Saturday, June 26, 2010

All Roads Lead To Rome (Well, Most Of The Better Ones)

If we ever do "win" in Afghanistan, what would or should the place look like? Most in the US seem to think a western style democracy with advanced rights and constitutional guarantees would be a naive expectation, and they are probably right. But that doesn't mean the situation is totally untenable. I would recommend a model of democracy that our own republic is, in fact, largely based on-that of the ancient Roman Republic.

It's a general model, to be sure, not an exact duplicate, of what might work for Afghanistan. The Roman Republic was based on checks and balances between legislative bodies made up of Senators, composed of patricians, a Plebeian assembly based on geographically divided "tribes", and an assembly of Centuries. This system prevailed for close to five hundred years, with an unwritten constitution based on tradition and precedent. In the last century BC, a series of events led to the ultimate dissolution of the Republic, but while it lasted, it worked very well indeed, forming the framework by which Rome came to dominate most of Europe and North Africa, and large areas of the Middle East.

But it wasn't truly "democratic" in the sense of one person, one vote. Even if you were a plebeian you were required to own property or so much wealth, in order to have a seat in the Assembly. On the other hand, this was true of the patricians, not all of whom were wealthy, that made up the Senate. They had to own property valued at a certain level, plus belong to certain families, and then they had to be accepted in the Senate by their peers. On its own, it was its own ancient version of a good old boy's club. The Assembly of the Centuries, composed of Army Centurions, made up a third co-equal branch of the government. Each of these three branches passed laws and had their own judicial branches. To the outside observer, it probably seemed like a hodgepodge of potentially and ultimately divisive factionalism, but it maintained its functional integrity with little comparative change for nearly half a millennium. That's not too shabby of a record.

I think the same basic structure would work in Afghanistan, although of course the tribes are not just geographical designations, but actual ethnic ones. The tribes are ruled by certain chieftains, in some cases warlords, who basically hold veto power already over the country. Giving them the power to handpick representatives of their tribes in a legislative body would not really be an innovation. It would actually be a recognition of reality.

Hamid Karzai's so-called corruption was actually a necessity. Had he not made deals and concessions with certain tribal leaders, chieftains, and warlords, he would not have gained the votes necessary to win the last election. In other words, a significant enough number of people would have voted the other way just on a word from the tribal leaders in question, had he not bargained with them. This culture is not a culture of corruption, its a culture of Afghan tradition.

Since some tribes and their warlords are more equal than others, all that remains is to work out the prospect of guaranteed rights for the minority tribes, who will not look too kindly on the prospect of the Pashtun majority exercising dominant rule through a legislative assembly. On the other hand, there are probably sub-tribes within the Pashtun and others who might manifest in such a situation. But at any rate, a constitution guaranteeing rights for all tribes and all members of those tribes might be relatively simple in comparison to the prospect of guaranteed individual liberties outside the scope of tribal customs.

And of course there is the prospect of Islam. The idea that we could influence an insertion of separation of state and religion is an automatic deal breaker. That is perhaps the most unfortunate aspect to all this, for the minute such a proposal was made, you're going to have tens of thousands of people on the street accusing the US of waging war against Islam using a different tactic. They are not now nor would they ever be impressed by the proposition and promise that we have no intention of denying anyone's right to practice Islam. In fact, they already know that. That is not the problem. The problem is based on the proposition that they have no intention of not being in control of the government to the exclusion of any other party, secular or religious.

But it doesn't have to be that bad, so long as everyone has guaranteed basic human rights. If a woman has the right to work outside the home and is not forced to wear the burqha, what difference does it make if she is not allowed to hold public office and is forced to wear a hajib? If a girl is allowed to attend school, what business is it of ours if that school is required to include basic Islamic teachings as part of its curriculum? If every man woman and child is guaranteed basic human rights, to live and work where and as they choose, what difference does it make if they don't actually get to cast a vote in an election? No, its not ideal. But its a start. Again, baby steps.

The key is the Taliban, and this is where Obama's policy is flawed. They should be wiped out wherever and whenever they turn up. There should be an official no tolerance policy towards them. Remember, they brought this war on themselves. We talk of winning hearts and minds, but we must remember, they've already won that battle for the hearts and minds of the Afghans. They rule hearts and minds with fear, and the people know that the way things stand, when we leave, they will still be there, down the road, just around the corner, in the market place and the house next door.

