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Our Destabilizing Fetish for 'Stability' in Afghanistan

Ann Marlowe

Im frankly tired of writing about Ahmed Wali Karzai, the brother of
Afghan President Hamid Karzai. One of the reasons, in fact, that Im
tired of writing about Afghanistan is that it so often involves writing
about horrible people and how the US has empowered them. So AWKs
slaying on July 12th is interesting to me more for the chance it offers
to discuss a fatal error in American strategy, one that goes far beyond
the Afghan war.

Whats important for the US and Afghanistan going forward is the trope of destabilization that has occurred in a lot of
discussion, both professional and popular, of the slaying of Kandahars
Al Capone. We hear that with the elimination of one powerbroker,
Kandahar will be less stable. This theme also occurs in analysis of the
revolutions of the Arab Spring. If Saleh or Assad falls, the pundits
wonder, will Yemen or Syria be less stable?

The assumptions
embedded in these discussions are, to me, part of the reason the US is
committing foreign policy suicide in any number of countries. In fact,
Afghanistan is just about the only country where American policymakers
dont think that a broad array of competing factions and dissenting
opinions is dangerous.

We are making a terrible intellectual
mistake. Stability is what happens when everything else workswhen you
have free markets and free people. Its the political equivalent of
happiness, which Aristotle astutely pointed out is the result, not the
goal, of a life well lived. Live virtuously and actively and you may end up happy, if you have good luck. The same more or less goes for nations with respect to stability.

In Afghanistan, weve compounded
this philosophical mistake by pouring in huge amounts of American money, often badly monitored. Weve increased the spoils and raised the stakes in a society that lacks the rule of law and has lost much of its
traditional cohesion. Small wonder that violence has relentlessly
increased, with hundreds of tribal elders murdered just in Kandahar in
recent years in conflicts exacerbated by competition for American
contracting and security money.

The US has snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in Afghanistan, rewarding the worst people in
Afghanistan, discouraging most people with any sense from entering
public life, and increasing violence in just about every area of the
country. Whats worse, our military and political leadership has been
relentlessly dishonest about the situation, claiming imaginary successes as violence relentlessly grows.

General David Petraeuss comment on Ahmed Wali Karzais killing was a triumph of hypocrisy: President
Karzai is working to create a stronger, more secure Afghanistan, and for such a tragic event to happen to someone within his own family is

As Petraeus knows full well, those who live by
the sword die by the sword. Ahmed Wali Karzais killinglike those of
the hundreds of local elders murdered under his reign in Kandaharis far from unfathomable. It is the predictable result of a struggle for
money and power that we have foolishly stoked. And nothing the general,
or anyone else in our government, has said gives hope that we will end
our destabilizing quest for stability.

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