Monday, August 6, 2007

Mutual Illusion Reinforcement

Since Al Jazeera English did not simply pull an account of the meeting between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and American President George W. Bush from a wire service feed, we should consider whether or not their version is more perceptive than others we are likely to read. The report certainly has a point of view. Unfortunately, that point of view seems to regard the visit as a case of Mutual Illusion Reinforcement. Just to be clear, this is my own phrase, deliberately chosen because its acronym (MIR) happens to be the Russian word for peace. This is one of those situations where irony rules, since the Soviet Union never found any peace in Afghanistan; and now the United States seems to be reliving the narrative of their experience with only minor changes in the cast of characters.

To see the irony we need to look no further than the script read by the characters. Here is the Al Jazeera account of Karzai:

Karzai arrived at Camp David for talks with George Bush on Monday, amid concern over worsening violence in Afghanistan and 21 South Korean hostages.

In a news conference with Bush, Karzai said: "They [the Taliban] are not posing any threat to the government of Afghanistan ... the institutions of Afghanistan or to the buildup of institutions of Afghanistan."

He acknowledged the group were a threat but said it was "a force that is frustrated".

Here is the Bush side of the story:

Bush called the Taliban "cold blooded killers" who "have no regard for human life" and put a positive spin on Afghanistan's progress since the 2001 invasion.

"There is still work to be done, don't get me wrong," he said. "But progress is being made, Mr President, and we're proud of you."

One has to wonder whether or not Karzai could recognize the "Vietnam-speak" in Bush's text; but, since we are talking about mutual reinforcement of illusions, my guess is that he missed the historical reference (as, probably, did Bush).

Still, we have to wonder about that acronym. Is there ever a peace that is not an instance of Mutual Illusion Reinforcement? Isn't peace a matter of knowing that your expectations of the other side may never be satisfied but that it is still in your best interests to assume that they will be; and, if each side can cultivate that attitude in the other, we have one of those rare cases of a virtuous circle! This is not necessarily statecraft "by the book" (not, in any event, the book that Dennis Ross wrote); but, if it works, should we bother to question it? From our point of view, one answer would be that it depends on just what our best interests are. If those interests are concerned with the stability of a democratic state, where the effectiveness of our armed forces and possibly also our drug agents depends on that stability, then, to invoke one of Bush's classic turns of phrase, we may have fooled ourselves many more times than twice. On the other hand many of Karzai's critics have suggested that the only interests served by his government have been the profit motives of corrupt agents, leading us to wonder if any of those agents have ties back to the White House!

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