Or, as SEK writes, “Somehow, it fell upon the resident Jew to wish y’all a Merry Christmas…”
Or, as SEK writes, “Somehow, it fell upon the resident Jew to wish y’all a Merry Christmas…”
The transnational battle over gay rights took an interesting turn last week when the Obama administration announced that it would work hard to promote gay rights worldwide. The gay community welcomed the news. But more strategic thinkers also raised questions. As Neil Grungras of San Francisco’s Organization for Refugee, Asylum and Migration cautioned:
“In countries where U.S. moral leadership is not high and where increasingly Western values are [seen as] negative . . . there is a real danger people can use this issue and say, ‘No, we are cleaning up here, we are going to reject this American imposition of decay.’” As an example, Grungras pointed to last year’s gay pride event at the U.S. embassy in Pakistan. This sparked large demonstrations against the U.S., gay rights, and homosexuals.
Also of interest is the reaction from American religious conservatives active in the fight against gay rights. They decried the Obama initiative, and vowed to oppose it. In the past, they have scored successes. They have formed a “Baptist-burqa” network of religious conservatives, both state and nonstate, including Mormons, Catholics, Muslims, and more, spanning the world, just like the gay rights network. They have successfully blocked major new UN initiatives on gay rights and excluded gay activists from participation in international institutions. They raise rival norms, primarily to religious freedom and cultural autonomy, as a means of attacking gay rights. And they are supporting the backlash against gay rights in many countries, especially in Africa.
This may be a rearguard action, but there is little doubt that it has and will slow the progress of gay rights around the world. True, there have been major, hard-fought advances for gay rights in some countries in recent years. But many countries remain indifferent or, if anything, have become more overtly hostile as gay rights advance. Uganda’s horrific Anti-Homosexuality Law, complete with death penalty provision for “aggravated homosexuality,” is an example.
Scholars who study such issues sometimes ignore “retrograde” networks, in favor of studying progressive new norms and their moral entrepreneurs. Yet in the transnational battle over gay rights at the UN and in many countries, opponents are powerful and important. One can’t understand the politics of gay rights without examining their sworn enemies. One can’t appreciate the framing of a “new” norm without noting its rivals’ frmaing. One can’t explain the shifting policy outcomes without analyzing the bitter conflict among hostile sides.
Beyond gay rights, this is true of countless other policy issues, from global warming to global health. One side’s solution to what it portrays as a pressing crisis will itself be a problem for another group, generating fervent opposition activism. One side’s initiatives are invariably matched by a rival’s counterpunch.
[SELF-PROMOTION WARNING!] For those interested in transnational battles over gay rights and other issues – as well as the implications for understanding global public policy more broadly – my book, The Global Right Wing and the Clash of World Politics – is due out next month from Cambridge UP. [STORY IDEA for Brian Rathbun: Things PSers Like: Ironic attitude toward shameless self-promotion.]
My colleague, Matt Kroenig, has generated a ton of buzz (and not a little vitriol) for his Foreign Affairs piece in which he advocates imminent US military action against Iran. What’s probably less well known, however, is that Matt and Mike Weintraub, a graduate student at Georgetown, have a working paper in which, as they write:
We argue that nuclear superiority, by increasing the expected costs of conflict, improves a state’s ability to deter potential adversaries. We then show that states that enjoy nuclear superiority over their opponents are less likely to be the targets of militarized challenges. Arguments that contend that a minimum deterrent posture is sufficient to deter militarized challenges do not find support in the data.
As I’ve been discussing with Matt on Facebook, I see a real tension between these findings and claims that a nuclear Iran poses such a grave danger to US national interests that Washington must, as soon as possible, launch a military strike against Iranian facilities. After all, if Matt and Mike are correct then we should expect both that the massive asymmetric nuclear advantage enjoyed by the US will deter Iran, and that Iran’s possession of a few nukes will not greatly alter its behavior.