But the key here is again the tribal chiefs and warlords. By not recognizing their traditional role in Afghan society, we have enabled the Taliban's resurgence through them. They are our only real chance of bringing the Taliban to heal, and keeping them marginalized. An Islamic Republic of Afghanistan doesn't have to look like the Taliban, or Iran, or even present day Turkey. It might in fact look far more secular than we might suspect. That will be up to the chiefs, and I can't stress enough, their power and influence is not to be minimized or denigrated.

And again, as I've said elsewhere, I will repeat again, and in fact I can't stress it enough-if you really want to win hearts and minds, there's no better place to start than with the opium farmers. Sure, we should encourage a diversity of crops. Pomegranates are a booming business, and tobacco might well play a role, but the opium trade is not going away. By tapping into that market, we deprive the Taliban of a significant source of revenue. I don't care if we burn the stuff the minute we buy it, that would still be money well spent even on a perpetual yearly basis. But really, why should we do that? There are uses for opium that go beyond heroin. In the real world you play with the hand you are dealt and try to be grateful when you just might draw a full house.

Finally, I have to point out that its lately been determined that Afghanistan is sitting on one to three trillion dollars worth of some of the wealthiest mineral deposits in the world. There is iron, copper, cobalt, gold, and perhaps even more importantly, Lithium, which will be a vital component of electric car batteries, and possibly wind turbines, solar panels, and who knows what else.

There is no shame in the US, after dismantling the Taliban and setting up a secure country based on the rule of law and basic human rights, profiting from Afghan resources, provided of course we understand-it is THEIR resources and they should profit first and foremost. Of course, some people don't see it that way, and just the other day I got this bizarre response in the comments section to this post when I brought up the subject-

So now you advocate war to seize the natural resources of Afghanistan.. Lithium is the power source of the future. hmm so you think that it should be controlled by us.. Now i know why you disgust me. You have no shame..

Of course, me being me, I responded with this somewhat testy reply-

Yup, I think we should take it all away from them before the Taliban or the Chinese or Indians do. At least we can make sure the Afghans are treated fairly and adequately compensated, and have a decent life, as opposed to being enslaved by some of the other fuckheads there, like for example the fucking raghead Taliban, who by the way we should go all out to bomb back to the Stone Age. Which in their fucking case would only be about a fifty year sprint

Which sent the commenter in question, a Druid practitioner who goes by the name Shadowhawk, completely over the edge into batshit insanity with the following deranged rant-

Its people like you that keep the wars rolling on.. well the rest of us are tired of you ignorant mother fuckers.. You bitch about communism, socialism, illegal immigration. gay marriage, yet 6 thousand miles away youre killing for oil. and things that arent yours. I hope that 1 day our country gets invaded. then you warmongering fucks will get to see REALITY slam you in your ignorant fucking faces

Read that carefully and let it sink in. A man who claims to speak for the average American, a man who insists conservatives are traitors to America, is openly expressing the hope that the US is invaded. Sure, he might have just said it because he was pissed off at me, but that's beside the point. The point is, he said it, and I think that's not really all that uncommon an attitude among the Left. He's just one of the few that slipped up enough to let it out. This is the kind of thinking we're up against.

Look folks, if we don't help the Afghans develop their potential and build their country up, maybe somebody else will. Or maybe they won't. Maybe Afghanistan will become the next Tibet to China. Does anybody really believe the average Afghan would fare any better with the Chinese, or the Russians, or India, or even with Pakistan, than they would with us. I mean, its not like I'm advocating raping and ravaging them of their resources and leaving them bone dry. The Afghans will, and should be, the chief beneficiaries of anything we do along the lines of developing their country, establishing a workable political system, and developing their resources and economy. The chief benefit to us, economic considerations aside, are in the long-term benefits that accrue from building a stable, secure and prosperous state where once there stood a failed one run by a brutal theocracy that allowed a terrorist group free reign.

There is no reason the Afghans can't develop a prosperous nation and society, one based on peace and the rule of law, centered around their own history and cultural traditions, one that will last through successive generations, with a tradition as vital and lasting as Rome itself. There is also no legitimate reason that, should we be the ones to help them develop their resources and economy, we should not also benefit from them. It would actually be a crime against nature and the spirits of our fallen soldiers if we did not do so.

Considering what many of the alternatives might be, it might even be a crime against humanity.