to Malaysia and Indonesia. The list goes on. 

But - recovering such consensus and agreeing the part each country can play will take at least a year. And meanwhile the US (thanks to the destructive Bush legacy) will have to hold the fort and take such immediate military and reconstruction measures as are needed. 

Announcing such internationalisation would, in the interim,  greatly help in removing the present widespread expectation that Americans are about to do a bunk - so encouraging for Taliban/Al Qaeda and so bad for the morale of Afghans and US/NATO troops. Even more importantly the American people and Congress would respond if President Obama makes it clear that his military and other decisions are determined by the need to hold the situation, improving the reconstruction and security requirements while the US works to bring about the largest possible international consortium for stabilising Afghanistan.      

Probably the Europeans won't be much help with more than a dribble troops because here in Europe the perception of governments and people alike is that we're being asked to pull American chestnuts out of the fire that they themselves lit. But if we know where America is heading our governments can certainly be cajoled into doing much more, and much better, reconstruction and the training of Afghans - even at considerable cost at a time of financial woe.  . 

Successful US diplomacy rallying the key countries for the stabilisation of Afghanistan could lead to an international conference to put the seal on what had been agreed. The prospect of such a "Congress" - something on the lines of the Congress of Vienna which established a new order in Europe after the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars - could mark an important step towards the establishment of an era of international cooperation made possible by the end of the Cold War, and the ending of the neo-conservative drive for that uni-polar dream which was to have been realised by taking over Iraq - but which, ironically, the Iraq adventure has put out of reach.  

Without profound commitment by the great powers to a future of cooperation, humanity faces the Pentagon's alternative dread scenario of endless wars as neighbour struggles against neighbour for survival as the existential challenges mankind faces become more strident. So, with opposition to American hegemony out of the way, cooperation has considerable appeal. It has already shown its potential over North Korea and the world financial crisis.     

So - given determination and an all out diplomatic effort - Afghanistan could become the catalyst heralding that long elusive New World Order. President Obama has the exceptional intelligence, the pragmatism, and a profound knowledge of the world today to navigate the many shoals and rocks to bring the "Vietnam" he has inherited in Afghanistan to the best possible conclusion. 

But he faces, to us Europeans, astonishing opposition in his own country from both left and right. Apart from the two wars, he has "too many open files" -  the environment, non-proliferation, Al Qaeda and terrorism, bolshie banks, rogue and failed states, health care nihilists, the social demands of "progressives", selfish corporate lobbying, Israel's dominance in US politics, the future of the dollar, relations with China and Russia, renewing infrastructure, US investment in the future to replace the last half-century's epoch of waste  - and so on and on.  

So the new US administration needs as never before all the support it can get for enlightened policies. To our shame we in Europe are too divided by our outdated petty nationalisms to give the support we owe and should give in our own interests. Curiously it could be Russia and China that, starting with Afghanistan, will rally to help America to decline with wisdom from its age of Imperialism and use its still immense power and influence in establishing a multi-polar world capable of answering the worldwide challenges all countries  face.                

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