If I am right, then Matt joins a long line of international-relations academics whose policy advocacy doesn’t entirely cohere with their scholarship. For example, a significant number of offensive realists signed letters opposing the Iraq war, even though their theories suggest that states should, and will, maximize power in the international system.
Given all this, I’m curious what other Duck readers and writers think should be the relationship between academic scholarship and policy advocacy.
UPDATE: Matt weighs in below on the substantive merits. Someone also pointed to a draft of Matt’s forthcoming piece, which I think reinforces the questions I raise, insofar as it is an example of an academic paper with policy recommendations. For example:
Given that the most likely conflict scenarios between these two states would occur in the Middle East, the balance of political stakes in future confrontations would tend to favor Tehran. The brinkmanship approach adopted in this paper concurs that proliferation in Iran would disadvantage the United States by forcing it to compete with Iran in risk taking, rather than in more traditional arenas. On the other hand, the findings of this paper also suggest that the United States could fare well in future nuclear crises. As long as the United States maintains nuclear superiority over Iran, a prospect that seems highly likely for years to come, Washington will frequently be able to achieve its basic goals in nuclear confrontations with Tehran.
As we all agree, Matt’s model points to increased risk. But do such conclusions really support the notion that the United States must strike immediately or face apocalyptic consequences?
We haven’t got all the details, but promptly after the departure of US combat troops the Iraqi Prime Minister is feuding badly with Sunni political figures, and a bomb blast suggests that Iraq may be escalating into more sectarian conflict.
If so, what does this say about the surge? On one hand, the relatively quiet withdrawal of American troops on Tuesday vindicated one objective of the surge: to create more stable conditions to that America could pull out quietly without it being humiliated and without the kind of chaotic flight to the exits that would polarize its society.
On the other hand, the major declared objective of the surge launched by President Bush II in 2006-7 was to depress levels of violence, secure the population and thereby create critical space in which there could be political progress and reconciliation.
Advocates of enlightened counterinsurgency and muscular state-building argued that Iraq vindicated their position. They argued that the combination of more troops and more restraint played a major role in depressing the levels of violence and giving Iraq a breathing space to recover from the communal bloodletting it suffered in the post-invasion years.
But if Iraq descends again into the traumatic violence of 2005-6, we must acknowledge that this approach had its limits. It bought time and got the issue off the front pages – no small thing for a superpower that has seen presidencies destroyed in the past by protracted small wars – but a new civil war of sorts would suggest that the surge did not achieve its most profound objective.
Its not actually obvious, historically, that gentler, more sophisticated ‘hearts and minds’ campaigns necessarily work, if we define success as marginalising insurgencies while leaving behind a strong state that governs in the interests of the departing occupier.
Successful counterinsurgency campaigns in the past relied on favourable geopolitical conditions and some pretty unsentimental techniques. Forced population resettlements, virtual concentration camps (albeit with well-run facilities), indiscriminate bombings, bribery on a massive scale, proxy violence, etc. Which is precisely one reason why I am uneasy with our countries doing this kind of campaign, given the dark price victory has often exacted.
In some ways, the Petraeus revolution mixed the fluffy, appealing liberal versions of hearts and minds (cultural literacy, heroic restraint, a population-centric view that you can’t kill your way out) with some hard-nosed methods, such as walling off warring communities, putting potential insurgents on the payroll, and sustaining a round-the-clock kill and capture programme.
And yet, car bombs are going off and there are new rumours of war.
Alternatively, there is the line being peddled that America should not have left. Making Iraq an indefinite commitment would be mightily expensive. And by shouldering this burden well into the future, it would come at other costs, putting the US in the eye of whatever storms were coming in the future.
Ultimately, Iraq showed in a brutal way how limited American power is. If the surge only bought some time and space, and postponed another round of internal conflict (possibly metastasizing into a wider regional one), then policymakers should not conclude that perpetual armed nation-building works if only we get our methods right. Ultimately, COIN just isn’t a venture that we should fatalistically accept as part of our strategic future.
