Friday, July 24, 2009

If anyone could change my mind on Afghanistan, it's Sarah Chayes.

Even though (or maybe because of the fact that?) I am a humanitarian in heart and mind, I have always been skeptical about American efforts in Afghanistan, whether we are hurting more than helping, creating more enemies than fighting, endangering more civilians than we are protecting.

I have failed to consider, however, that the person who serves (unknowingly) as my role model in life tends to side on the other side, however for some different reasons than most.

Sarah Chayes has lived in Afghanistan since she decided to leave her job at NPR that took her to that country in 2001. For years she has lived and worked with local population in Khandahar running a cooperative, and generally participating in indigenous life there. This has given her unique insight on Afghan society whci she has shared in a book, on Bill Moyers, with Charlie Rose, and in countless articles, including one fairly recently for the LATimes called many for the LATimes.

Chayes' main goal is helping the people of Afghanistan to rebuild and live prosperous, healthy lives in safety and secruity. (As opposed to many who might have US security interests first and foremost in mind, as those who directed the surge in Iraq were first and foremost looking for a US exit strategy. Fortunately said exit strategy included first and foremost protecitng the population. SO here again, COIN and humanitarian 'ideology coincide...kind of. By the way, I did not write the previous sentences in a critical light, everyone has a right to have their own interests and priorities and look at the world and situations like Afghanistan and Iraq from different perspectives; we need them all.) So considering Chayes' aforementioned perspective and goals, the fact that she titled her last article in the LATimes "'Lower your sights' is the wrong vision for Afghanistan" makes me think twice (well, a gagillion times) about blindly leaping into the Bacevich - Rory Sewart camp. She is also currently serving as an advisor to NATO and US led forces. I know she was in communication with Patraeus and no doubt the same is now true to McChrystal.

Stalker moment:
1. Sarah Chayes and I both served in the Peace Corps in Morocco.
2. Sarah Chayes and I both have a MA in Middle East History. (Full disclosure: her Harvard, me UVA)
3. I really want to be Iraq's Sarah Chayes.
4. Sarah Chayes might actually occupy my No. 1 person in the world spot. Close runners up: Karen Armstrong, Noam Chomsky, George Packer, Amy Goodman, Bill Moyers, Steve Coll, Andrea Turpin, Andrew Sullivan, Crooks and Liars, Marc Lynch

Sarah, if you are reading this, which you aren't, please don't be scared by my stalker moment, I'm not crazy. I swear the fact that I want to be just like you is totally harmless. Pure admiration! (Call me k?)

Excerpt from LATimes article:

"The answer is not to lower the bar but to raise it. What is needed is some of that patented Obama "Yes, we can!" energy.

We can, for example, work to ensure not just the security of the upcoming Afghan elections but a modicum of integrity, by observing, reporting and sanctioning instances of abuse and by distancing ourselves from those Afghan officials illegally exploiting their offices to ensure a Karzai reelection. We can insist on accountability on the part of Afghan officials, especially regarding the expenditure of international funds.

We can help Afghans give teeth to what is perhaps the most important feature of American democracy -- one that was signally ignored by the Bush administration's Afghan design: checks-and-balances mechanisms.

Additional troops are desperately needed, and they should be deployed to protect the population rather than focused on hunting high-value targets or trying to seal off Afghanistan's borders. Development assistance, well targeted and monitored, is also crucial. But only with a concurrent full-court press on governance can the most limited U.S. goals in the region be accomplished.

The sudden appetite for Afghanistan in Washington, and the real attention being devoted there, allows me to argue to my cooperative members that the "lower your sights" rhetoric is just that -- rhetoric. This time, I try to assure them, our actions will outstrip our words. May I be telling the truth."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

this is awesome. i didn't know anything about this woman. thanks for writing about her - and call me back! - aet