King Canute in Afghanistan

The New York Times is currently featuring an article about upcoming elections in Afghanistan at the top of their RSS feed: Allies Ponder How to Plan Elections in Afghanistan.

The Times writer, Carlotta Gall, has obviously made an effort to balance optimism and pessimism about the situation in Afghanistan, and the article includes what was probably intended to be a very optimistic assessment by Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who visited Kabul last Sunday.

"I am convinced that the additional military capability will certainly start to allow us to turn the tide."

Turning the tide! Apparently Admiral Mullen's unconscious mind is significantly more honest than Admiral Mullen, whose conscious persona was too obtuse to notice that he had chosen an image of impossibility to describe the NATO mission in Afghanistan.

Henry of Huntingdon, the 12th-century chronicler, tells how (King Canute) set his throne by the sea shore and commanded the tide to halt and not wet his feet and robes; but the tide failed to stop. According to Henry, Cnut leapt backwards and said "Let all men know how empty and worthless is the power of kings, for there is none worthy of the name, but He whom heaven, earth, and sea obey by eternal laws." He then hung his gold crown on a crucifix, and never wore it again.

King Canute got wet and repented, but the arrogance of our kings is incurable, although the thrones they set up in Vietnam were long since washed away, and our empire in Iraq is even now dissolving like sand-castles under the tide.

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    The Taliban's "base of support" (none / 0) (#1)
    by Jacob Freeze on Sun Apr 12, 2009 at 12:23:29 PM EST
    What is the Taliban's "base of support" in Afghanistan?

    The same story in the Times also answers that question!

    But in previous years the Taliban have held back from large-scale disruption of elections, partly because of pressure from their mentors in Pakistan, and partly, analysts say, so as not to alienate the people, who are their base of support.

    Okay... the base of support for the Taliban is "the people" and the base of support for us is... what?

    Seven guys in Kabul?

    "Civilizing" Afghanistan (none / 0) (#2)
    by Jacob Freeze on Sun Apr 12, 2009 at 07:51:37 PM EST
    One of the few advantages of posting my humble and almost entirely unnoticed reader blogs all over the internet is that I sometimes get a glimpse into the mindset that supports our imperial adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    And behold!

    On TPMCafe an imperial apologist, Tom Wright (with 50 "followers" on that blog) emerges with "the white man's burden" in his brain!

    I'm mystified why people think leaving Afghanistan is any better than staying involved.

    Given that our presence there involves a fraction of the numbers involved in Iraq, and we're not exactly failing, we are not really in danger of being humiliated like the Brits or Russians. It just might be an unsustainably long time to see Afghanistan with honest government.

    But if there is a necessary policing job out there it would include bringing civilization to the frontier in Waziristan...

    And exactly what elements of "civilization" would we bring to those savage Afghans?

    Civil society, codified law, judges, normalized diplomatic relations, is my sense of civilization. It would also include an understanding of consensus science.

    What planet does this guy live on, where more than one American in a hundred has "an understanding of consensus science?"

    Most Americans can't even find Afghanistan on a map, much less explain the standard model of quantum mechanics, or any other tool that anyone you could conceivably call a "scientist" actually works with.

    Or maybe he's "civilized" because he once heard the words "quantum mechanics?"


    But it's when he refers to "codified law" as if it were something unknown to the Taliban, that this "shepherd" of 50 "followers" really betrays his ignorance, or prejudice, or both.

    Sharia law is at least as highly "codified" as anything in the Roman-Anglo-American legal tradition, and you could probably make a good case that it's more codified, since aspects of life that aren't even mentioned in our legal tradition are regulated down to the last detail in Islamic law.

    You may not like their code, and I may not like it either, but claiming that Afghanistan is waiting for the United States to introduce them to "codified law" is a perfect example of the absence of real civilization which characterizes American society right down to a vanishing number of exceptions.

    "We're so civilized," says Tom Wright, and "proves" it by displaying his total ignorance of the nation he wants us to "civilize."


    More "civilization" (none / 0) (#3)
    by Jacob Freeze on Sun Apr 12, 2009 at 08:25:49 PM EST
    Yet another advocate for "the white man's burden" has appeared, and alleges...

    Sharia is carried out by the ulema. It is actually more flexible than codified law in many respects because it is so dependent upon the interpretation of the people providing judgment.

    "Codified" has zero to do with flexibility of interpretation, and the first "codified" laws in our tradition are the Code of Hammurabi, and the Code of Ur-Nammu, and why do we call them "codified?"

    Because they were written down, instead of passing along from one judge to another through an oral tradition, or otherwise.

    And is sharia law also codified?

    Yes indeed, especially in the Quran and Sunnah, just as the most fundamental American law is codified in the US Constitution, and the sharia is variously interpreted according to several different historical traditions, including  Hanafi, Hanbali, Maliki or Shafii, and Jaafari,  just as the US Constitution is variously interpreted by originalists, minimalists, or strict constructionists.

    Anyone with a real interest in this subject and access to a law library can find a careful comparison between the sharia and American Constitutional law in...

    Quraishi, Asifa (2006), "Interpreting the Qur'an and the Constitution: Similarities in the Use of Text, Tradition, and Reason in Islamic and American Jurisprudence", Cardozo Law Review 28: 67-121 [68]