Friday, October 09, 2009

Alan Grayson Explains The Best Policy For Afghanistan: Just Leave People Alone

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Does Alan Grayson keep a Dogon blade on his wall in case some GOP crackpot wants to duel him?

If you've been following DWT with any regularity you probably know that as a hobby I run a travel blog on the side. I ran away from home when I was 13-- hitchhiked to Florida (though I only got as far as the New Jersey Turnpike where I was arrested)-- and I've been on the road ever since. I lived overseas for almost seven years and I normally spend at least a month out of the U.S. every year-- a habit I got into in the late 1970s. Lately I've been to Mali and Bali and I'm putting the finishing touches on a trip to Albania. When I write about foreign policy questions I like to think my time abroad informs what I have to say.

There aren't many members of Congress who have traveled extensively out of the country. In his delightful book, Fire-Breathing Liberal, Rep. Robert Wexler marvels at how many of his Republican colleagues seem to think not possessing a passport is a badge of honor! Last weekend I spent some time with Rep. Barbara Lee who is no longer surprised when she talks with Republicans who haven't been-- and don't want to be-- outside of the U.S. The opposite extreme would be one member who certainly qualifies for the Century Club, Rep. Alan Grayson. When I told him I was going to Mali he was able to give me some travel tips for remote, seldom visited villages like Bandiagara and Sanga, and a few weeks ago he told me about some odd customs I can expect to experience in Albania.

In 1969 I drove to Afghanistan. Between then and 1972 I spent over half a year there, and never spent one single day in a hotel. Traveling from London, through then still-Communist nations like Hungary and Bulgaria, then through Turkey and Iran and into Herat, the most important component doesn't feel like mileage, but time. Sure, I traveled in space; but what seemed far more profound was a trip back in time. Afghanistan was like being in the 11th Century, not the turn of the 20th. And I noticed immediately that the people there don't recognize a country called "Afghanistan." In Herat and Kandahar, respectively the 3rd and 2nd biggest towns, there was resentment towards the "central government" as a pretension-- backed by foreign military equipment-- of Kabul, the biggest town and what foreigners insist is the capital of "the country." The only part of the discussion of Afghan policy more awkwardly missing from the calculations that there is no Afghanistan, is that all the men there-- yes, all of them-- are stoned all day, every day on the strongest hash (much of it opiated) on God's earth. I know West Point was just named the best college in America by Fortune but do they teach them that stuff there?

This week Robert Greenwald debuted his intense new documentary, Rethink Afghanistan in Washington, DC. Rep. Grayson was on a panel and made some remarks worth taking a look at:


I think that the aid program is a fig leaf trying to make Congress and the American people feel better about the war and about killing.  I think that diplomacy in the areas of fig leaf to try to make the American people think that there is some constructive alternative to the war when the war itself is destructive and not constructive.   

I think that the basic premise that we can alter afghan society is greatly flawed.  Afghanistan is simply the part of Asia that was never occupied by the Russians or the English in the Great Game.  It’s not a country; it’s not even a place. It’s just an empty place on the map.  It’s terra incognita.  People who live there are a welter of different tribes, different language groups, different religious beliefs.   

All over the country you find different people who have nothing to do with each other except for the fact that we call them Afghans, and they don’t even call themselves Afghans.  They’re Tajiks or they’re Pashtuns, or they’re Hazzaras or someone else.  The things that hold them together are simply the things that we try to create artificially.   

And the idea that we could transform that society or any other society through aid I think is entirely questionable.  I’ve never seen it happen; probably never will happen.  If you go to the Stan countries north of Afghanistan, and I’ve been to all of them; what you find is that the way that the Russians altered that society was by crushing it.  Stalin killed half a million Muslims in Kazakhstan, in Turkmenistan, in Kyrgyzstan, in Uzbekistan.   

