Like many, I have been glued to the live television coverage of the unrest in Egypt over the past week. I am in no way qualified to offer any opinion about what is going on on the ground in Egypt, but it has been interesting to watch US official reaction to events as they unfolded over the past week.
Initial comments made were lukewarm or supportive of Mubarak, but the tone became stronger as the situation became more chaotic. Analysts stepped up their barrage of commentary, noting how US President Obama was ‘behind the curve'.
All of this made me think about Afghanistan. One of the biggest problems at the moment is the way US intervention inside the country is almost entirely conducted through military forces. There is no political momentum, and certainly few political initiatives beyond buzzwords and platitudes like ‘transition'. We saw in Egypt that the White House were forced to react to ongoing events and start thinking about possible scenarios that might unfold in the coming days.
But what chaos and catastrophe needed to unfold to provoke that reaction! In Afghanistan what we see is a slow and steady passage of events, with trends that have been developing over a timeline of years and not days. It has become increasingly clear that the front lines of the coming year in southern Afghanistan are being drawn over data presentation as much as the battlefield itself; in this environment where many conflicting voices and sets of data are to be found, it will be easy to muddle along, easy for the Obama administration to prevaricate and continue to emphasize (by default) military solutions at the expense of political initiative. Muddling along is the default position, the path of least resistance for the White House, but it’s not a path that ends in any kind of long-term stability for Afghanistan.