Friday, April 11, 2003

Well, we've had the feel-good moment of toppling statues, with crowds on the streets. It sure looked great on camera -- provided you were looking at the right camera, at any rate. It looked just like Afghanistan.

Afghanistan, which actually did have something to do with September 11th. Afghanistan, which the short-attention-span crowd in the White House forgot, at first, to put in this year's budget at all. Afghanistan, where the central authority which we support cannot make its influence felt outside of Kabul, the warlords are feuding again, and the drug trade is booming. Afghanistan, where workers from NGOs no longer dare to travel the countryside, after a Red Cross worker was murdered in cold blood by the Taliban -- the very same enemy that we supposedly routed last year.

There's a response you sometimes hear from hawks when you bring up these little embarassments -- that they sincerely want to make something better happen in Afghanistan, but the place was a mess, so it will take a little time. Sooner or later, the influence of the Karzai government will grow. This would be more convincing if it were attached to a schedule -- a year or so for Kabul, next year Kandahar, Mazar-e-Sharif a year or two after that, and so on for a decade or so until we actually started dealing with the mess in the countryside where the drugs and terrorists were hiding out in the first place.

But hey, I started out talking about Iraq, and Iraq is different. Unlike Afghanistan, the Iraqis are a cosmopolitan, educated people, with no history of nasty internecine warfare, except for the Sunni ruling clique oppressing everybody else. It's only a temporary glitch, one hopes, that the looters in Baghdad, having stripped government offices bare, are now turning on shops and hospitals. So, when the Shiites start hacking each other to pieces over doctrinal disputes, it's not good. Particularly when the first victim was noted for his friendliness towards us.

This may not be the next Yugoslavia -- I certainly hope not. But no technical tricks can avert that, and a temporary armed occupation can only hold it off -- we just can't afford to keep that up forever, and other countries aren't exactly lining up to help pay the bill. What it takes is political and diplomatic fancy footwork, in getting groups with old scores to settle their differences, see their common interests, and work together. And we can only hope that Dubya's crowd shows itself better at that sort of thing than it has been till now.

More: Belly up to Billmon's whiskey bar for more on Dubya's peccable triumph; among other things, he notes that the coalition forces have sometimes been less than thorough in vetting the "sheikhs" they've invested with local authority, and in Basra, at least, they've... ahem... taken a Baath. And while you're there, don't fail to pay your respects to the King, who sometimes pops up where you least expect...

Yet more: Check out George Will, who is magnanimously willing to grant that armies other than our own, like the Germans, with their experience in peacekeeping, might have a useful role to play in cleaning up the Iraqi mess... but only if they beg for the privilege. He also carps at the amount of money the Germans spend on soldiers' salaries -- as if stiffing the servicemen, à la Dubya, were somehow a point of honor...

And yet more: Guest-blogging at the Daily Kos, RonK dares to use the Q-word.


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