He simply sliced off the head of that society in order to remake it in the image that he wanted.  And I think that we would have to do no less if we wanted to remake Afghanistan in our image. We’d have to destroy it in order to save it, and I don’t think the American people are ever going to do that to anybody.  So I think that the underlining premise is simply wrong.   

I’ve been to 175 countries all around the world including Afghanistan, including every country in that region, and what I’ve seen everywhere I go is that there are some commonalties everywhere you go. Everywhere you go people want to fall in love.  It’s an interesting thing.  Everywhere you go, people love children.  Everywhere, they love children.  Everywhere you go, there’s a taboo against violence.  Every single place you go.  And everywhere you go, people want to be left alone.  And that’s the best foreign policy of all.  Just to leave people alone.

Grayson was one of the 32 members of Congress who stood up on June 16 and said "NO!" to more war funding. It's more than a promise; it's something he did. Blue America is hosting a page, No Means No! seeking to encourage members of Congress to put their feet down and help end the occupation of Afghanistan. Please visit the page and consider making a contribution to Grayson or any of the other courageous members of Congress on the list. Is your own congresscritter there?

And even if Obama isn't listening to a freshman like Grayson, it sounds like Appropriations Committee Chairman Dave Obey is. Obey's asking the kinds of tough questions that every single member of Congress should be asking unless they want to be considered in dereliction of their duty.
“The problem with increasing the number of troops is that we become the lightening rod, and our presence runs the risk of inciting more anti-American sentiment that can become a recruiting tool for the very forces we seek to curtail,” Obey said of one option President Obama is weighing.

“If any adjustment is made in U.S. troop levels, it would be much better if those troops were focused on the job of training Afghani troops and police to take on the job of securing the population and maintaining law and order,” he said. “But even there, we have to ask what is achievable. My understanding is that there have never been more than about 90,000 troops under the sway of the central government. Now we are told that the goal is to train up to 400,000 soldiers and police personnel. I think it is reasonable to ask whether that is a realistic and achievable goal.”

As for a policy bent on counter-insurgency and nation-building, Obey said, “We should be asking not what policy is theoretically the most intellectually coherent, but which policy is actually achievable given the only tools we have in the region; the Afghani and Pakistani governments. Is there sufficient leadership, popular support, and political will, not in the United States but in Afghanistan, necessary for effective governance to take hold?"

Equally important, he said, “Do we really have the tools to overcome language, culture, history and a 90 percent illiteracy rate to sufficiently transform such a country?”

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17 Comments:

At 8:17 AM, Anonymous Lee said...

I wish I had something profound to say about Afghanistan. But I don't. No money for healthcare for all but they will continue to print $$$ to throw at Afghanistan

Some change

 
At 8:45 AM, Anonymous Marvin Marks said...

Grayson gets it right again. This guy wonderful. I hope he becomes President one day.

And I hope Obama wises up and gets the hell out of Afghanistan. Does he really want to be remembered for Afghanistan like LBJ is remembered for Vietnam?

 
At 9:49 AM, Anonymous Balakirev said...

"Grayson gets it right again. This guy wonderful. I hope he becomes President one day."
_____________________________

I rather suspect he does, too. There is an element of grandstanding in his work, but there's also plenty of focus, solid research, good instincts, and intelligence. I've no problems with any of that.

 
At 6:19 AM, Blogger Jeff Boatright said...

How does this jibe with the idea that if only we had pumped aid into Afghanistan after the Soviets left, we could have prevented the poverty and chaos that resulted in the rise of the Taliban? Grayson seems to be saying that there is no use for aid because it doesn't allow us to mold a country or a people to our ideal. Is there a use for aid as one factor in preventing a people or groups of people from being so desperate that the next set of fascists looks like the best of a bas set of choices?

 
At 6:47 AM, Anonymous Balakirev said...

