Dear Mr. President

Dear Mr. President,

Odds are, you don’t spend much time skimming through blogs, but just in case you do, I thought I’d give you one bit of unsolicited advice: please rethink your approach to Afghanistan.

As Andrew Bacevich points out in this month’s Atlantic: “Operation Iraqi Freedom now ranks second only to WWII as the most expensive conflict in US History… and transforming Afghanistan is likely to cost more.” Bacevich recommends we take advantage of Afghanistan’s tradition of decentralized government and work with tribal leaders as they try to keep jihadists out of their country. (I’d add that we have moral obligation to push the notion of full and equal rights for women, too.)

Letting Afghanistan manage its own affairs would free up the financial resources you need to create universal health care, to incentivize green technologies, and to improve education.

Thanks for your time.


3 thoughts on “Dear Mr. President

  1. You raise lots of very good questions.

    At the risk of sounding naive, I think that the first one would have to be resolved by the Afghanis themselves. As for the second, while we couldn’t exert control, I think we could create incentives that would encourage the local governments to see the benefits of equality.

    Thanks for your very thoughtful comments!

    1. The ideas of relinquishing power to the people of Afghanistan and attempting to encourage women’s suffrage are both noble, but somewhat quixotic and paradoxical. Afghanistan is a majority Muslim nation where the people hold their religious convictions strongly. A key tenant of this religion is the treatment of women. The word Islam itself means “submission” and preaches that faithful followers of must fully submit themselves, body and mind, to the direction and will of Allah. Women are seen as holding a special power through their ability to attract attention through seduction, thereby distracting the male members of society from their religious obligations. Unlike Western cultures where seduction is active, ie a women interacts flirtatiously with a man, according to the Quran Muslim women may drive a man to mental instability by inadvertently revealing her ankle to him.
      This knowledge is important because the common view regarding women’s suffrage in Islamic countries is that they are merely misogynistic and “behind the times”. This is inaccurate. The plight of women is central to the deep rooted religious thread that intertwines through Muslim nation and the entire Middle East. Any attempt to relinquish power would clearly result in some form of theocratic rule, as evident by the governing bodies of Iraq being divided along the lines of Sunni and Shia, and under this form of rule Muslim religious values would be impregnable. The conclusion is that if we are willing to allow for decentralized control of the country, then we must abandon the goal of women’s suffrage in the Islamic nation.

  2. While it would appear easier to allow for the traditional form of decentralized government to prevail, the decision would certainly be a mistake. If the goal is to allow the country to be separated into regions, which would allow decentralized control, we must ask the essential question of how that division would occur. Would the country be divided according to geographic boundaries? If that is the case the less economically viable regions will demand compensation from those with greater natural resources and conflict will arise between regions. Are the divisions to be created according to ethnic or religious differences? The obvious problem with this solution is that it would quickly lead to sectarian violence, with the grim prospect of the country descending into civil war. Another option would be to allow local leaders and “war lords” to simply assume control over areas where their influence is strong enough to ensure support and the formation of local government structures. While this possibly seems like the most natural approach, it again contains inherently destructive issues. Would those war lords follow the best interest of the people residing in their areas of influence, the policies established by the United States, or the most likely option, their own person ambition? A further consideration regards whether the decentralized forms of government would be democratic or authoritarian. Democratic governments better serve the needs of the people, but are less stable and secure. Authoritarian governments are quite stable due to their brutality, but have the propensity to be self serving.
    The second point about advocating women’s suffrage is somewhat contrary to the first. If local governments are established and given autonomy, then it is implied that they would be allowed to establish their own social policies. As demonstrated by the controversial adoption of laws mimicking Islamic law, with regards to women’s rights, by Afghanistan’s President Karzai, if allowed the freedom to self govern there is a substantial likelihood that women would be faced with the burden of fewer freedoms.

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