Is Pakistan an Ally or an Enemy? How about “neither”?

Daniel Larison objects to attacks on Pakistan’s loyalty as an ally, noting (correctly) that allies don’t always agree.  Jeffrey Goldberg also sticks up for Pakistan as an ally. (h/t Sullivan)

I think we’re getting to the point where these terms don’t make much sense as regards Pakistan.  There are countries and non-state actors out there that are US allies, and there are countries and non-state-actors that are US enemies.  And you know what?  There are countries and non-state actors out there that are neither one.

Let’s make the hardly-bulletproof-but-still-reasonable assumption that most nations follow what they perceive to be their interests, whether that is some sort of overarching “national interest” or the collection of interests of individuals and groups within those societies.  Those nations whose interests very strongly dovetail with the United States we will call “allies”, and those whose interests are rarely aligned with the United States we can call “enemies.” 

Where is Pakistan?  It is in neither of these camps.  It has no use for Al Qaeda, but probably welcomes Taliban rule in Afghanistan because the Taliban will never ally with India.  It probably doesn’t want nuclear proliferation, but isn’t averse to selling some secrets to get foreign exchange.  It certainly doesn’t want a nuclear war, but it does want Kashmir, and isn’t averse to having groups of terrorists attack India if for other reason than domestic political consumption.

The Cold War is over.  We are in a very complicated multipolar world with far more powers than even Europe in the 19th century.  Most nations will be neither our allies or our adversaries.  We should be getting used to it by now.

This is so obvious I’m not even sure why I had to write it, but several years of “you’re either with us or against us” has obviously taken its intellectual toll.

Afghan poppies flower again for pain?

A public health expert raises again the plan to divert Afghan opium into worlwide pain relief.

Amir Attaran, a professor of public health at Ottawa, has just published an article in a reputable epidemiology journal in support of licit opium production in Afghanistan. Short version:

  • There’s a huge unmet need worldwide for pain relief from morphine;
  • So let’s shift Afghan opium production into licit channels, rather than vainly trying to destroy it.

Basically, he makes the same case I did here two years ago (here and here), though with proper references and all. References and peer review are powerful medicine – fair enough – and this time the topic’s been picked up in the high-frequency blogosphere by Charli Carpenter and Matt Yglesias.

Attaran doesn’t cite the 2009 paper by Greenfield, Paoli, and Reuter (GPR below), criticising a similar scheme, and published in another proper academic journal edited by our own Mark Kleiman. So I’ll have a go here at a rejoinder.

From the GPR abstract (footnote):

Legal medicinal opium production is an improbable answer for at least five reasons (their numbering, my reformatting):
1. illegal production will continue;
2. diversion from the legal market to the illegal market is inevitable;
3. diversion will involve further corruption;
4. there may not be a market;
5. Afghanistan lacks the institutional capacity to support a legal pharmaceutical industry.

I have two issues with this: the framing, and a straw man fallacy under point 2 over diversion. Let’s start with the straw man (the variant is attacking a weak version of the opposing case rather than the strongest).

Continue reading “Afghan poppies flower again for pain?”

Minimizing collateral damage

NATO forces in Afghanistan are doing it, and human-rights groups have noticed.

Over the last eighteen months, NATO forces in Afghanistan have been trying to be more careful about killing civilians. The Taliban, not so much. Human rights groups have noticed. Amnesty International is calling for a war-crimes tribunal directed at the insurgents.

If the people of Afghanistan have also noticed, perhaps the prospects there aren’t as grim as we’ve been told.

Or perhaps not. In any case, it’s good to know that our side of the war has gotten less vicious.

St. Stephen’s Day Reflections on War

Our home is near a community living center for elderly veterans, so we went there for Christmas services yesterday morning. My family and I were almost the only people not using wheelchairs. To sing “Silent Night” with so many people in the December of their lives had a transcendant sweetness, and also inspired some reflection on how different the experience of war was for the generation in the room versus my own.

In World War II, every American was aware of the war every day. Even if one never bought war bonds or collected rubber and tin scraps, the rationing, wage freezes and other privations were omnipresent. The most painful privation of all was the millions of people separated from their families, either for years or for eternity, by the war.

How many Americans paused on Christmas to reflect on the tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers who woke up in Kandahar or Baghdad while their children were still sleeping in New York or St. Louis or Boise? How much privation has been experienced by the 98% of American families who have not had members deployed?

The country isn’t at war, only the military is. Two percent of the population carries the burden and the rest of the country pitches in by accepting tax cuts with equanimity.

