17 May 2010

Visualizing the Logic of the War of Occupation in Afghanistan

The problem is not PowerPoint, but rather the logic encoded in this diagram, nor is the problem that "PowerPoint makes us stupid," as some have tried to gloss the embarrassment (link):

Indeed, it is the underlying confusion of a "mission" whose logic has constantly shifted and expanded that is embedded in this image, what may survive as a memento of the colossal folly of the war in Afghanistan.

After all, it was Rory Stewart -- no radical -- who best explained this. Rory Stewart is the Director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard University, and has been elected as a Conservative Member of Parliament in the recent UK elections. In an article published in the London Review of Books, "The Irresistible Illusion," Stewart wrote:
The new UK strategy for Afghanistan is described as . . . International . . . regional . . . joint civilian-military . . . co-ordinated . . . long-term . . . focused on developing capacity . . . an approach that combines respect for sovereignty and local values with respect for international standards of democracy, legitimate and accountable government, and human rights; a hard-headed approach: setting clear and realistic objectives with clear metrics of success.

This is not a plan: it is a description of what we have not got. Our approach is short-term; it has struggled to develop Afghan capacity, resolve regional issues or overcome civilian-military divisions; it has struggled to respect Afghan sovereignty or local values; it has failed to implement international standards of democracy, government and human rights; and it has failed to set clear and realistic objectives with clear metrics of success. Why do we believe that describing what we do not have should constitute a plan on how to get it?

But a bewildering range of different logical connections and identities can be concealed in a specialised language derived from development theory and overlaid with management consultancy.

What is concealed is our underlying assumption that when we want to make other societies resemble our (often fantastical) ideas of our own society, we can.
The fish always rots from the head down.
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