February 24, 2009

A Question from the Readership

I must say, I quite enjoyed the comments from yesterday's interview with Mitch Prothero. Mitch -- who studied in the great books program at St. John's (basically, the Western Canon, and in the original languages too) -- will be shocked to discover he hates his cultural heritage, but otherwise the comments were good. (Why do I have this sneaking suspicion that many of those Westerners who are so quick to accuse others of "turning their back" on their cultural heritage have never themselves taken the time to learn Greek, or Latin, or to read the works of Shakespeare. I've got a new rule: anyone who accuses someone of turning their back on Western culture needs to be prepared to take a quiz, written by me, in Ancient Greek, on subjects ranging from Reformation theology to the plays of Aristophanes. Update: Oh, for goodness sake, people. I'm not saying you need to know Ancient Greek to be a good American, just that you better not start throwing around "Western Civilization" to discredit others unless you're prepared to submit your own qualifications.)

To one reader, though, I have to offer a firm correction: while Najjar coffee is indeed great, everyone in Beirut knows that Younes -- the old Younes -- has the best coffee in town. Everyone knows this.

Today, though, I want to open up to comments the following question I received from a reader:

Why is it that for all the 'we can't win Afghanistan without Pakistan' talk, it's never vice versa? In the New York Times, you made an excellent case for considering what exactly victory means in Afghanistan. Right below you, Parag Khanna stressed that International Forces are only at best pushing the Taliban problem over the border, and that we must consider stabilizing Western Pakistan to stabilize Afghanistan. Put the two together, and the road to success, as it were, seems gloomy and difficult. But can the question be flipped? To stabilize Western Pakistan, do we need to stabilize Afghanistan? I'm doing my best to enlighten myself on the politics and history of the region, murky as it is. If the Afghanistan Taliban and Pakistan Taliban are distinct but associated networks, what exactly prevents the Pakistan Taliban from moving into Afghanistan for safe haven much as their Afghanistan siblings did before? It's reductive and misleading I'm sure to focus on Taliban/Al Qaeda/Terrorist networks, but if there is really a strong anti government movement in Pakistan, will it be weakened or strengthened by an end to the mission in Afghanistan? I'm sure the withdrawal of foreign soldiers, while initially painted as a victory, would do much to take the wind of their sales ideologically. But would that signify the end of all the Mehsuds and Pakistani Haqqanis? Or would they have more room to operate, in what would presumably be an area of low interference if current Afghan standards continue? I remember in the dark days of 2006, leading up the announcement of the surge, the meme for Iraq became (and still is) that leaving could lead to regional war and ethnic conflict. That case never seems to be made with Afghanistan. Would leaving mean that the anti-Pakistan elements have more room to cooperate with drug traffickers, and more opportunity to take down what seems to be the most collapsible nuclear weapons state? I guess I'm wondering what your opinion would be on the effect on Pakistan if the mission does wind down in Afghanistan? It's a tough question, to me, but it's been bothering me...

Any help answering this doozy is appreciated.

That question too hard? Then amuse yourselves with the next two video excerpts from Craig's book. (And Craig has no affiliation with CNAS, so stop accusing me of shilling for them when I help Craig publicize his book. I do shill for CNAS, but this is not one of those instances.)