Sunday, January 23, 2011

Φ’s Ethnic Stereotypes

Scandinavian Feminists:  Most energetic.  Like the Taliban, they fight for what they believe in.

Americans:  Most likely to “take ownership” of the mission at hand.  Which is appropriate, considering.

Britons:  Most cheerful.  Theodore Dalrymple’s dystopia is nowhere in evidence.  Monty Python’s just-a-flesh-wound parody really does capture something of the British national character.

East Europeans:  Most loyal.  They dutifully fought for the Warsaw Pact, and now they fight for NATO, all the while knowing that our project, like theirs, is doomed eventually.  And yet they serve.

Frenchmen:  Most indifferent.  They look on the mission as a bad joke that we Americans just can’t get.  A view with which I have some sympathy . . . but they’re still assholes.

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The closest thing I have to a friend over here is a Dutchman.  His family originated in France in the 1700s, moved to Holland, and moved again to Indonesia.  There they sufficiently married into the local population to appear fully Asiatic by this century, all the while keeping the French surname.  His grandfather fled back to Holland the collapse of the Sukarno dictatorship.  Both he and his father took “white” wives, so the Asian appearance is now working its way out.

Anyway, I just thought that was an interesting story.

One of the things that impressed me about him was his optimism about the future, even though he faces career uncertainty as all NATO forces are drawing down their militaries in the wake of the financial crisis.  He has spent a fair amount of time in the U.S., and some of his relatives have done well there.

He’s very patriotic, a quality he shares with many of the officers of Southeast Asian extraction I have known.

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Via Dexter’s comment, an article by an Air Force Academy instructor:

Afghanistan and the Afghans provide such a limited foundation to build from that "by, with, and through" simply may not be feasible. In many ways, we are multiplying by zero. The Afghans have limited infrastructure; limited agricultural capability; limited to no indigenous industrial capacity; an immature consumer economy; an impotent and incoherent security apparatus; and a fledgling Western-style government overseeing a decentralized, tribally based population. No foundation exists to to build on. The lack of an existing infrastructure prevents the creation of second- and third-order economic effects, construction of a security force, and the development of functioning public transportation and communication services. The United States is investing in a country in which there is literally nothing to invest. Virtually everything the U.S. uses has to be imported because Afghanistan is fundamentally underdeveloped.

What I witnessed in Afghanistan is best summed up in Robert Kaplan's The Ends of the Earth. Kaplan notes that when the United States began the Peace Corps in the 1960s, both Sierra Leone and India required basic agricultural know-how. Thirty years later, India had become a net food exporter and a producer of high technology with no further need of farm assistance. Sierra Leone, on the other hand, remained exactly where it was in the 1960s when the Peace Corps first arrived. The message of Sierra Leone was brutal: The end was nigh in the failed battle, fought valiantly by the liberal West, to equalize cultures around the world. The differences between some cultures and others (regarding the ability to produce exportable material wealth) appeared to be growing rather than diminishing. I could substitute Afghanistan for Sierra Leone. It was difficult to make my interpreter understand this, but he knew it when I asked where the ISAF would get its water, its rental cars, and its Internet service. He knew that whatever we needed would come from somewhere other than Afghanistan.

Lt Col Veneri doesn’t say specifically when he was last in Afghanistan, but my inference is that it was in June of 2009.  I would be interested to read his impressions on a more recent visit, since this is the most critical appraisal of the war I’ve read in the mainstream press since I’ve been here.  Gen. Petraeus, and the military’s media management operation in general, have generated nothing but puff pieces from establishment journals (the exceptions have been totally wrongheaded), and the political figures who visit offer only fawning praise.

To be fair, this coverage doesn’t happen ex nihlo; we can put on quite a show of accomplishment:  infrastructure built, troops trained and equipped, territory cleared and held, etc.  But the question is whether we have only succeeded in creating a zombie state, one with no life of its own independent of the international aid that accounts for some half of the country’s GDP.

3 comments:

samsonsjawbone said...

No Canadians?

Φ said...

I guess we have Canadians but . . . how would I tell? :-)

samsonsjawbone said...

That's as satisfying an answer as I could have hoped for. :)