"How does this jibe with the idea that if only we had pumped aid into Afghanistan after the Soviets left, we could have prevented the poverty and chaos that resulted in the rise of the Taliban?"
_____________________________

It doesn't, as far as I know. Nothing could have prevented the rise of the Taliban, in my admittedly uninformed opinion: you can't stop cultural developments on such a large scale simply by throwing money into the area. Cash subsidies wouldn't have stopped the wingnut fascists of the National Socialist Party from blossoming in the 1920s in Germany, and certainly not in the intensely fragmented tribal system of shifting alliances and wars that make up Afghanistan.

What surprises me is that the power establishments of the Soviet and the US seem completely impervious to common sense on issues like this. They think that like some modern alchemists you can bomb something into perfection, or maybe just shoot wads of cash down on them. Implicit in all this is the idea that their own Soviet or US style governments are somehow the end-all that any other nation will want to accept, given a choice. So today, if we just get rid of the Taliban, and throw money at the warlords, they'll see the light, and become a democratically elected, friendly, unified client state that speaks English, accepts military bases with missiles aimed at China, and eats hamburgers.

Doesn't work that way, I think.

 
At 8:43 AM, Anonymous bsdrr said...

If US had pumped foreign aid into afghanistan, you would have only strengthened the taliban. understand how aid works, before you advocate it.

 
At 9:46 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

transcript has small but important error:
you wrote Stalin killed half a million __Muslims__ in Kazakhstan, in Turkmenistan, in Kyrgyzstan, in Uzbekistan."

He actually said, "Stalin killed half a million __Mullahs___ in Kazakhstan, in Turkmenistan, in Kyrgyzstan, in Uzbekistan."

I heart Alan Grayson. Thanks for your informative posts, DWT!
Love, Michelle Fire Eater

 
At 12:08 PM, Blogger garrett said...

On the typo in the transcript, he also said Tajikstan (not Turmkenistan) in that same part where the previous comment recommends a correction.

Of course I don't know (embarrassingly). Maybe Turkmenistan and Tajkistan are the same place?

 
At 4:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a really great article, thanks for sharing. I'd never heard of Grayson but that's the most intelligent commentary on Afghanistan I've heard from someone in congress.

Thanks for sharing.

 
At 4:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Grayson is right. The only reason ANY of the goddamned violence is happening in Afghanistan, is that the country is trying to 'eject' a foreign invasion force from their land. If the shoe were on the other foot, we'd be doing EXACTLY THE SAME THING!

but you have assholes like this jerkwad in the Whore House who constantly spew this fake shit about a non-existent Al Qaeda (AL-CIA-DA is more like it) and justifying the war over a man who died in 2002 from kidney failure.

the rest of the world figured out the primary reason of the U.S. occupation of Iraq, was OIL, and the primary reason for the U.S. being in Afghanistan isn't to protect the U.S. from terrorists (the biggest terrorists are in the Washington, D.C. beltway!), but to control the Caspian Sea OIL and GAS BASIN.

if the rest of the world had ANY MORALITY OF ANY KIND, they'd demand, at the United Nations, that the U.S. get the FUCK OUT OF IRAQ and AFGHANISTAN and yes, now PAKISTAN, and leave IRAN THE FUCK ALONE.

lastly, Israel needs to disarm. The U.S. needs to bomb the shit out of the reactor facility at Dimona and end the goddamned Israeli nucler program once and for fucking all. As long as ISRAEL has nuclear weapons, there will be no meaningful global NON-PROLIFERATION , certainly never in the Middle East, with those assholes holding their nuclear sabre's against everyone's throats there.

Pakistan and India have nukes, but you don't see the pricks in Washington D.C. screaming to bomb them, strictly because they have no fucking OIL.

Grayson is right. IF the U.S. got the fuck out of where it has no right to be, the world would be a much more safe place to live in, and the violence would surely diminish a hundred fold, world wide.

This new Peace prize the Obombya bastard got is a joke. And the U.S. is a fucking JOKE.

the joke is on the rest of the world, sadly enough!

 
At 4:56 PM, Anonymous dogismyth said...

Yes, Grayson speaks eloquently and has shown himself through action.