Contrary to the late Christopher Hitchens, endless war is not only a bad idea. It is beyond America’s limited strength. And compared to its costs, its dividends, at least in this case, may be slight indeed.
Cross posted at Offshore Balancer.
Even political scientists have families. And during the holidays they are occasionally forced to talk to them. Not their spouses and children, who have already given up on them, but extended families, like aunts, uncles, etc. This puts political scientists in the awkward position of trying to explain just what on earth it is they actually do.
Non-political scientists, in their desperate effort to make small talk with someone they see just every few years, make the assumption that political scientists know something about politics. They will ask, “What do you think Obama’s chances are?” Or, “do you think Herman Cain really groped that woman?” At this point, they will be inevitably disappointed by the response, which will be straight from the New York Times, where all political scientists get all their information about real politics –that, or the New Yorker.
Non-political scientists think that political science is current events, high school civics for college students. So if a political scientist tells someone at the gym that he studies international relations, the response is always, “Boy that is interesting these days. There is a lot to keep busy with.” Until recently the political scientist could simply respond, “Yes, we are very close to knowing where Bin Laden is” and the non-political scientist would go away comforted that political scientists were on the case. Now he must simply nod, or risk crushing the non-political scientist by explaining what his new book is actually on – early 20th century Portugese colonialism.
People get the wrong idea, however, when political scientists appear on the network news in their natural environment, a room shelved with what looks like two dozen complete series of the Encyclopedia Britannica. Political scientists feel very comfortable amongst reference books. Here they are asked to lend gravitas to already established and self-evident facts. Did you know that Newt Gingrich’s recent decline in polls suggests that he might have difficulty securing the Republican nomination? That the situation in Iraq will become more uncertain with the departure of U.S. troops? Some guy in a library told me so! This gives the impression that political scientists follow or care about politics, when in fact they just want to be on TV.
Political scientists are smart enough to know that politics does not matter. They are the keepers of the secrets, the underlying generalizable forces that truly explain the events of our time. Will Burma democratize? Well what is its GDP? Will Iran develop the nuclear weapon? Well what is the size of its selectorate? This makes them terrible at small talk. So if there is a political scientist in your family, stick to sports this holiday season. How about that Tim Tebow?
In a week filled with the death of intellectuals and political activists, we now have the death of Kim Jung Il. Other than the fact that this destabilizes an already crazy country (and I mean ‘crazy’ in that professional IR kind of way), I can’t think much of us will miss him. Except maybe the creators of South Park.
But who knew Juche could be so funky?
The Republican establishment is lining up against Gingrich, claiming that he is not conservative enough. This is laughable and a red herring. As opposed to Mitt Romney? Instead we should listen to those who were swept into office and/or positions of power with him in the revolution of 1994, like Joe Scarborough. They know him well. Gingrich’s problem is hardly being conservative enough. Rather the real objections center on two other faults. First, he is a blowhard pseud0-intellectual in love with his own ideas and himself. Second, he is an asshole, and I mean that in the most rigorous, social scientific way possible. These are not unrelated, but the latter is I think what explains his rise in this particular climate. Allow me to explain.
If Gingrich gets the nomination, the media is going to make a huge deal of the egghead vs. egghead presidential race. That is silly. Gingrich’s intellectualism is the intellectualism of a precocious 16 year old who just read the Fountainhead — shallow, capricious and grandiose. Next year he/she will have gone goth, or something else. So it is with Gingrich, although though he probably won’t go goth. I think people overstate Barack Obama’s intelligence too. He is smart but not brilliant. Rather what seems him look so smart is his ‘cognitive complexity,’ as I wrote about in one of my first posts here, and is so rare in politicians these days. He can see multiple sides of an argument. But be warned — this will be the narrative if he wins the nomination.
