Monday, March 08, 2021

Afghanistan v. Hong Kong: we can do something about Afghanistan

I have two unusual places that I've donated to and would like to give more - one is MIRI, a charity working on ethical, smarter-than-human artificial intelligence. More about that some other time.

The other is an organization providing women's shelters in Afghanistan for women and girls fleeing domestic violence and forced marriage. It's an encapsulation of the debate over Afghanistan in that their desperately needed work has been treated with some hostility by the government we support - but if the Taliban win, not only will their work collapse but their own lives will be at risk. This highly imperfect situation will get a lot worse if the government falls when American and allied troops are withdrawn.

The Afghan government is hardly a fully functioning democracy, even granted that measurements of democracy like Freedom House are using the depredations of the Taliban as part of the reason why the country isn't democratic. The government still has many democratic aspects to it though. And while our faith in democratic regimes out-competing non-democratic ones has taken some hits in recent years, some of it is still true. A system that allows women some rights isn't just ethically better than one that doesn't, it should ultimately be a stronger one. The semi-democracy of the Afghan government should ultimately be able to out-compete an oppressive insurgency, given time and support.

Where there won't be sufficient support for democracy is Hong Kong. Maybe we should do more and can do a little more. I like Matt Yglesias' idea that Hong Kong citizens be allowed to emigrate to the US (or other democracies). It will at least help those people fleeing oppression, and maybe have some braking effect on what the Chinese government and their quislings are doing there. But if China really decides it will remake Hong Kong in its image, then that's going to happen. It's not genocide like with the Uighurs, but it's tragic.

We can't fix Hong Kong. We can't fix Afghanistan either, but we could help a lot to keep it from getting worse until they can fix things themselves. Instead, Trump did as Trump does and made it worse. And, the non-insane wing of American democracy is sorely tempted by the slogan, let's end the endless wars. It's true there are endless wars in Afghanistan and elsewhere, but I don't see the US being at war. We're in a low-grade level of conflict, and here's proof:



When troops are twice as likely to be killed in training than in conflict, then it's hard to distinguish between war and peace. Also worth considering that most of the KIA deaths were in the early years, the ratio in later years would be even more lopsided. This isn't to denigrate the sacrifice of those who died in low grade conflicts, no more than it would denigrate the sacrifice of those who died in the dangerous training accidents that are part of military life.

The point is that we're capable of protecting Afghanistan with little sacrifice on our part, far less than the sacrifice involved in military training. The Donald Trump/Duncan Black wings of our political system may think otherwise, but they're not the ones trying to keep women alive who've fled from their abusers in Afghanistan.

Not sure what Biden will do. He was right to oppose the buildup in Afghanistan during Obama's terms - the allied role isn't to fight the battles but to help stabilize the cities, train the Afghan forces, and put a weight on the balance in favor of the people. He might be seeing this now as an opportunity to get out, but that would be a mistake.

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