In Memoriam

This site is also dedicated to Stan Sargent. Stan and I grew up in Grenada, Mississippi, and both of us left for college at about the same time. Stan served in Vietnam while I joined the Peace Corps. Stan won the Silver Star for heroism. Read Stan's story (1 MB download pdf).

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Louis XIV and Afghanistan

Foreign Affairs March/April 2010 has an article, "From the Sun King to Karzai," which compares the consolidation of power under Louis XIV (1643 - 1715) as the model that might be used by Afghanistan's President Karzai.  The article contends that France was essentially a collection of loosely affiliated communities with independent institutions, customs, even languages until Louis XIV brought order and central control.  A series of conflicts against the provincial powers from 1648 to 1653 resulted in battle field victories that while successful were enormously expensive.  Louis XIV continued to consolidate power by co-opting his rivals rather than crushing them.  He bought off key individuals, sold national offices to the highest bidders, and created a system that provided a stake in a national authority to local power brokers.  Louis XIV created a state from disparate interests through power, rewards, and creating a situation where a national identity provided more benefit to those in power than their previous provincial realms.  The creation of a French state required bringing these powerful interests into one location under one authority (Versailles served this purpose during the reign of Louis XIV -- it kept the nobility in one place and in the court and under the control of the king).

The author cites modern critics of Afghanistan and other weak states as having undertones, consciously or not, of ethnic or cultural superiority.  The truth is that the formation of a central, strong state has always been a difficult task in that it involves the breakdown of traditional order and long-standing patterns of authority.   In the case of the land that is called Afghanistan, this traditional order goes back several thousand years.    The secret of making a state involves providing benefits for the elites that result in a centralized control of the national terroritory.  The strategic approach in Afghanistan is not in creating a liberal democracy but in finding a way to wield the fragments into a stronger whole. 

I'm not sure if anyone knows how to do that.  The central "whole" for the Taliban is spiritual.  It appears much more difficult in a physical world to find the benefits of staying together.  If the economy could grow and incomes increase to the point where consitutents of local leaders demanded a cohesive whole, then there might be a chance. 

For a history of Afghanistan, see Graveyard of Empires.