Sunday, February 17, 2008

Afghanistan: A Zen State of Chaos

How is it I have managed to go all this time without ever having heard of The Bugle?

This week, John Oliver and Andy Zaltzman discuss Mitt Romney, four dollar chickens, and Afghanistan. Not all at once. A sample:

Robert Gates said there was "no chance of failure", and in many ways that's true. You can't fail at something when you don't know what success is. What is success in Afghanistan? No one really knows, therefore Afghanistan is approaching an almost Zen state of chaos. There can be neither success or failure. Afghanistan just is.

Well done, gentlemen. Carry on.


  1. That's sheer nonsense.

    We don't know specifically what success in Afghanistan looks like. But we do have numerous criteria:

    -A functioning, stable government
    -Enforceable borders
    -Improved literacy rates & life expectancy (particularly reduced infant mortality)
    -Peaceful relations between Afghanistan and its neighbours

    But there are various things about how that will work that we don't know. For example, we really don't know what the geographic dimensions of the country will be when the mission is over.

    There are various questions that need to be answered. But to pretend we can't fail because we don't know what success is is simply facetious.

  2. It's called "satire", Patrick.

    Since you apparently don't get it, the point they are making is that this isn't a 'war' in the traditional sense of two sides fighting until one wins and the other surrenders. It is an ongoing and potentially never-ending race against encroaching chaos, and nobody has ever bothered painting a finish line.

    The problem is, every one of the criteria you mention is relative and largely subjective. What is a 'stable' government? A dictatorship is pretty stable. A border wall is pretty enforceable. To what point should life expectancy be raised before we can go home? 60? 70? How many children in school? How many roads paved or hospitals built or Taliban killed before we can say our work here is done, now it's your turn?

    But hey, if you liked that post you're going to LOVE this next one :)

  3. Actually, most dictatorships are inherently unstable. The efforts at information suppression necessary to ensure a dictatorship can function tends to take up resources that are otherwise necessary to make the state function.

    It comes down to a simple "we have to be right all the time, they only have to get lucky once" formula whereby a single failure of information suppression can ignite the powderkeg that oppressed societies tend to be.

    In fact, when one closely examines the historical record, the only states that prove to be stable in post-French Revolution history tend to be democracies. Just because a dictatorship lasts a long time doesn't mean that it's stable.

    One has to look at the amount of effort necessary to keep the dictator in power. And if their secret police are wrong, in some cases, just once, or if the dictator crosses the wrong military leader...