Afghan Awakening and the Westphalian Order

Steve Clemons flags an interview with Andrew Bacevich and excerpts some highlights, of which this caught my eye:

Advice on Afghanistan: pay attention to history. Effective governance has never been exercised from Kabul. Local tribal leaders have always run the place. That should be okay with us so long as Al Qaeda is denied sanctuary. We should provide incentives to local leaders so that they will see it in their interest to keep Al Qaeda out.

This, along with a troop surge, adapted to the particularities of the Afghan conflict, seems to be the emerging consensus about how to deal with Afghanistan. That seems like a lot moving parts, as well as a problematic approach to nation-building. It suggests that the Westphalian order is not necessarily universally applicable, a proposition with which I tend to agree.

But that raises the question of where and when exceptions are made to the rule, and who makes that decision. In the case of Afghanistan, as well as in Iraq, the proposed answers come as a result of a unilateral military intervention resulting in regime change. That doesn’t strike me as a particularly stable precedent. So in addition to inheriting the challenges of the actual wars, as well as the rule sets they represent for American foreign policy (as Tom Barnett put it in his WPR piece), it seems like Barack Obama is also inheriting this broader global governance question from the Bush administration.

Of course, Afghanistan may have begun as a unilateral intervention, but it will only be won as a multilateral one, which means that the ultimate answers to those questions will have to represent a broader consensus than just the American foreign policy and national security apparatus. So far I’m not sure Obama’s position reflects that reality.

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