But his ‘intellectualism’ is not why Gingrich is so popular today. I think Gingrich is picking up the votes of the real Tea Party people — those who resent what they imagine to be enormous sums of their tax dollars going to finance what they imagine to be the profligate lifestyles of those on Aid to Families of Dependent Children or Medicaid or both. We call this ‘economic conservatism’ but it is not a belief in the free market. It is a belief that we owe nothing to anyone else. In political psychology we know it has a strong association with a particular personality trait — disagreeableness. In short, Tea Parties are meanies before they are anything else.
Social conservatives score much higher on other personality traits like conscientiousness. They are not nearly so uncaring. They might deny family planning services to unwed mothers, but this is because they think they are doing the right thing by not putting ideas into impressionable girls heads — that it is OK to have sex. Of course this makes them likelier to get pregnant and have abortions. But it comes from a genuinely good if misguided intention. They are mean by accident, indirectly.
Newt’s rise has to be attributed to his performance in debates, since, as was the case with Cain, there is nothing else to explain it — no money, no organization, and only negative name recognition. What has he done at these debates? He has no gimmick, no 9/9/9 plan. He flips around all the time. But every time he shows up on camera, we see the same thing — contempt, scorn, meanness. For everything. Newt is tapping into how nasty these nasty people feel. To others, and at previous times, this would have seemed unpresidential. But these are the times we live in. Newt Gingrich is an asshole, and many Republicans love him for it.
Bolt down your Christmas trees everyone. And for all the Muslims out there, get an alarm system.
Christopher Hitchens has died. The world has lost one of its most luminous minds.
He will be acclaimed for his literary criticism, his political stances, and his raw physical courage as a writer-journalist, entering dangerous battlespaces from Belgrade to Baghdad. Not to mention his wit, occasional rudeness, his filthy limericks, and his dignified and reflective meditations on his coming death. His greatest work, I think, was Why Orwell Matters – a penetrating study of another brave and ferociously sharp Englishman.
I was lucky enough to meet him a few times, and interview him. He drank a whole bottle of whiskey and actually got sharper as the conversation went on. And it was great to witness his public fight with George Galloway at Baruch College in New York, an exhilirating showdown between the different tribes of the Left.
Some obituaries are summarising Hitchens’ politics crudely as an evolution from Left to Right. That is misleading. Like some other former revolutionaries, Hitchens came to believe that the most revolutionary force in world politics – the only viable remaining revolution – was the United States, and the most liberating instrument was its military power. We have seen the limits of that power, and the tragedies that flow from a utopian politics, but Hitchens believed himself to be on the side of revolution until the end.
I’ll never forget walking around the Quadrangle at Christ Church College Oxford with him for a few minutes, and arguing about whether it was religion or dogmatism of any stripe that was the true problem. It was a bit rash to pick an argument with the man who had been voted the world’s second ranked intellectual.
But it was a sparkling little moment, culminating in drinks at the Bear pub nearby. A drink and a row about God. He wouldn’t ask for anything more.
Well met, Hitch. It was good for the world that you were here.
Cross-posted at Offshore Balancer
The news that President Obama plans to sign the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) permitting indefinite detention for Americans accused of supporting terrorism is a sad day for those who believe in basic civil and human rights. Equally, this move calls into question optimistic views about international norms and the power of human rights.
Glenn Greenwald and others cover the threat to basic freedoms in posts that are well worth reading. By comparison, the import for scholars of norms may seem minor but is nonetheless worth pondering.
Norms against indefinite detention have long been basic to human rights, along with prohibitions on torture and extrajudicial execution. Of course, we’ve seen those fall by the wayside too. National security, a norm backed by enormous material power, has made its dominance plain. However, in recent cases where the U.S. has engaged in torture or extrajudicial executions of American citizens, these actions have been purely executive, albeit with many a legislative, scholarly, and public cheerleader.
The NDAA, however, enshrines indefinite detention for American citizens in law passed by Congress and to be signed by the President. The magical incantation “terrorist” is all that’s been needed to throttle a core rights protection.
What has been the power of norms in this case?
