I’m behind on my magazine reading. Last night I finally got around to the September/October issue of The American Conservative. Andrew Doran’s, “Absurd in Afghanistan,” is thought-provoking. Doran relates his conversations with “Joseph,” an Army officer who lived, negotiated, fought, and ended up incredibly frustrated in Afghanistan. How can Western soldiers and officials, coming from an institutional culture, even begin to have meaningful conversations with people still living in a tribal culture?Joseph recognizes that both cultures are violent, but negotiate and execute almost everything, even violence, in starkly different ways.
But why try to have a meaningful conversation? Just do the mission. But, Joseph and Doran insist that it’s precisely that pragmatic American approach that cripples our ability to make any long-term change in Afghanistan. They draw parallels between the American approach and the utilitarian bent of another great empire: the Roman empire. Just conquer the enemies, build the roads, construct the buildings. Who needs cultural change? Who needs philosophy? (I know – an oversimplification. But there’s truth there.)
Well, the slow development of social and cultural capital – the rule of law, a respect for reason and its application, the building of institutions – is exactly what Afghanistan needs. Yet America is reluctant – incapable? – of having that conversation.
Again, Joseph and Doran look to antiquity and argue that a better model than the Romans might be the Greeks. As they conquered much of the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern world, including Afghanistan, the Greeks, unlike the Romans who succeeded them, proudly brought the culture of their philosophers with them.
Ironically, centuries later Islamic scholars, including the great Persian thinker Avicenna, a native of Afghanistan, preserved, illuminated, and advanced Greek philosophy during the Islamic Golden Age. But, that high civilization of Afghanistan was crushed after the Mongol conquest of Afghanistan in the 13th century.
Perhaps Doran wrote the truth in the subtitle for this article: “The Islamic world needs Avicenna, not America.”