Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Afghanistan, as Explained by P.J. O'Rourke

When you don't know whether to laugh or cry, do both!

P.J. O'Rourke is the Mark Twain of our times.  Not the Novelist Twain, but the traveling and reporting Twain.  He's funny while treating deadly serious topics.  Reading his dispatches from the open sores that pockmark this planet make you laugh while you learn.

This conservative, who also wrote for National Lampoon Magazine, is a pretty damn good foreign correspondent, and he's far from pompous about it:
If you spend 72 hours in a place you’ve never been, talking to people whose language you don’t speak about social, political, and economic complexities you don’t understand, and you come back as the world’s biggest know-it-all, you’re a reporter.

He relates a conversation with his host who picked him up at Kabul Airport (A scary place, I've been there):
“The Suicides usually attack early in the morning,” Amin said. “It’s a hot country and the explosive vests are thick and heavy.”

I’d never thought about suicide bombing in terms of comfort. Here’s some guy who’s decided to blow himself gloriously to bits and he’s pounding the pavement all dressed up in the blazing sun, sweat running down his face, thinking, “Gosh this thing itches, I’m pooped, let’s call it off.”

“It’s the same with car bombs,” Amin said. “You don’t want to be driving around the whole day with police everywhere and maybe get a ticket.”

Imagine the indignity of winding up in traffic court instead of the terrorist equivalent of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
He writes of the contradictions of the tribal society.  Family and clan is important, but a national vacuum has killed post-Soviet recovery:
An Afghan civil society activist, whose work has put him under threat from the Taliban, admitted, “People picked Taliban as the lesser of evils.” He explained that lesser of evils with one word, “stability.”
A woman member of the Afghan parliament said that it was simply a fact that the Taliban insurgency was strongest “where the government is not providing services.” Rule of law being the first service a government must provide.
The member of parliament who laughed at the clash of civilizations laughed as well at what had passed for rule of law in Afghanistan. “Sure Afghanistan is unruly,” he said. “Afghans don’t like rules. No one likes rules. And that is what we have been—ruled. We have been ruled, not governed.”
 He gets to the crux of the problem we face there:

A journalist for Radio Azadi said, “Afghans were happy in principle that Americans brought peace and democracy. But when rival tribes began to use the U.S. to crush each other, the attitude of the Afghan people changed.”

It’s not that Afghans think Americans have sided with the wrong people in a systematic, strategic, or calculated way. It’s just that we came to a place that we didn’t know much about, where there are a lot of sides to be on, and we started siding with this side and that side and the other side. We were bound to wind up on the wrong side sometimes.

He then launches a hilarious thought experiment involving Scotsmen invading America with the best of intentions...
What if some friendly, well-meaning, but very foreign power, with incomprehensible lingo and outrageous clothes, were to arrive on our shores to set things right? What if it were Highland Scots?

There they go marching around wearing skirts and purses and ugly plaids, playing their hideous bagpipe music, handing out haggis to our kiddies and offending our sensibilities with a lack of BVDs under their kilts.

Maybe they do cut taxes, lower the federal deficit, eliminate the Department of Health and Human Services, and the EPA, give people jobs at their tartan factories and launch a manhunt for Harry Reid and the UC Berkeley faculty. We still wouldn’t like them.
Afghan corrupion?
Afghans have failed to move their corruption from the Rod Blagojevich model, which we all deplore, to the Barack Obama model, which we all admire.
We have troops fighting and dying in Afghanistan, and we've planted some seeds.  There is hope.  Afghanistan may never be the Switzerland of the Himalayas, but what country is?  We're giving them a shot to make something better, and if anyone can do it, General Petraeus and the US Military can.

Amid the funny bits are conversations with mullas and ordinary Afghanis.  Go read The 72-Hour Expert.  You might learn something, and have a laugh along the way.


Trestin said...

Strange reading about peoples thoughts on Afghanistan and Korea, as I move from one to the other.

Ray said...

It is well written stuff from someone in the know Silver;)

We need these 'third worlder's' 2 get 'up to speed' and let them all know 'from now on we can't and won't carry their incompetent asses anymore'. Learn and work or perish.

WomanHonorThyself said...

I agree with Ray here too..good read Silver..thanks for this:)

98ZJUSMC said...

Maybe they do cut taxes, lower the federal deficit, eliminate the Department of Health and Human Services, and the EPA, give people jobs at their tartan factories and launch a manhunt for Harry Reid and the UC Berkeley faculty. We still wouldn’t like them.

Bring on the bagpipes. I'm in love.

Silverfiddle said...

USMC: Yeah, it does sound pretty good. Hell, I'd wear a kilt if somebody could make this a reality...

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