It’s doubtless true that the human rights norms I’ve mentioned have more defenders than they once did. There are today many more NGOs who promote and support them than there were in the 1950s, the last time the U.S. passed similar laws (against the Communist menace, only to reverse them decades later after severe abuses). Today, there have been many voices, both domestic and international, raised against the indefinite detention provisions.
But in the end, these fell before trumped up security norms and terror fears. Many Americans appear all too willing to trade basic rights (and trillions of dollars) for an illusion of security against a minuscule threat. I am continually stunned when I hear American citizens saying we don’t need a judiciary to check the Executive in these cases because the President has sworn an oath to uphold the Constitution. So much for the judicial branch, so much for checks and balances, and so much for the power of centuries old domestic norms and laws.
Particularly striking in the debate over detention and the broader one over Obama’s civil liberties record is political opportunism. Many Democratic Party leaders who screamed that George Bush was acting unconstitutionally and illegally in the early years of the GWOT, have now fallen into line behind Obama’s continuation and expansion of Bush policies, including extrajudicial executions and now summary arrests. It’s striking too that we have seen so few resignations from top posts in the Obama administration even from those regarded as staunch defenders of basic rights. So much for the independent influence of norms.
More broadly, this suggests that other human rights norms are equally fragile and contingent achievements, with little if any independent strength. Of course, anyone witnessing the erosion of these rights over the last decade already knew that. All such norms exist at sufferance of state actors. To the extent states follow them, it is because the “norms” do not run contrary to their core interests, because a sufficiently large threat has not been invented to justify their subversion, or because the states are too weak to challenge them. Any real belief in state “habitualization” and the power of norms as such must be questioned.
Don’t get me wrong. I think it is important to promote and resurrect the crucial values and freedoms we have lost. But the only way to do so is through political organizing and activism–through material rather than normative means.
I think I did a reasonable job restraining myself while suffering through Breaking Dawn this past weekend with my daughter and her friend. I didn’t vomit once!
And fortunately I didn’t have to. The pathetically destructive and sexist representations of romantic love, family, marriage and motherhood in the Twilight series were all the girls talked about on the way home. And they didn’t even need the HP/SW allegories to notice it. The same night we saw the film my daughter sat me down unprompted to hear her guffaw loudly at this series of satirical YouTube videos making fun of all things Collins.
Young people get it. They do. And actually, as long as there are strong feminist role models for teen girls (and boys) out there, it’s probably OK if there are also some godawful ones, if nothing else to incite discussion. But also for the satirical possibilities. Archetypal portrayals of bad relationships should be out there to be made fun of. And grrls just wanna have fun.
Kathleen R. McNamara lays out the reasons to be skeptical that the euro can survive in anything like it’s current form.
McNamara’s brand of political economics begins from the right presumption: that in political economy, politics comes first. Models that fail to account for the role of institutions, of beliefs, or of power will fail to capture any of features that matter most when systems begin to fail.
Politics is an autonomous part of social life. It has its own logic and its own explanations. Although political science is a discipline of magpies forever borrowing from other fields’ shinier epistemologies and methodologies, work such as McNamara’s essay (echoed in comments such as Dan Drezner’s) should remind us that paying attention to the core of our own discipline can lead us to novel and powerful insights.
I have been sitting on the search committee for a couple of positions in my department, the School of International Relations at USC, and I thought I would share some observations that come from that vantage point. Anyone who happens to have been an applicant should not take this an indicating anything about their own individual case. Rather these are general trends I am noticing. I don’t know if they surprise anyone, but I will offer them nonetheless.
I haven’t done this at the junior level for quite a while, and what was obvious is that epistemology now largely dominates ontology. Granted this was a methods search but I still think it resonate with a broader trend out there. What I mean by that is scholars do face something of a tradeoff between saying something really interesting and knowing with less certainty that they are right and saying something really uninteresting and knowing with more certainty that they are right. The younger generation of scholars leans more towards the latter than the older generation does. If we can’t establish causality with some degree of certainty then is it really worth talking about? This frustrates the older generation. It is not universally true of course. And it varies also by place of Ph.D., training, etc. I think it explains though the current fascination with natural experiments among other things, since to be able to randomly assign groups is so useful for eliminating confounding variables.
