"Post-War Patterns in Afghanistan and Ir

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Posted by AssurHaddon from dialup- ( on Saturday, August 16, 2003 at 9:29PM :

"Post-War Patterns in Afghanistan and Iraq"
Drafted by Matthew Riemer on August 12, 2003


Though the wars fought in Afghanistan and Iraq were tactically
dissimilar and of varying levels of intensity, the post-war social, cultural,
and political factors at play are very similar. The most relevant and
foundational similarity between the two countries is their creation: each
was cobbled together from amongst a plethora of local,
autonomous/tribal regions into reluctant wholes in the form of what the
conquering country felt to be a modern nation-state. And for both, since
their involuntary birth, this fact has hampered their development, as well
as posing a deep, historical puzzle for, first, Great Britain and, now, the
United States, in their efforts at "nation building."

This predicament -- if only in the name of thoroughness -- must
eventually elicit a series of important questions from the concerned
observer, some of which might be:

* What are the inherent weaknesses of the "nation-state" model?
* When Washington uses the phrase "nation building," what does this
really imply?
* Is the so-called "nation-state" a viable model for Afghanistan and Iraq?

The United States may be uncovering a troublesome truth in its latest
global endeavors: the fact that the nation-state is not a universal model
for all regions and peoples of the world, and, in some cases, it may
even obstruct the development of the very stability and select economic
development the U.S. is seeking through its operations -- especially in
areas with a concentration of ethnic diversity like in the Balkans, the
Caucasus, and much of Central Asia where state-sized regions more
readily stabilize under a sub-network of autonomous zones defined by
some obvious feature, whether it be ethnic, linguistic, or geographical.

The dominant U.S. polity has always assumed that the keys to American
success are the keys to global success, that what works for them will
work for others. This belief has led many in the U.S. leadership to think
that concepts like democracy and free market capitalism can be
smoothly exported to other regions and environments and have the
same effect that they had in 18th and 19th century America. This widely
held belief is shared by the Bush administration and has been explicitly
stated in its 2002 National Security Strategy.

However, unlike modern day Afghanistan and Iraq, America, at the time
of its founding, consisted of a single ruling class that came together to
codify the social and economic rules that others would live by and best
continue their prosperity. These individuals were all wealthy, Caucasian,
Christian males who shared broad and overlapping interests. These
so-called "founding fathers" also decided upon their inherent and
inevitable sovereignty and its announcement at a time and place of their

This picture, to even the most casual of observers, paints a perfect
contrast with the countries the U.S. is currently attempting nation
building in today. Both countries represent a diverse array of languages,
religions, and cultural traditions, while encompassing regions that were
never unified in the sense that a modern day independent state is. This
fact alone complicates the democratic process to the point of futility: the
biggest obstacle being the interests of minority groups within any given

But this is a painful reality for Washington to accept as it greatly affects
the continuation of economic paradigms so cherished throughout the
centers of power in the Western world. If the Bush administration, other
influential world leaders, and future U.S. administrations were to accept
a greater amount of regional autonomy in distant lands -- like by letting
Iraq splinter into three independent states or at least autonomous
regions -- this would greatly affect the implementation of laws
concerning free trade and deregulation; such political forms provide
infrastructural barriers to the rather organic growth of free market
economies. By being self-contained and, to a certain degree,
self-reliant, regions where such a process were to take place inhibit the
plans of Washington's economists.

There are other concerns, however, when hypothetically imagining the
break-up of larger states into multiple smaller ones. One of the biggest
of these fears is the potential shift in regional power balances. For
example, if southern Iraq were to become its own state completely
dominated by Shi'ites, this would undoubtedly portend some kind of
union with Iran possibly to the point of annexation on the part of Tehran.
If the Kurds in the north were to gain their independence this would
ruffle Turkey and put diplomatic pressure on Washington. This is
obviously not in the interests of the United States.

Further east in Central Asia, reflections on Afghanistan produce similar
results. Though Afghanistan is different from Iraq in that it has endured
failed government after failed government for decades with regular
periods of anarchy -- warlords unconvincingly filling the power vacuums
-- while Iraq was ruled consistently by centralized power. If Afghanistan
were to fragment it would be more difficult to predict what may happen --
virtually all the warlords have both fought and been allied with one
another at some point. Certainly the border between Afghanistan and
Pakistan in the south and east would completely blur if the Pashtuns
were to realize a long-awaited Pashtunistan; in the eyes of Washington,
this would provide an undesirable strategic boost for Islamabad despite
their partnership in the U.S. "war on terrorism." And, like in Iraq, Iran
could be expected to curry favor with those along its border -- Iranian
border patrols did skirmish with the Taliban from time to time -- such as
the governor of Herat, Ismail Khan.

Because of such potential for unpredictable and dangerous events,
such state fragmentation will remain a non-starter for Washington --
market growth, acquisition, and stability are just too at risk in that kind of

So in this categorical rejection of new, or perhaps old, political forms,
the United States must realize what that rejection brings to the table: the
situation currently faced by the occupying forces in both Afghanistan and
Iraq today. In both countries, diverse groups with less overlapping
agendas than more are jockeying for position in a post-war context that
features low-intensity guerrilla warfare, an occupying army, and the
marginalization of large percentages of the population.

It remains a dubious proposition that both Afghanistan and Iraq can be
shaped into fully functioning and integrated (within the globalized
economic infrastructure) nation-states capable of long periods of
stability, relative peace, and economic growth.

The United States must decide what it really wants. Does it want
democracy? And if it does, it must realize what democracy can actually
mean in volatile regions such as Afghanistan and Iraq. Instability and
democracy are not mutually exclusive conditions -- democracy does not
equal stability -- and revolution -- regardless of what one conceives it to
be -- is a democratic expression. Given a true choice, many people in
many countries may feel no solidarity with a colonially created "nation."

And if the primary interests of the United States are ones of economic
security through expanded markets in new regions, the leadership in
Washington must expect the degree of resistance to its efforts that it is
now receiving in Eurasia.

The Power and Interest News Report (PINR) is an analysis-based
publication that seeks to, as objectively as possible, provide insight into
various conflicts, regions and points of interest around the globe. PINR
approaches a subject based upon the powers and interests involved,
leaving the moral judgments to the reader. PINR seeks to inform rather
than persuade. This report may not be reproduced, reprinted or
broadcast without the written permission of inquiries@pinr.com. All
comments should be directed to content@pinr.com.

-- AssurHaddon
-- signature .

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