TAG | Afghanistan
A quick footnote to Matt’s excellent post about the Cairo embassy’s comments on “religious incitement”: In addition to being wrongheaded, these little announcements are self-defeating. When you issue such statements, you encourage the view that the government is somehow responsible for the speech you’re condemning. Even if you succeed in calming the crowds — and to judge from what happened yesterday, you shouldn’t expect to achieve even that much — any fringe film that you haven’t anathematized can become the next cause célèbre. And if you think you can keep pumping out statements attacking every one of them, ponder what will happen if a mob decides to riot over the comments of a congressman, or someone else that a diplomat wouldn’t want to officially denounce. Better to embrace free speech from the beginning than to lend support to the idea that your job requires you to sort acceptable expression from bad.
As Mark notes:
The mob of “Islamic rage boys” gets mad about all kinds of stuff — cartoons, dogs, teddy bears. You can never make a long enough list to satisfy them. So you might as well tell them you’re not going to start.
On the other hand, here’s Karzai:
KABUL, Afghanistan — President Hamid Karzai on Wednesday condemned an American-made film that mocks Islam, galvanizing fears among Westerners that the Afghan leader’s denunciation could be read as a go-ahead to stage violent protests. The presidential palace said in a statement that Karzai “strongly and resolutely denounces this desecrating act” and expressed “abhorrence in the face of such an insult.”
… A condemnation from Karzai was thought to have inflamed passions in the spring of 2010, after Jones and his followers staged a Koran-burning. Nearly two weeks elapsed without any reaction in Afghanistan, until Karzai issued a call for Jones’ arrest and prosecution. The next day, April 1, a furious mob descended on the U.N. mission in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, killing seven foreign U.N. workers.
Karzai’s public stance toward the NATO force and his U.S. patrons has been somewhat hostile of late. He issued a strident statement accusing the United States of disregarding Afghan sovereignty after American authorities retained some Taliban and other insurgent suspects when handing the country’s main military detention facility over to Afghan control. And the Afghan leader commemorated Tuesday’s anniversary of the 9/11 attacks by criticizing the West’s conduct of the war in Afghanistan.
And in so doing Karzai insults those who serve and have served in (and, in no small way, for) his country, and desecrates the memory of those who have been killed while doing so.
President Obama plans to announce Wednesday evening that he will order the withdrawal of 10,000 American troops from Afghanistan this year, and another 20,000 troops, the remainder of the 2009 “surge,” by the end of next summer, according to administration officials and diplomats briefed on the decision.
These troop reductions are both deeper and faster than the recommendations made by Mr. Obama’s military commanders, and they reflect mounting political and economic pressures at home, as the president faces relentless budget pressures and an increasingly restive Congress and American public.
A populist take on governance isn’t always up to the complexity of the modern bureaucratic machinery. But when it comes to Afghanistan this seems like a case where its relative simplicity allows for the power of mass politics to come through. The officer corps is subject to the “sunk cost fallacy” just like everyone else. Whatever they have labeled as the end state for “victory” in Afghanistan seems to be unattainable in the short term. But rationally that’s not a major issue for generals. Our society gives a blank check to the military in terms of expenditures. And on the “big picture” scale the casualty rates are modest.
In contrast, most people outside of the military just want to forget about Afghanistan. They haven’t mixed their labor with the land, so to speak, and have no investment. More and more people are perceiving that Afghanistan is a sideshow anyhow, that the real deal is in Pakistan.
So today I hope to toast the good sense of the American public, and the craven pandering of politicians to the public sentiment!