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05 August 2009


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William P. Fitzgerald III

Pat Lang,

"How is it our fight?" is probably the key question. The answer is, in my view, policy formed through a combination of myths, cliches, political expediency, career enhancement, empire building, and partisan interests all operating behind a charade of rational decision-making. Strong message to follow.

I particularly liked Habbakkuk's analysis of the chances of our planting institutions in Afghan society. I also admire someone who can read Hegel without falling asleep.

Ashby is a great name for a dog. He must be a skilled marauder.


Patrick Lang


We have three Norwich Terriers; Turner, Ashby and Lola (Montez). pl


PL, I'm sure you're alpha in your pack, terriers can't be more difficult than some of the men you've led in your career, but I found this article that's pretty good at showing how to establish alpha with a dog. No force required just understanding a dog's pschology.

Good luck with Ashby.


David Habakkuk

WPFIII, Jackie

Thanks to Jackie for the reference to the Financial Times interview with Rory Stewart. A passage from it bears very directly on my earlier comment:

'On the day we meet, the New York Times reports that it looks as if Obama’s policy of increasing troops in Afghanistan will work. Stewart has a different take. ''The policy of troop increases will look ridiculous in 30 years,'' he says. ''They’re not going to make America safer from al-Qaeda. The theory of state-building is suspect. I'm not sure that the state they aim for is conceivable, let alone achievable. We should be pursuing a much more conventional development strategy in Afghanistan. And, if you want to combine that with a Special Forces unit that would make things uncomfortable for Osama bin Laden, then so be it.'' He sighs. ''But you can't say that sort of thing to the policymakers. They're grand, intelligent, busy people who have no interest in this kind of abstraction. They're not interested in values, virtue, outlook ... ''

(See http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/c7414148-7d60-11de-b8ee-00144feabdc0.html.)

My only quibble with this is the suggestion that people who advocate 'state-building' and are 'not interested in values, virtue, outlook' are not 'intelligent' in any sense relevant to policymaking. The belief that there is a 'hard' practical world of institutions, which can be separated from 'abstractions' like 'values, virtue, outlook' is a simple conceptual error.

What it means is that policymakers are not studying -- and do not acquire the intellectual equipment to grapple with -- the kind of things they would need to study, in order to think rationally about policy towards countries like Afghanistan. For practical purposes, they end up as Fachidioten, who produces strategies which are guaranteed to fail -- and cannot learn from their own mistakes.

This comes together with the continuing overoptimism about how much you can do with the analysis of 'hard' information with computers. A deeply depressing recent article in the New York Times was headlined 'For Today's Graduate, Just One Word: Statistics'. An excerpt:

'''We’re rapidly entering a world where everything can be monitored and measured,'' said Erik Brynjolfsson, an economist and director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Center for Digital Business. ''But the big problem is going to be the ability of humans to use, analyze and make sense of the data.'''

(See http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/06/technology/06stats.html.)

Actually this is drivel as applied to business -- simply inane, where the kind of information required relates to matters such as the attitudes of recruits to the Afghan National Police.

The reason that I bought in Hegel -- at the risk of sounding intellectually pretentious -- is that basic conceptual errors relating to the nature of human societies and how these should be studied feed through into the kind of very concrete errors of assessment to which F.B. Ali has repeatedly pointed.

I dearly wish, incidentally, that I could say that I had wrestled with Hegel in the original texts, but alas it is not so. Fortunately a very fine Canadian philosopher, Charles Taylor, some years ago published a little book called 'Hegel and Modern Society'. He does a masterly job of separating out sense from nonsense in the work of that intractable figure -- and presenting the sense in lucid prose reasonably intelligible to those with no philosophical training.

William P. Fitzgerald III

Pat Lang,

Turner AND Ashby, very good.


Thanks for the reference, I'll try to obtain a copy from alibris.com. (Very good for out of print books) In response to your comments, I wonder if the underpinning of projects like re-making Iraq and Afghanistan is not the notion of "values" (ours, of course) rather than an empirical fact-based process? I well recall the infamous Karl Rove comment that "we will make our own reality". Statistics masquerading as facts can give policy making the appearance of a rational process, when, in fact, that process is grounded in ideological imperatives based in the notion of values. My view is that our way of doing things has been interpreted as a set of transportable values, applicable to Afhanistan, Iraq, Viet Nam, et.al. and, it doesn't work very well.


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