When we were deciding on our postdoc last year, we found a really creative person with a great record and very unconventional research agenda, and the only knock on him came from someone more towards the epistemology side — I don’t know if he can show he is right, went the critique. Having spent hours sifting through dozens of dissertations on selectorates, I screamed — “Who gives a shit? At least I care if he is or isn’t!” I probably reacted far too forcefully to what was a very benignly stated criticism, but that was because of my frustration.
We could blame the methodological fetishists out there, but that would absolve us from responsibility. We, by which I really mean people older than me, spent 10 years engaging the relative gains debate without once ever performing any kind of systematic test. We just made enormous assertions that THE WORLD IS MOSTLY CONFLICTUAL! NO, IT ISN’T. IT IS MOSTLY COOPERATIVE. No wonder the younger generation just gave up. It was all so pointless.
But something has definitely been lost. The relative gains debate, although vapid, was enormously important THEORETICALLY. Grieco’s article exposed a potentially huge logical flaw in Keohane’s argument. It was the first academic exchange that stimulated me. It probably got me into the business, as Grieco was an undergraduate mentor. Is it empirically true? Well, we didn’t bother figuring that one out because we didn’t have proper research design and, well really, never bothered doing any real research. I wish the pendulum would have swung a little less violently because now having original data and a good research design are the the things that get you the best jobs. The absolute gold standard is to figure out a way to measure what we previously have not been able to measure. These are important contributions but will it make you the next Robert Keohane? Or Alex Wendt? Will we be talking about you in 20 years? I doubt it. The pendulum will swing back.
Now, I am done. You kids get off my lawn!
The United States is currently fighting wars in lands that, while distant to us, are not so distant to their inhabitants and US soldiers.
I am tempted to carry on about the “new normal,” or compare the experience of peripheral wars to that of imperial Britain, France, and Russia. But the fact is that US forces have been engaged in some form of conflict–whether directly or indirectly–pretty much continuously since the start of World War II. And that’s a conservative timeline.
Still, the most striking thing of the US wars of the twenty-first century is how incidental they’ve been to most people living in the metropole. David Remnick wrote a fantastic piece about this on the tenth anniversary of September 11. Indeed, during the year I spent in the US government a constant refrain was how everyone needed to be reminded that the US was at war.
I was working in the Department of Defense.
The short version is that targeted killing/assassination advocates tend to rest their arguments on three assumptions: first, that it is morally legitimate on the basis of reciprocity, that it is easier than launching full-scale invasions or sending in troops to difficult/hostile terrain, and finally that it is effective.
I question these assumptions – first, tit-for-tat/”Golden Rule” justification and logic has been rejected by Western military forces for many decades. Second, while drones may be a more viable option in areas such as the mountainous regions of Afghanistan/Pakistan, you can’t generalize a rule out of this one particular example. Finally, that there is no reliable evidence that targeted killing/assassination actually works (or, to be fair, that it doesn’t work.) And even if we wanted to evaluate whether or not targeted killing is effective, what criteria should be used? The actual elimination of terrorists? The subsequent numbers of operations.? Or should we look at second and third order effects: impact on morale, recruitment, etc. And how could these factors be measured? Further, given the wide variety of actors, circumstances and context, and the many different historical cases, it is virtually impossible to extrapolate from one case to another.
If 2011 is any indication, drone strikes, targeted killing and “assassination” will be here to stay for some time. As such, it is worth asking certain question of our political and military leaders to encourage democratic accountability. What are the criteria to render someone a target? To what degree are these decisions subject to judicial review? And under what framework of law are these operations considered to fall under?
One of my colleagues had his email account hacked recently. I know this because I received the infamous “I’ve been mugged, send me money” email. This happened to my wife once. Our friend who alerted her also sent along a transcript of a hilarious email exchange in which the spammer tried to impersonate my wife (“how are your sons doing?”; “I’m sorry to hear that the job with the circus didn’t work out”; that sort of thing).
