In Defense of Stupid Metaphors

I was pretty self-satisfied with my Afghanistan-Pakistan balloon metaphor. In fact, so much so that I’ll be revisiting it later. But Jari thinks it’s stupid. Now, Jari calls himself The Stupidest Man on the Earth, so that might be a compliment, but I don’t think it is. Then again, Jari isn’t really stupid, he’s pretty smart, and I’ve been meaning to flag his blog for a while, because it’s worth a read. So maybe he’s always wrong when he calls something stupid.

In any case, I think that’s what’s happened here. To begin with, Jari expresses skepticism that the Pakistani Taliban/al-Qaida will ultimately get their hands on Pakistan’s nukes in the event the “balloon” bursts on the Pakistani side of the Af-Pak border. I agree, but that’s not the real threat that a destabilized Pakistan poses. The real threat is that a failed Pakistani state will create a fractured military command and control over its nuclear arsenal. Meanwhile, the collapse of the central government would leave no meaningful counterweight to whoever within the military-security hierarchy winds up with them. That, in turn, introduces an unacceptable level of unpredictability into the decision-making process, which undermines the functioning of Indo-Pakistani nuclear deterrence.

Now on a broader level, I agree with Jari that there is an element of absurdity to the way in which the theoretical discussion of Afghanistan and Pakistan is detached from the very real consequences of the war. And I, too, am skeptical that this is a problem that we can solve simply by applying the right doctrine and theory.

But tactics and strategy do matter, as do doctrine and theory. Metaphor will never perfectly express reality, but as a way of organizing information, it can inform the way we process the relevant facts. That, in turn, influences which of the multitude of competing theories we find most reflective of reality, and therefore most compelling.

So stupid or not, the balloon metaphor stands.