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Andrew Exum, also known as Abu Muqawama, and the writer of a blog with the same name, has announced that he will no longer blog on a daily basis because he feels that it conflicts with his research-oriented, deliberative work at the Center for a New American Security. He notes that blogging has “atrophied” his long-form writing skills.

I’m going to follow his lead for the time being. I have to write an obscene amount of pages over the next two weeks. I need to re-focus on long-form writing and need to concentrate my efforts on two serious papers. I won’t be blogging again until December 15th 25th.

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At 11 am this morning, I wrote on facebook: “He’s [Obama] gonna go with a 30,000 troop deployment but he’s gonna attach a specific withdrawal time-frame. At the same time, the US will leverage its new troop deployment to bring the Taliban to the political table (as it is already doing).” Yeah, I’m quoting myself.

And then I read this on the HuffPost: “Obama’s Afghanistan Decision: 34,000 More Troops And An Exit Strategy, Reports Say” at noon. I’m still claiming credit for calling it.

So, State Department, where’s my job with the Policy Planning Staff?

On a serious note, this was much anticipated (and though not entirely confirmed) and it was the decision that made the most sense. As Stephen Walt noted, it’s President Obama’s instinct to seek a compromise. Thirty thousand sounds like a fair one between Biden’s call for 0 and Gen. McChrystal’s call for 40,000 boots. President Obama is also a fan of exit strategies and time-frames, as we can recall from the 2008 campaign.

Sana Saeed wrote a piece in today’s McGill Daily critiquing Canada’s multiculturalism. “Multiculturalism is a sham” can be read here.

Here’s what I wrote back to her:

Sana, what took you so long to say it? Multiculturalism–understood as a means to preserve and protect cultural diversity through state intervention–has always been a sham. Even the patron saint of multiculturalism, Pierre Trudeau, did not actually argue for a culturally relativistic policy. Rather, he saw multiculturalism as a means to integrate Canada’s cultural groups. Upon introducing the policy to the House of Commons on October 8th, 1971, he said: “It is vital, therefore, that every Canadian, whatever his ethnic origin, be given a chance to learn at least one of the two languages in which his country conducts its official business and its politics.” Although he remarked that “there is no official culture,” by insisting on English (and French for Quebec) as an official language he made it clear that he too believed in the liberal, Anglo-Saxon cultural project. Cultural freedom could exist but it was to be strictly delineated within an English, liberal context. Identity, in Trudeau’s eyes, was marked by the “collective will to exist,” and not one’s origin–and that collective was surely the Anglo collective.

I don’t believe that there’s anything intrinsically wrong with a host society requiring a degree of cultural conformity. All societies do it. There is, however, something disingenuous about worshiping at the altar of diversity and at the same time refusing communion. We should continue to value the various minorities in our midst but must remember that we, as Canadians, have a common cultural project and our own set of values that are worth preserving.

Also, as a student of Canadian history, I have to clarify that the words “mosaic” and “multiculturalism” as ideologies of culture should not be conflated. The metaphor of the mosaic arose from the Prairies during the early 20th century while multicutlrualism became official cultural policy in the 1970s. Theoretically, the mosaic does not argue that all cultures are equal but that diversity should be managed within a sanitized Anglo-Saxon context. Multiculturalism, in theory, wants to make all cultures feel at home. In practice, however, it’s virtually the same as the mosaic.

The New York Times reports today that US officials have begun something called a “Community Defense Initiative,” which essentially involves providing food and ammunition to tribal militias. The strategy resembles the Sunni Awakening that took place in Iraq in 2007. On the whole, this is good news: let the Afghans take responsibility for their own security.

I do have two concerns, however. Firstly, the success of the Community Defense Initiative will depend on how it’s managed. Giving arms to crazed, unpopular warlords will not only destabilize Afghanistan but make the US look bad–and Afghans and Muslims will blame any catastrophes that follow on the American government. My second concern is more long-term: it would be unwise to replicate the anarchic way of things that exist prior to the 1996 Taliban takeover. The Taliban were able to usurp power from warring tribal factions–a state of affairs that the Community Defense Initiative could result in.

Shehzad Roy‘s banned song “Laga Reh” (Carry On or Keep at it) typifies the mood in Pakistan. It’s been through crisis after crisis and remains fatalistic as ever. Watch, enjoy!

For those of you who think that Guantanamo Bay and American torture don’t have public relations consequences and don’t turn our allies in the Muslim world against us, watch “Qismat Aapney Haath Mein” (Our fate is in our hands). Shehzad Roy is no anti-American Islamist. He’s from the persecuted Ismaili sect of Islam and is one of Pakistan’s leading humanitarians. The orange suits they’re wearing in the video unmistakeably draw inspiration from the outfits at Guantanamo. And notice the Americans in the black suits?

