A story in the Telegraph says the French have leaked a report saying the British Ambassador to Afghanistan believes the NATO mission is doomed because the Karzai government is terminally corrupt and its existence is only being prolonged by foreign help. Corruption undoubtedly exists — as it exists in Pakistan, Mexico, Venezuela and practically every Third World Country, including the African states where France has troops. But if Afghanistan is no different from any other Third World country, what’s bothering the British ambassador, at least according to the French? The logical answer is that NATO presence makes things different. Corruption in the Third World is ordinary: but linking it to a Western military presence makes it a problem.
One of the problems inherent in fighting the War on Terror is that it will have to be waged in cooperation with, or through governments pretending to govern territories which are extraordinarily lawless, impoverished and venal even by Third World standards. Coalition forces will by definition be fighting in the armpits of the world and things will always smell, to one degree or the other, in those regions.
In such places, the United States cannot maintain permanent friends, only pursue permanent interests. What this implies to the probable discomfort of the diplomats, is that Coalition authority must somehow be separate and detached from the legitimacy of the Big Man in the Capital, who in the nature of things is usually replaced by another Big Man waiting in the wings. But diplomats have the disconcerting habit of treating Third World Presidents and regimes with more deference than American officials. And while the recent financial crisis may prove the diplomats justified, the deference nevertheless creates the fiction that these Third World governments are just as legitimate as the governments of Britain, Canada, Australia or the USA. The result is that the coalition winds up with permanent “friends” along with permanent interests.
The Telegraph claimed the British Foreign Office said “that the cable did not accurately reflect the views of the Ambassador”, but what what the Ambassador was alleged to say was that “in the short term we should dissuade the American presidential candidates from getting more bogged down in Afghanistan . . . The American strategy is doomed to fail.” These conflicting signals make it difficult to figure out what the British Ambassador really said as opposed to what the French want the public to think he said. But let me make a guess as to the bottom line: France and probably Britain are afraid of any escalation of hostilities in the Afghanistan/Pakistan theater. Perhaps neither has the military or political resources to do anything but hang on for a little longer.
This suggests that the attraction of Afghanistan all along wasn’t its status as the “central theater” where the “War on Terror begins and ends”. That was all bullshit. Afghanistan was simply an excuse to get out of Iraq. And now that Iraq can no longer be used as an excuse to get out of Iraq, Afghanistan must now become the reason to get out of Afghanistan. Maybe the real question, which diplomats are presently too timid to phrase baldly, is how to get out of the War on Terror business altogether. Then NATO troops don’t have to keep propping up corrupt foreign regimes. They can leave that to the diplomats.
One of ironies in the world is that while it sees diplomatic engagement “without preconditions” as a virtue it simultaneously subjects the military engagement of its enemies to the most rigorous pre-conditions. Maybe this is really a case of making a virtue out of a necessity; and reflects the reality that the West as a whole has actually lost the politico-military capability to mount a conventional resistance to its enemies and now seeks to use diplomacy as the substitute, or rather the placebo for action. Afghanistan is on its way to becoming the “bad war” because there can be no good wars. They simply can’t be afforded, old boy.