27 October 2009

Afghanistan: The Bipolarchy War

The Washington Post has given considerable space to an important military advisor who has resigned in protest against American military policy in Afghanistan. Coming from the country, he's come to the conclusion that continued American presence in Afghanistan on the current scale only fuels the ongoing insurgency while miring the United States in what he describes as a multifaceted civil war. He offers no reassurance about the Taliban or al-Qaeda, but he has obviously rejected the arguments of both the Bush and Obama administrations that Taliban control of the country would provide the terrorist network with an essential base for the organization of attacks on other countries. He sees the conflict in Afghanistan as a war of all against all, with many factions having no more ideology than what he calls "valley-ism," a desire to run things on their own ground without interference from anyone else. It sounds like some people's ideal of how the U.S. itself should work, but Afghanistan seems to be a place where tribes and sects can get away with it, no matter who tries to tell them otherwise.

This is a case in which the American people confront a bipartisan consensus that the Taliban must be prevented from retaking power in Afghanistan at all costs. For public consumption, at least, that consensus depends on the premise that a Taliban restoration would crucially enhance al-Qaeda's ability to strike at the U.S. Dissidents exist on the left "anti-imperialist" fringe of the Democratic party and, if anywhere, on the right "isolationist" fringe of the Republican party. These are the same elements that opposed the invasion of Iraq, and they're the necessary building blocks of any mass movement against either entrenchment or escalation in Afghanistan. Neither is strong enough to place its own party on an antiwar platform, but would they be capable together of appealing to a non-partisan "center" that also questions the necessity and cost of the Afghan war? Is Afghanistan an issue that could provoke a mass political realignment in the U.S., replacing the old left-right divide with an admittedly bipolar division between interventionists and anti-interventionists? Could foreign policy be the 21st century equivalent of the slavery-expansion issue in the 1850s, when an earlier Bipolarchy failed to represent public opinion and was destroyed? Or have all the structural changes in our electoral process since then made it possible for the present Bipolarchy to defy public opinion in favor of its own consensus and its own choice of issues without risk of consequences? We can't begin to formulate answers or predictions until we get a better idea of actual public opinion on Afghanistan, but we can see plainly enough right now that a Bipolarchy consensus does exist on the issue, whether the American people like it or not.

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