President Obama was brought up in Asia, yet he seems clueless about Afghanistan, and of the geopolitical problems in this area.

The press is even worse, preferring the simplistic out of date explanations of the “Afghanistan is Viet Nam” meme, or the “Stop the war” meme, or stressing civilian casualties “reported” by Taliban linked sources without putting anything into context.

Afghanistan is in Asia, yet hardly any news stories in the American press seems to notice this.

Back in the Reagan administration, the anti war people were saying Reagan’s attempt to get rid of the Russians in Afghanistan was actually about a pipeline. Well, things were a bit more complicated than that, but yes, the Pipeline issue is still there, and both China and India are eager to get the natural gas. This inability of the US press to notice India and China as major powers, not passive bystanders, distorts the discussion of the geopolitics of Afghanistan in the press.

Huge energy needs are why China is unlikely to allow increased sanctions against Iran, because China needs Iran’s oil/natural gas. At the same time,  Iran needs cheap nuclear energy (they have oil, but not refineries, so have to import gasoline and natural gas). Of course, they also have a crazy dictator who is threatening Israel in order to divert attention from an unpopular government who just stole an election, but China figures they can be patient.

Little of this ever is discusses in the American press.The drumbeat in the press seems to be trying to persuade the American people to lose the war, probably as a way to punish Bush, even though it is Obama who has recognized the unmet need to stabilize Afghanistan and the region.

So, Mr. President, how about educating some folks about the real story?

One idea in the press being floated is that since the government of Afghanistan is corrupt, the US is better off leaving. A similar argument in Viet Nam was used, but few who are making these comparisons bother to notice that it wasn’t true: by deserting the “corrupt” government, the alternative led to the ethnic cleansings, boat people, and Cambodian holocaust.

Human rights is a “natural” Democratic issue, and with a few talks, you might start getting others, especially feminists, to take your side of the argument.

The press also seems clueless about tribal loyalties and how gifts and ties between clan leaders is how Afghanistan was ruled for two thousand years. Yes, this is what westerners call “corruption” (aka “bribes” or “gifts” for cooperation).

So, Mr. President, you are a son of an Anthropologist, so you should be able to explain these things to  the clueless reporters. Explain to them that Politics is local in Afghanistan, just like in Chicago, and you have to keep the ward bosses happy.

Even complaints in the press of election abnormalities in Afghanistan should be seen as “well, at least we caught it before the votes were counted”, which is better than Nixon could say about the dead people in Chicago whose votes lost him the 1960’s election.

The resentment over America as policeman of the world needs to be put into perspective: that until there is an alternative, who will stop the murderers from winning?

The “correct” answer is the UN, but when UN peacekeepers failed to stop massacres in Bosnia and Rwanda, and are doing little about Dafur or the genocides of Central Africa, one has to be realistic about the UN. The UN does a good job, but they have little power to stop war: they are peacekeepers, not soldiers.

So, Mr. President, please emphasize that the NATO presence in Afghanistan not only discourages the radical elements, but stand as a warning to many in the region who are eager to reinstate old hatreds.

And here is where an Asian raised president should start teaching. After all, he lived in Indonesia and is aware of that country’s “ethnic cleansing” of their Chinese ethnic population. The massacres were done in the name of “anti communism” but (like the ethnic cleansing of Chinese ethnics by communist Viet Nam) were actually grounded in ethnic dislike of an outside group who were more successful and wealthy, and non Muslim.

Finally, President Obama, could you give a short talk about Afghanistan that sort of brings up the point that Afghanistan’s fate also involves the Asian countries in that region?  And please, could you remind the press corps who love you to be a little less Eurocentric in their coverage of the situation?

The acid-tongued Spengler at the Asian Times summarizes the many potential threats in the area that might blow up if one removes the American presence in Afghanistan:

The region is full of geopolitical mines. To be name some of them:
# India can’t let the fundamentalist side of the Pakistani military take power without responding.

Translation: India and Pakistan have been in a cold war over Kashmir since 1948. Some in the Pakistani military are freeing radicals if they agree to help to liberate Kashmir. If these elements take over the government, India faces a major security threat.

# Iran can’t let Pakistan’s Sunnis crush the 20% Shi’ite minority.

Iran’s Mullahs are the head of the Shiites. Radicals in Pakistan have been attacking Christians churches and Shiite mosques there. If the radical Sunni Islamicists take over, they could encourage a grass roots pogrom against the “heretics”.

# Israel can’t allow for the possibility of Iran developing nuclear weapons.

Israel tends to believe those who say they plan to kill Jews.

# Saudi Arabia can’t let Iran dominate Iraq.

Much of the oil rich area of the Gulf, including that area in Saudi Arabia, is populated with Shiite Muslims.  Theoretically, Iran could stir up the populace, and engineer a Shiite take over of the oil rich region. And, if Iran gets a bomb, undoubtedly Saudi will do the same.

# Turkey can’t let Iraq’s Kurds form an independent state.

The Kurdish radicals  in western Turkey are terrorists, and trying to root them out has led to tens of thousands of deaths. An independent Kurdistan could lead to much of Kurdish Turkey rebelling or being annexed from that country, something Turkey will not tolerate.

# China can’t let Turkey agitate among the 100 million Muslim ethnic Turks within its borders.

The recent riots in western China have been blamed on Turkey inciting the locals to revolt against China. Unless there is peace here, you can kiss the pipeline goodbye.

Spengler summarizes:

Without America to mediate, scold and restrain, each of the small powers in the region has no choice but to test its strength against the others.

Ah, yes. But the elites in Europe who seem to be trying to influence US foreign policy, don’t care.

On the other hand, both China and Russia will probably be forced to step into the gap if America withdraws or manages to pull a “vietnam” and manages to lose a war due to the anti war movement at home.

Indeed, even a NYTimes editorial notes:

Bottom line: China will find a way to benefit no matter what the United States does in Afghanistan. But it probably benefits more if we stay and add troops to the fight. The same goes for Russia. Because of continuing unrest in the Islamic southern tier of the former Soviet Union, Moscow has an interest in America stabilizing Afghanistan (though it would take a certain psychological pleasure from a humiliating American withdrawal).

In nuts-and-bolts terms, if we stay in Afghanistan and eventually succeed, other countries will benefit more than we will. China, India and Russia are all Asian powers, geographically proximate to Afghanistan and better able, therefore, to garner practical advantages from any stability our armed forces would make possible.


Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. She blogs at Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket.

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