But my basic premise is...NEVER EVER trust a politician for anything. This goes for Grayson and R. Paul. They must never be given full reign over an issue only because THEY ARE POLITICIANS... and politicians are working for the United States of America, Inc.

So while it may feel good to hear and see these things that Grayson and Paul bring forth, do not get to comfortable that SOMEONE ELSE is handling things for you. That's all most people want...someone else to fix the problems instead of involving themselves.

Only fools would trust politicians. They should never be trusted and always questioned, and transparency demanded.

And I will say it again...

NEVER EVER trust a politician for anything.

 
At 12:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

yes, you can trust a politician, especially one who's been in politics more than 90 seconds, about as far as you can throw the entire Milky Way galaxy, on your best day. As for the likes of Ron Paul, he's been embedded in this slime for his entire political career. His outspoken-ness only reared it's head in the last election cycle. Where the fuck was he before this? Going to that asshole's restaurant with the rest of the scum and villainy that have flushed this nation's future down the toilet. I can't speak for the other dude, but yeah, their ONLY and I do mean, ONLY allegiance is to their own wallet and their own bank accounts. None of them has been too proud to scoop out the hundreds of thousands of dollars of re-election funds they took, when they leave office. They would all step over our cold, dead asses, for a beer or a hooker (no offense to sex workers, please!).

so, Alan Grayson is in all probability, doing a little pre-election grandstanding to bolster his polling numbers. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that a vast majority of American's are now very aware that the government is the ONLY ENEMY they should ever have reason to fear. This nation is being looted and pillaged from the INSIDE, not invaded or destroyed from WITHOUT, but from WITHIN.

if I had my way, I'd hang about 533 of the bastards until they quit breathing, and called it a day. It is my sincere hope that if and when the balloon goes up, their corporate jets are 'disabled' and they have to face angry pissed off, tar and feathers carrying mobs at the airport they tried to escape out of.

that day is rapidly coming. and those who sold us down the river, definitely committed TREASON. last time I checked, that was a CAPITAL OFFENSE.

time to get the ropes, guillotines, and or firing squads ready!

 
At 6:28 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr Grayson
I used to think all politicians were crooked. After seeing a few of your videos on line i stand corrected. You along with Kaptur, Paul, and Kucinich give American people hope. Even if it's very little too late.
AUDIT THE FED !!!!

 
At 12:23 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

We will never leave Afghanistan. All government rhetoric is a smokescreen.

Our presence there has always been and will remain about oil and the critical pipeline from the oil-rich fields in northern Iraq and the "stans" to the Caspian Sea.

 
At 1:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think the taliban were inevitable, rather a result of the chaos when the Russians pulled out. The Northern Alliance, who we were financing and arming, filled the power vacuum. Just so many tribes and clans, they did whatever they wanted--stole, raped, killed. The Taliban brought law and order. I fear "training Afghan troops" will result in another era of chaos once we leave. Grayson is correct--leave people alone.

 
At 5:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Really? Calling Afghan hashish the best in the world from an experience almost 40 years ago?

Afghanistan might have the most, but it doesn't have the best. Try Arcadia, California or even Amsterdam.

Hash making technique and cannabis genetics have changed significantly over the last few decades. I wouldn't care about the statement, but now it's becoming an internet meme and it isn't helpful...especially since the hash isn't the damned problem.

 
At 7:58 AM, Blogger Serving Patriot said...

Howie,

Thanks for the post. Your connecting the complete (or nearly complete) lack of real understanding of the varied Afghani cultures to the ongoing, fratricidal violence among putative allies is right on the mark.

Thanks too also for highlighting Grayson's comments. Grayson gets it (and note he says it without any note cards, teleprompters or other aids)!! One wishes we could hear the same from those actually charged with policy making. Notably, COL Lang over at Sic Semper Tyrannis is pondering if General Stanley has had a "change of heart", and if so, why?

SP

 

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