My colleague is probably in a world of hurt right now — I would be if my gmail account was compromised — so I don’t mean to make light of his predicament. But I did think it worth noting that if you are attempting this scam, and the story involves being stuck in London, asking for a money transfer in Euros might be a giveaway.
I’m teaching a PhD-level advanced IR theory class next semester, and my syllabus is growing a bit stale. The idea of the course is to cover recent-ish topics (and necessary background, when appropriate) of importance in the subfield. For example, I usually do a week on “the practice turn,” a week on “arguing and bargaining” that covers a range of approaches to the subject, and so forth. This year I’ll be opening with PTJ’s The Conduct of Inquiry in International Relations.
The dam was built from 1946 to 1953 as part of what became known as the Helmand Valley Authority (HVA) project in Afghanistan. It was funded initially by King Zahir Shah and later, as funds ran low, from loans by the United States (Washington Post 8/7/2011). The vast project was obviously modeled on the Great Depression era Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) project. The belief in the High Modernist era of development planning was that massive infrastructural investment was the key to setting off a virtuous circle of self-reinforcing economic growth. Although that model of development is highly discredited today for environmental and political as well as practical reasons, the dam, irrigation canals, and highways associated with the project did eventually help to transform the landscape into a fertile valley. By the mid-seventies, the dam had two Westinghouse 16.5 MW turbines to generate electricity for the entire valley. This project was for its time, one of the most expensive US foreign assistance projects in history.
With the Saur Revolution, insurrection, Soviet invasion, and civil war the dam naturally fell into a brief period of disrepair. The occupying Soviet forces prioritized linking Kabul directly to the Soviet power grid. However, they also built gas turbines and diesel generators in several other Afghan cities and towns. Czechoslovakia was given the task of restoring the dam and they provided much of the equipment to “modernize” the Kajaki dam and increase its irrigation capacity. By 1982, the dam’s power lines were restored and power flowed once again to Alexander’s city, Kandahar, in the neighboring province. Not surprisingly, the dam soon attracted several Mujahedeen attacks on Soviet and PDPA soldiers guarding the site. With the Soviet withdrawal and the warlord period, the dam and associated infrastructure again fell into disrepair.
By the late nineties as order returned across much of Afghanistan, the Taliban expressed hopes that their increasingly warm friendship with the US (which seemed all too willing to overlook Taliban abuses toward women and minorities at the time) would mean that Americans would return to Helmand to once again fix the dam’s power generating units and particularly the silted irrigation canals (Philadelphia Inquirer 1/19/1997). The irrigation canals associated with the HVA were now vital to the production of the world’s largest supply of opium and Afghanistan’s main export, even though the Taliban had officially announced plans to stamp out the crop.
When US assistance for the dam did not materialize a few years later, the Taliban turned to Pakistan and China for assistance. The Pakistanis, who increasingly saw Afghanistan as a colony or at least a “gateway to Central Asia” after the Soviet withdrawal and collapse, were committed to restoring electricity and promoting a modicum of stability and development in order to consolidate the gains of their Taliban client regime. Under the Lahore Agreement, Pakistan planned to build a high voltage transmission line to connect the Afghan city of Jalalabad directly to Pakistan’s own electricity grid. In Helmand, the Pakistanis proposed to build new sluice gates to increase the power generation and irrigation capacity of the dam. These plans obviously came to a screeching halt in September 2001.
During the initial US invasion of Afghanistan, the dam’s power station was deliberately targeted by American forces (Guardian 12/20/2001). Once the US occupied Afghanistan, the teams switched sides and the dam became the target of the Taliban while the US played defense. In 2003, a force of sixty Taliban were captured after firing three rockets at the dam — all of which missed the target (Philadelphia Inquirer, 5/3/2003).