When I think about Jonathan’s powerful post asking how we can ignore the horrors being endured by the people of the Congo, my reaction is that if we are capable of ignoring the suffering of our heroic fellow citizens so easily, ignoring the suffering of people from other countries is really no problem at all.

The Cost-Benefit Analysis of Compassion

If you believe than US foreign policy should serve moral and humanitarian goals, then Afghanistan might be the worst place to start.

Time’s new cover represents an outstanding example of how a picture is worth a thousand words.  It’s hard to look at Aisha and consider withdrawing from Afghanistan.

But let us think about it another way.  Consider the hundreds of millions of people around the world living in horrid, oppressed, degraded conditions.  27 million people are enslaved; millions of women suffer from forced prostitution, female genital cutting, fistulas, honor killings, and worse.  Millions in Africa die each year from malaria and AIDS.  And as bad as this is, it overlooks the seemingly more prosaic, but similarly horrific condition of grinding, miserable poverty, living on less than one dollar a day.

The United States could fight these problems in countries where it would not require fighting a protracted, bloody, brutal, probably-unwinnable war, perhaps where governments either care about their population or at least simply neglect them.  And if it did so, it could save, improve, and empower tens of millions of people brutalized just as much as the woman on the cover of Time.

If we are serious about empowering women and fighting poverty — and we should be — we should use all the money and effort we are expending in Afghanistan, and turn toward other severe problems that do not demand the lives of thousands of American young people.  If fighting in Afghanistan derives from genuine geopolitical concerns — a case that has simply not been made yet — then of course that is another story.  But to support the Afghan war on the basis of humanitarian concerns misses the larger picture and runs the risk of making a mockery of humanitarianism.

Drug enforcement and the Afghan War

From our op-ed in Friday’s Financial Times: “There simply are not many feasible drug-control activities in Afghanistan that do more good than harm. This is a case where less really is more: since the natural tendency of counterdrug efforts is to help our enemies, we should pursue those efforts as little as possible. As a first step in breaking the Taliban’s momentum, we might stop filling its coffers.”

Jon Caulkins, Jonathan Kulick, and I have an op-ed in Friday’s Financial Times. It’s behind a registration wall (though not a paywall), but here’s the nut graf:

There simply are not many feasible drug-control activities in Afghanistan that do more good than harm. This is a case where less really is more: since the natural tendency of counterdrug efforts is to help our enemies, we should pursue those efforts as little as possible. As a first step in breaking the Taliban’s momentum, we might stop filling its coffers.

And here’s the full report.

Afghanistan drug policy event at USIP

The video is up.

Tuesday morning at the U.S. Institute of Peace Jonathan Caulkins, Jonathan Kulick, and I discussed our report about drug policy in Afghanistan with Amb. Bill Taylor, former Deputy Attorney General (and current Harvard Law prof) Phil Heymann, ONDCP director Gil Kerlikowske, and State Department adviser Barnett Rubin. The event was well-attended, and seemed to be illuminating; the questions in the Q&A were almost uniformly apposite and intelligent.

The tape is not (yet) downloadable or embeddable, but you can watch it on the C-SPAN website.

Coming attractions

Drugs and counterinsurgency in Afghanistan: U.S. Institute of Peace, 10am this coming Tuesday, July 6.

Jon Caulkins, Jonathan Kulick, and I are presenting a report on counter-narcotics and counter-insurgency policy in Afghanistan at the U.S. Institute of Peace (17th and K Sts. in Washington) this coming Tuesday, July 6, at 10am.

Here’s the invitation and RSVP link.

Amb. Bill Taylor is moderating, and Phil Heymann will be commenting.

We’re hoping to make a splash, as the basic claim – which I think is fairly bullet-proof analytically – is that current policies provide material support to the Taliban.

The Croesus curse hits Afghanistan

It’s hard to imagine anything worse that could happen in Afghanistan than the discovery of mineral wealth.

Mineral wealth is a blessing to rich, well-governed countries. To poor, ill-governed countries, it’s a curse, reinforcing the culture of corruption. Worst of all is mineral wealth in the midst of civil war: it can both finance and motivate insurgency.

So the claimed discovery of a trillion dollars’ worth of minerals in Afghanistan is the opposite of good news. What puzzles me is who in the U.S. government thought it advantageous to get this story out now, and why.

Update Marc Ambinder thinks the Obama Administration is playing Wag the Dog, using the alleged bonanza (which Ambinder says isn’t new news) to distract attention from a failing counter-insurgency effort. Weirdly, Ambinder credits Jared Diamond with the thought that mineral wealth tends to geneate political stability.