A hit movie in Pakistan a few years ago “Khuda ke liye” (In the name of God) also touched upon the fears of Pakistanis and Muslims in the post-9/11 world. The point of the movie was, by the way, to outright condemn terrorism and to undercut the theological hypocrisy of the mullahs who defended it.

I’ve been arguing for a “smart withdrawal”–a withdrawal that relies on local alliance building and a gradual exit–for a while. Because it’s against my nature to be a die-hard partisan of any idea, I’m posting a link to Max Boot’s latest article in Commentary, titled “How We Can Win in Afghanistan.” It offers a more precise definition of counterinsurgency and basically argues–contrary to my previous post–that what we’ve been doing in Afghanistan for the past 8 years was not proper counterinsurgency. The thrust of Boot’s argument is ‘if only we could do counterinsurgency better, then we’d succeed.’ I strongly disagree with the premise that counterinsurgency will work, but am willing to concede that had we fought with a coherent strategy since 2001, we would not be in the position we are in today.

Last week, former Pakistani President appeared on Fareed Zakaria’s GPS. Besides being evasive as usual (especially with regards to the Quetta shura and Pakistan’s continued support of the Afghan Taliban), Musharraf presented an intriguing strategy: what he calls the “Biden-McChrystal” strategy. Vice President Biden is currently in the withdrawal camp while General McChrystal is in the surge camp. Musharraf advocates a half-way approach, arguing for a quick surge and then a speedy withdrawal. At first glance, this sounds like a good, worthwhile plan to consider–until you start thinking about what we’ve been doing for the past 8 years.

The experience of Canada’s troops in Kandahar is instructive here. Since Canada deployed a counterinsurgency force in the region a few years ago, it has seen little gains, despite various “spring offenses.” I recall attending a talk given by Brigadier-General Denis Thompson earlier this year that discussed the problems with the surge strategy. Whenever Canadian troops–in coordination with other ISAF troops–would launch an offensive, the Taliban would disperse and integrate into the local communities. This would limit any chance of actually confronting them head-on, and were NATO/ISAF troops to push into these communities it would further alienate the hearts and minds we tried so hard to win over. The next step was the “clear and hold” strategy, which meant clearing an area and then holding and protecting it from Taliban incursions. Again, Western troops can only do so much and cannot occupy these areas indefinitely. The Taliban would return at some point or another–and the locals knew that cooperating with them (Westerners) extensively meant vengeance from the Taliban. (PBS’s frontline documentary, Obama’s War, shows this phenomenon as well).

In other words, we’ve been trying the surge strategy for a while, and to little avail. I do, however, agree with Musharraf’s belief–and the logic behind the surges in Iraq–that a show of force has currency in that part of the world (apologies for sounding like an Orientalist). But how much can an excessive show of force achieve and what are its consequences? In a counterinsurgency, the enemy is disparate and entrenched with the locals. That’s why it took the French 400,000 troops, 8 years and brutal tactics to try to quell the Algerian War. And even then, they ultimately lost. In today’s cosmic war on terror, to quip Reza Aslan, of which the Afghan war is a crucial part, an extended and brutal occupation will mean inevitably losing the war. Images of dead Afghans flashing across screens in the Muslim world will be fodder for the jihadists.

That’s why I remain convinced that a steady withdrawal, which shifts the onus to the Afghans themselves, is the only–though imperfect–option. We should focus our attention towards an exit strategy and towards engaging politically with Afghans. Islamabad-based Associated Press reporter Kathy Gannon offers a good place to start–by engaging with local power structures and building alliances with the Pushtun tribes. Links to what I’ve argued about leaving and an exit strategy.

John Mearsheimer writes in Foreign Policy magazine that “[i]n Afghanistan, there is little reason to think that the United States can decisively defeat the Taliban, mainly because they can melt into the countryside or go to Pakistan whenever they are outgunned, returning to fight another day (just as they did after the initial U.S. victory in 2001).” He says the Republicans who blame the President for “dithering” are those those who still claim that Vietnam was winnable. I’ve commented earlier on this line of thinking, calling it “the Vietnam syndrome”–that is, the idea that American military power is capable of quelling an insurgency.

And even if America were capable of defeating the Taliban, it is important to remember that “[t]he real tragedy of Vietnam is not that the United States lost, but that it became involved in the first place. It pains me to say this as someone who served in the American military from 1965 to 1975, but the anti-war movement was right: It did not matter to U.S. security whether North Vietnam conquered the south and unified that country under communist rule.”

Amen.

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