Sometimes I Wonder

by Joshua Foust on 8/1/2011 · 7 comments

How Poland would react if we were to describe it in the same terms we use to describe Afghanistan: always at the mercy of its more powerful neighbors, interesting only as a target of conquest or as a strategic crossroads, and knowable only through the pedantic descriptions of its conquerers.

Something tells me Poland would not like that very much. So why do otherwise smart people insist on describing Afghanistan that way?

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– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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Realist Writer August 1, 2011 at 1:06 pm

But it would be true, wouldn’t it?

Realist Writer August 1, 2011 at 1:08 pm

The true statement being that Poland is “always at the mercy of its more powerful neighbors, interesting only as a target of conquest or as a strategic crossroads, and knowable only through the pedantic descriptions of its conquerers.”

It’d be over-simplistic, and it would overlook a lot of much more useful analysis, but on the face of it, it does seem correct to describe Poland this way. So what if the Poles are offended?

Cody _ August 1, 2011 at 3:57 pm

Might it be that the failure of some to expand their description of a country demonstrates a lack of interest in that country or its people? If Afghanistan or Afghans are framed as a conquered people of little interest to the the conquerors then we ought not be surprised that our plans utterly fail.

Randy McDonald August 1, 2011 at 7:31 pm

Regarding the first two element of your description, what made them stop being relevant in the case of Poland was the transformation of its geopolitical reality. Once carved up between its neighbours, then a newly independent country bordered by two hostile Great Powers, then subjected to occupation and genocide, then transformed into a restive satellite state of one of those Great Powers, it was only after the democratic transformation of Germany and all western Europe, the discrediting of Communism, the general internalization of non-zero-sum norms across Europe, and the devotion of everyone relevant to the integration of most of the continent that the first two parts of the description stopped being relevant.

Grant August 2, 2011 at 12:33 am

Poland isn’t necessarily at the mercy of great powers anymore. The new Pax Europa* means that Russia is the only threat and even that far less than it ever was in the past three hundred years or so. Will it stay that way is another question, but I still suspect Poland will remain a stronger player than it once was.

*Under the Pax Americana of course.

Jeffry August 2, 2011 at 10:16 am

Josh, are you saying that AFG has the potential to be like Poland in 50 years?

Nick Hanz August 13, 2011 at 3:08 am

Afghanistan is truly the death road, the death march.

It is the graveyard of empires.

No Afghan cares or bothers about what some intellectual speaks of it as because they know what the outcome will be.

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