May 21, 2011

Nang vs. Qalang in Eastern Afghanistan & More

I'm off to a wedding this weekend, but here's some stuff to start a few discussions in the comments while I am gone.

1. Doug Ollivant knows more about counterinsurgency than almost anyone I know and also knows quite a bit about eastern Afghanistan. So when he says we've gotten ourselves into a mess by taking sides in a war we should have stayed out of, listen. If you've ever heard me lecture on counterinsurgency in Afghanistan, you will hear me make the kind of point that a MacDonald of Glencoe whose family settled in the East Tennessee Mountains understands intuitively: people live in the mountains because they want to be left the bleep alone.

2. I was in the meeting spoken of in the first few paragraphs of this article and am not surprised to see this particular detail leak, such was the number of journalists in the room. But this article follows closely on the heels of several articles the day of the president's Middle East speech in which Dennis Ross was already being set up as the bogeyman, and I'm not sure I'm buying it. Yes, I know Dennis Ross has always been runner-up to only Ariel Sharon as the bête noire of the Palestinian cause, but it sure seems to me as if everyone in the administration is more or less singing from the same hymnal this week. I got the chance to ask some pointed questions of Ross as well as some other administration officials a few hours after the Middle East speech, and I did not sense there to be much disagreement. I have always really liked and admired Ross myself, even when I have been inclined to disagree with him on a policy issue, so maybe I am not the best person to weigh in here. But in the end, I think I am most likely to agree with Aaron David Miller, who provides a needed reality check for the king of Jordan and others when he notes:

Dennis is viewed as the éminence grise, a sort of Rasputin who casts a
spell over secretaries of state and presidents. But in the end, it’s the
president who makes the ultimate decisions.