Naubad, Afghanistan—In a wheat field in northern Afghanistan this spring, beneath the Cretaceous convulsions of the Hindu Kush mountains, a village elder named Ajab Khan shared with me the unsentimental math of his region’s farmers. An acre of wheat, Khan said, yields $400. An acre of opium poppies yields $20,000. The people of his village, Naubad, had grown exclusively poppies until 2004, when the government of Hamid Karzai asked them to stop.
From a policy perspective, I am not sure there is much to say about America’s war in Afghanistan that goes beyond the blindingly obvious. The invasion in 2001 had an intelligible goal—to destroy a regime that had become a kind of condominium between the Taliban and Al Qaeda, cemented in fine medieval style, according to some reports, by a marriage between one of Osama bin Laden’s daughters and one of Mullah Omar’s sons.
Venezuela and Colombia are the original odd-couple of Hemispheric diplomacy. With the former run by a rambunctious socialist autocrat and the latter by a U.S.-aligned hard-right hawk, the two countries have been on a collision course for years. The proximate cause and biggest irritant has long been the Venezuelan government's tacit alliance with FARC, Colombia’s oldest and largest Marxist guerrilla movement. This week, tensions just about boiled over as Colombia presented detailed evidence of Venezuelan collusion with FARC and a smaller rival guerrilla, the ELN.
The Obama administration has signaled in word and deed that a policy change is in the offing, a change that would accommodate the Syrian regime and normalize relations with it. The notion of autocracy as a guarantor of stability is back in vogue after the Bush years, and so the policy is being bolstered by a chorus of analysts and academics. The Syrian regime, the thinking goes, is as good as it gets for helping to keep simmering regional tensions under a tight lid. But this change would be a bit of a gamble.
“Command climate” is what shapes a military organization. The preferences, priorities, and peccadilloes of the commander echo across its staff and subordinate units. Command climate functions as an organization's persona and it plays just as powerful a role in its behavior—and effectiveness—as an individual's personality.
Like most, if not all boys growing up in 1950s Arequipa, Peru, my father Renato was obsessed with fútbol; unlike many of his peers, he was as passionate about calling the game as he was about playing it. He went to the stadium every Sunday with my grandfather, and, at halftime, he would wander toward the press box, peek in, and try to overhear the commentary. The radio men impressed him; they were never at a loss for words.
There are figures in history who wish to leave behind what Malraux called “a scar on the map,” but it was Barack Obama’s desire to leave behind a new map, and one without scars. His promise of global transformation was outrageously genuine, underwritten by an invincible belief in his own unprecedentedness and in his own magic; and it now looks like a personal delusion enlarged by political excitement into a popular delusion.
In late summer 2007, I was doing research in Iraqi Kurdistan and staying with Nawshirwan Mustafa, whom I had to come to know through his son, a student at Harvard. Mustafa had been a senior figure in the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), one of the two major political parties that had long maintained an unchallenged hold on Kurdish politics. About six months before I arrived, Mustafa and a band of compatriots—including, most notably, a man named Muhammad Rahim—had bolted from the PUK, and begun to build ... well, it wasn’t exactly clear what they were building.