In 2006, the US gave $1.4 billion to two private contractors to increase the amount of power generated by the Kajaki dam by adding a third turbine and also repairing a large power plant in Kabul. Adding the third turbine to the dam entailed a famous 2008 mission, Operation Kryptonite, in which 3,000 British troops protected 100 vehicle convoy as it hauled a gigantic turbine across a 180 km of insurgent dominated areas. Apparently between 15 to 200 insurgents were killed (depending on which account one believes) during this Hollywood style “Wild West” stagecoach mission.
The mission “succeeded” in reaching the forward operating base but repairs and installation of the new turbine was painstakingly slow – the third turbine has never been unpacked. Repairs to the dam were supposed to be finished by 2008. By mid 2009 auditors were complaining that the two plants (Kajaki and Kabul) combined were only generating 12MW instead of the originally contracted 140MW (USA Today 11/11/2009). Plans for adding the third turbine were deferred indefinitely after a Chinese subcontractor abandoned the site. US taxpayers have since paid a $1 million per month to guard the dam while the program was suspended to look for another subcontractor and to make the road to the dam “secure.”
In the interim, US and ISAF forces performed annual surges to tame the provinces of Helmand and Kandahar. An inattentive and uncritical American and European public was repeatedly told by blatant propaganda that this time the province had finally been secured, only to witness a repeated need for a surge of troops and bribes the next year. Despite these surges, ISAF soldiers soldiers openly admit that their influence does not extend beyond 500 meters of their security bases (see Daily Mail 10/8/2011).
The electricity grid once again became a priority issue for American generals during a surge in the neighboring province of Kandahar in 2010, when the generals realized that restoring electric power was critical to winning over the civilian population and defeating the Taliban. They took $106 million dollars in discretionary funding to pay for new generators and all the diesel fuel necessary to power the grid for four years (Globe and Mail, 7/11/11). No provisions were made for the Afghan government to restock the fuel after four years and the government lacked the staff to monitor or repair the system.
Finally, having failed to stabilize the province, much less fix the electricity supply, ISAF forces have simply declared victory and they have begun to hand over responsibility to ill trained Afghan Security Forces in preparation for a withdrawal in 2014.
In November 2011, it was reported that water levels in the reservoir had dropped by 20 meters over several months endangering the ability of the dam to generate any electricity if another 5 meters were lost (Shamsad TV, 11/23/2011). The electricity generation which had reached 20MW was now back down to 12MW. The drop in water also threatened the agricultural capacity of the valley which was already threatened by drought.
This week (12/13/2011) with a 50% cut to the USAID budget, the US is considering permanently deferring the installation of the third turbine and instead calling it a day after simply refurbishing the existing two turbines, power lines, and substations. What was once seen as essential to winning hearts and minds is now on the chopping block of a cost-benefit analysis.
Thus, the dam remains a symbol of false promises and failed efforts to reorient decisively Afghanistan’s future. But even if the dam were made operational, it would still remain problematic. Somewhere in the many struggles to “modernize” this modern dam, it became an end rather than a means to development. The broader failings of an unsustainable infrastructure-led development model were never unpacked and thought through. The dam represents a desperate hope that there is a short cut to development, prosperity, and peace.
[Cross-posted from Humanyun]
Haven’t had time to form serious thoughts on the matter, so outsourced to the Power Vertical.
Russian national consciousness began developing in the 18th century, on contact with foreign non-national entities. From the time of Peter the Great, Western Europe played the central role as a clarifier of “Russian-ness.” But the Asian borderlands of the Russian Empire also contributed to this formation of Russian national, as well as imperial consciousness. As of the 18th century, ethnographic expeditions to the Caucasus, Crimea, Siberia, and so on produced huge compilations of data that had limited readerships but all the same exemplified a growing imperial consciousness. The Russian elite was beginning to form a mental map of the multinational empire, as this vast and colorful conglomerate of many peoples, cultures, types of terrain. And on this Russian mental map the Caucasus came to assume a special prominence as a version of “the Orient.”