The country that nobody wanted

As a scholar of the Middle East and the Central Asian Islamic countries, I can pretty much sum up the story of Afghanistan in two of the region’s popular modern names.

As a scholar of the Middle East and the Central Asian Islamic countries, I can pretty much sum up the story of Afghanistan in two of the region’s popular modern names.

One, which I learned in the Marines, is “A-Nasty.” The other, possibly a tad more thoughtful, is “The Graveyard of Empires.” Though both monikers capture a crucial aspect of the complicated nation’s character, I would complete the picture by adding a title of my own: The country that nobody wanted.

Now, let’s get one thing straight right off the bat. I don’t subscribe to the conventional notion that Iraq was the bad war and Afghanistan the good one. If anything, I’m more inclined to accept the opposite stance, espoused by such insightful scholars on the Middle East as Bernard Lewis and Thomas L. Friedman. But that discussion is for another day. What I want to touch on here is why Afghanistan has earned such distasteful titles, and why we seem to be losing there. And maybe how we might be able to fix it.

For starters, if you take a glimpse at the overarching history of this troubled region, you’ll find that Afghanistan was never really meant to be a country in its own right. Indeed, less than a century ago, the area we now know as Afghanistan was little more than a loose conglomeration of autonomous states within themselves, divided among the usual socio-ethnic lines, completely ambivalent to one another. Unsurprisingly, in most respects, it remains that way to this day.

Of course, there is more to the current situation in Afghanistan than a distinct historical absence of a nationalist character. A portion of the blame should undeniably be given (in most cases, a tad too instinctively) to former president George W. Bush, whose negligence in the execution of the war led directly to the strong position in which we find the insurgency today.

To be fair, the man did have Iraq to deal with, which, at the time, was believed to be harboring nuclear, chemical and bacteriological weapons—later infamously proven false—which, in the minds of most military leaders, registers a little higher on the priority scale than an otherwise strategically useless patch of dirt in Central Asia. Not to mention the fact that the surge in the other Middle Eastern campaign was already tying up some 200,000 U.S. troops, a number that definitely could not have been duplicated elsewhere. I’m personally astonished that we were able to field such a number without instating a draft or even raising taxes.

Regardless, there is much that the former President Bush could have done, or could have done better, and for that reason, his name will forever be attached to whatever troubles linger in Afghanistan.

But the torch has been passed. For better or worse, Afghanistan is Mr. Obama’s war now. The same cannot be said of Iraq, the strategy for which, over the last two years and into the future, is virtually identical to that of the Bush administration. With the American public skeptical about the feasibility of success in this increasingly unpopular war—not to mention the President’s own apparent skepticism on the matter—the situation is starting to look perilous. What to do? For starters, Mr. Obama needs to define what “victory” in Afghanistan means.

The first thing he can do is to realize that Afghanistan is not Iraq—a stable, Western-style democracy with a strong central government is simply not viable in Afghanistan. Unlike Iraq, which has a history of federal heavyweights and secularist tendencies. That’s something we’re just going to have to accept. Does that mean we should pull out tomorrow, and to hell with the last 10 years of cuts and bruises? No.

State-building is a complicated process, rife with pitfalls and shaped by sacrifice. We, as a nation, like to see other countries develop in our own image—economically prosperous, politically democratic, with an unwavering commitment to the equal rights of its people. In the here and now, however, this image is far too idyllic for Afghanistan. Besides, this model doesn’t fit with the unique character of the Afghan population (for the record, Afghanistan is not an Arab country with an Arab citizenry—the majority of Afghanis are Pashtun or Tadjik).

The current government in Afghanistan, headed by the American-backed Hamid Karzai and his notoriously corrupt accomplices, holds little esteem and legitimacy amongst the Afghan populace. Why? For one, Afghanis have no real history of accepting central leadership—even the monarchy of the early 20th-century more-or-less existed at the whim of tribal and provincial power-holders. Wouldn’t it be reasonable for the United States to formulate a model of Afghan government with this history in mind?

