Views from the front

The Covington News - - OPINION -

Dis­trict 8 Con­gress­man Jim Mar­shall (D-Ma­con) re­cently re­turned from a trip to Afghanistan where he was imbed­ded with a U.S. Army Spe­cial Forces A team on the border of Pak­istan. The fol­low­ing is the third in a three-part se­ries de­tail­ing his ex­pe­ri­ences and ob­ser­va­tions from the trip.

Wed­nes­day, July 25, 2007: We’re on a Pak­istan In­ter­na­tional Air­lines flight from Islamabad, Pak­istan, to Lon­don, the third of four legs re­turn­ing from Fire­base Chamkani to Wash­ing­ton. This plane is much big­ger than the PIA liner from Be­jing to La­hore, ev­i­dence that Pak­istan is more ori­ented to­ward the West. We need to keep it that way. As the say­ing goes — keep your al­lies close, your en­e­mies closer and your po­ten­tial en­e­mies clos­est.

I usu­ally get about six hours of sleep a day but only three or so on trips like th­ese. I hate to waste time sleep­ing, let alone sleep­ing in coun­try. This flight to Lon­don is my chance to catch up on sleep. But I still don’t feel like it. I keep think­ing about the moun­tains of Afghanistan and Pak­istan, about their beauty and their dan­ger.

Na­tional borders and iden­ti­ties mean lit­tle to the tribes of th­ese moun­tains. That’s hard for me to com­pre­hend. In­di­vid­ual al­le­giance is to tribe, not coun­try. Tribe is the so­cial safety net, the ex­tended fam­ily. All out­siders are sus­pect. Tribe even trumps Is­lam. I’ve heard more than one Amer­i­can pas­tor say you can’t bring a starv­ing man to Christ with­out first giv­ing him bread. He won’t lis­ten. He’s fo­cused on sur­vival, not higher call­ings.

Like a feu­dal sys­tem, tribal lead­ers tra­di­tion­ally called the shots in th­ese re­mote, moun­tain­ous tribal ar­eas, typ­i­cally in con­sul­ta­tion with a broader group of lieges, akin to lords, courtiers and se­lect oth­ers. They re­tained cred­i­bil­ity and sta­tus by tak­ing mea­sures that fur­thered the com­fort and sur­vival of the tribe. Tribes are not for sale. But they are for rent. Bin Laden is rent­ing. He can be out­bid.

I am re­minded of the true story of a wealthy New York farmer in the 1700s who asked a lo­cal lawyer to rep­re­sent him in a land line dis­pute with his neigh­bor. The lawyer had al­ready been re­tained by the neigh­bor. So the lawyer po­litely de­clined the farmer’s re­quest but of­fered to in­tro­duce the farmer to an­other lawyer in a nearby town who, the lawyer said, would do an ex­cel­lent job rep­re­sent­ing him. The lawyer then penned a note to his fel­low lawyer, sealed it in an en­ve­lope, handed the en­ve­lope to the farmer and gave him di­rec­tions to the other lawyer’s of­fice. While rid­ing to the other town, the farmer’s cu­rios­ity got the bet­ter of him. So he opened the note. It said: “Two fat geese. You pluck one. I’ll pluck the other.”

We’re the wealthy farmer. Bin Laden, the cur­rent epit­ome of vi­o­lent anti-west­ern ji­hadists, is our op­po­nent. Gun Doc­tor, his Afghan Se­cu­rity Guards, the tribes sup­port­ing us and those sup­port­ing Bin Laden are the lawyers. Our fight is not re­ally their fight. They are for rent. This war is busi­ness for them. They’ve found two fat geese. Tribes­men are not fa­nat­i­cally com­mit­ted to ei­ther side. They are sur­vivors.

The same can­not be said of the mul­lahs, many of whom are now com­mit­ted to a rad­i­cal vari­ant of Wah­habism. His­tor­i­cally, mul­lahs in th­ese moun­tains de­ferred to tribal lead­ers. We un­in­ten­tion­ally helped change that bal­ance with our sup­port for Is­lamic ji­had against the Soviet oc­cu­pa­tion of Afghanistan. Wrest­ing tribal loy­alty from Bin Laden is greatly com­pli­cated by the mul­lahs. We are now try­ing to undo that prob­lem by strength­en­ing the tribal lead­ers.

When asked about the strate­gic im­por­tance of our fights in Afghanistan and Iraq, for- mer Army Chief of Staff Pete Schoomaker of­ten ref­er­enced Pak­istan as “the key to the deal.” Its pol­i­tics are volatile. It pos­sesses nu­clear weapons. It is tech­no­log­i­cally savvy. It is the home of A. Q. Kahn, the Pak­istani sci­en­tist who ex­ported nu­clear tech­nol­ogy. Kahn is now un­der ar­rest largely be­cause of our in­flu­ence upon Pak­istan.

Our world is grow­ing smaller while the tech­nol­ogy of vi­o­lence de­vel­ops at warp speed. Robert Wright calls it the grow­ing lethal­ity of ha­tred. Much or most of the globe sur­vives on less than two dol­lars a day. The global econ­omy is es­sen­tially un­reg­u­lated and apt to cause mo­men­tous dis­rup­tions. Many worry daily of global pan­demics, cli­mate change and other forces. We ev­i­dently have not reached Fukuyama’s The End of His­tory. An­gry young men (mostly) will con­tinue to pas­sion­ately pur­sue right­ing wrongs or ad­vanc­ing some zeal­ous cause, of­ten re­li­gious. Some por­tion of them will war against the de­vel­oped world. It won’t take many to do tremen­dous dam­age un­less the world is well or­ga­nized to stop them. We aren’t now. A con­ven­tional de­fense approach sim­ply won’t do.

We need in­dige­nous se­cu­rity forces and tribes through­out the world as force mul­ti­pli­ers. This takes ef­fec­tive diplo­macy, part­ner­ing and build­ing part­ner ca­pac­ity. Spe­cial Forces-type com­bat troops, Peace Corps with a punch, have a ma­jor role to play. They lever­age our re­sources through col­lab­o­ra­tion with in­dige­nous peo­ples. Along with other re­sources we can pro­vide them, both mil­i­tary and hu­man­i­tar­ian, they can keep the Gun Doc­tors and tribal lead­ers on our side.

With time and the right col­lab­o­ra­tive strate­gies, th­ese moun­tains that chal­lenged the armies of Alexan­der the Great and most re­cently spawned the Lon­don bomb­ings will not pose a threat to the west, to Amer­ica. But they do now. We aban­don them at our risk.

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