Surely, the establishment of a loose confederacy of autonomous provinces fits in with the two main American security goals, simple as they are: One, the prevention of terrorists using Afghanistan as a base for attacks against the U.S., and two, the upholding of regional stability, at least with regards to Pakistan, and Pakistan’s nukes. A central government would still be required, obviously, to handle matters of foreign policy and national security, and the policing of its own territories. It’s not perfect, but few things in this region of the world are.

Considering the history of Afghanistan, such a system would be more appropriate than the current U.S.-backed model, and would be more acceptable to Afghanis in general. Naturally, there are drawbacks—mainly, the opportunity it provides autonomous states to regress socially (the rights of women come to mind) or radicalize. That’s where subtle maneuvering comes in.

Political changes, especially democratic ones, cannot be forced upon a people with military might—at least, not permanently. Gentle encouragement, particularly through a display of the inherent benefits, usually results in the desired change. Still, I see no reason not to give it a shot. ?

It’s hip to be clean Your guide to hipster health Kat Audick Vanguard staff Somewhere between downing our second glass of Kombucha tea in the lobby of the Ace Hotel, digging through a cardboard box of giveaways, and going to see some film at the Laurelhurst, we need to take a moment to look at the silent dangers that could be slowly chipping away at our health. But as safe as we may all feel in our beautiful city, there are definitely habits we hipsters should be at least a little wary of. The Tight Pants: Sure, your new pair of gray skinny jeans from Buffalo look awesome. So awesome that you’re surprised how well they go with both your collection of vintage tees and your ever-growing mountain of flannel. So very awesome, that you may be compelled to wear them 90 percent more than any other selection from your carefully crafted wardrobe. But while you’re strutting your stuff down Belmont, take a moment to think about your two very important companions: your testicles. Studies have shown that constrictive clothing can, when repeatedly worn, damage the natural circulation of blood flow. Not to mention that the constant pressure on your junk could potentially raise your chances of getting a wicked bad case of ball cancer. The Dark Roast Coffee: There may be nothing better in this world than a fine cup of well-brewed coffee. And with so many options in Portland, the opportunities to drink it are plentiful. However, a brief survey around coffee houses led me to a concerning conclusion. Many baristas stated that the majority of young folk take their coffee black. Not cutting your coffee with half-n-half, soy or your choice of vegan milk-like liquid is your choice alone. But consider this when you sip: black coffee drinkers are far more likely to develop stomach ulcers than the average indulger. Not to mention all the acidity will also do a number on your pearly whites. So do yourself a favor—if you don’t want to sacrifice the dark roast straight-up, at least limit yourself to five cups per day instead of eight or nine. The Thrift Stores: God invented thrift stores so that people could be happy. There is nothing quite as satisfying as snagging a new leather jacket, a pair of plaid bellbottom pants and the perfect Pacman t-shirt for less than the price of a Starbucks latte. What isn’t satisfying is the potential case of lice or scabies that could accompany your clothes if not properly washed. Humans slough skin and hair like it’s going out of style. With your new garb could come some unpleasant rashes, so take the cash you saved and drop it on a big box of laundry detergent. You’ll smell super neat and won’t have to claw at yourself like a leper. The Psychosomatic Gluten Intolerance: Science has shown us that some folks just can’t handle their gluten. In a fine and conscious city like ours, many bakeries and restaurants alike take the time to create some equally tasty food that is absolutely free of gluten. But before you go cutting out everything wheat-related from your diet, make sure that you are dealing with a true case of gluten intolerance and not just a major bout of hypochondria. Researchers have found that there has been a recent boom of people falling into the abyss of obsessing over allergies and intolerances they likely don’t have. Keep your body in check, but make sure you are not one of the high proportions of individuals changing their diets just because all the cool kids are doing it. A healthy hipster is a happy hipster. With obvious threats like smoking and VD clearly on our radar, it is important that we take a moment to review the dangers that may not appear as prominent. Wear the pants, drink the coffee, thrift it up, and even munch down on that fantastic gluten-free carrot muffin from Food for Thought, but do so with all the healthy know-how under your belt. ?