WORDS: 1,535 — GAME SHOW HOST: “Thanks for stopping by and playing… REBUILDING AFGHANISTAN! And even though you didn’t win, America, we’d like to give you our home version as a lovely parting gift. Perhaps we will see you again in the future! What do we have for our new winner, The Taliban, Johnny?”
JOHNNY: “A RETURN TO THE STONE AGE!! [cheers and applause] Yes, in spite of two decades of foreign intervention, imposed democratic reform, and compelling modernization, we will transport you, the entire country, to the way things used to be! Sheep herding, nomadic wandering, poppy growing, wonderful views of the mountains, decapitations, and most importantly, an oppressive male-dominated Sharia theocracy! [more applause] And as a special bonus… you can keep your AK-47’s and anything else the Americans left behind, as well as any American-made weapons and equipment you capture from that ‘token force’ they trained for 20 years! All the military upgrades you need to oppress, intimidate, threaten, and carry on terrorism around the world for years to come!! ” [enthusiastic applause.. and ululation from the veiled women]
[yawn] Where’s the controller? I’ve seen this episode before.
As I’ve mentioned in various settings in the past, we truly need to re-think our foreign policy decisions regarding foreign intervention, and this absurd idea that democracy is for everyone and that all we need to do to convince them is show them close up and personal. More to the point.. I am reminded of some counter-culture retort from the Vietnam years… “we are going to give them democracy even if it kills them.”
Yes, to be sure we didn’t just wander over into Afghanistan for some obscure human rights “thing” or other politics, but rather to feed our national anger to blame someone for the 9/11 attack. To be fair, any American would feel the tug of patriotism to want some measure of retribution for an attack like that. After all, to avenge Pearl Harbor we kicked the hell out of Imperial Japan, and fascist Europe on the side. But even as I was searching for the country holding the smoking gun after 9/11 I did seriously have concerns at that time that we had better have a plan beyond just administering our own justice upon the guilty. The government in Afghanistan was led by the Taliban and if we were going in there to remove the government for harboring Al-Queda terrorists responsible for 9/11 then the question is not can we do it.. but rather how do we get out if it. I was very disappointed that once we removed Saddam from Iraq we had no concise plan for getting out of there. Hence the damn place reverted to old tribal animosities and score-settlings… and ISIS grew up.
I am hardly cutting-edge politically with any of my thoughts, feelings, or ideas and if I manage an original concept it most likely has already been considered in the various halls of power. But I sincerely felt at the outbreak of going into Iraq that I know enough of history to understand that we better have a plan to get out. Now by that I am not suggesting such a plan as in-by-Monday-and-out-by-Friday kind of plan. I realize that replacing a government takes money, a large presence to keep the peace, and mostly time to implement self-sustaining infrastructure and defense capability on the part of the “new” nation. From what I could see we had NO such plan.. and we were winging it.
The critical lesson I see in this Iraq-Afghanistan experience is that we simply cannot impose democracy in an area, region, country.. where the populace simply has NO desire to contribute to it due to limitations in cultural traditions, religious beliefs, or preferred apathy. Of course some citizens of both these countries did show incentive to fight for their right to self-rule and a representative government.. but not enough did/do. Some folks did indeed give their lives in the process and their sacrifice should be recognized… including 2,313 U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan and another 4,424 in Iraq. But if the majority of the population is so hung up on thousands of years of cultural extremes, a distinct avoidance of modernization, and a preference for religious doctrine to be the essence of their government rather than universal laws that guard essential freedoms, then the impetus for a democracy is gone.
Let’s also consider this. The Taliban, ISIS, Al-Queda… they all represent a segment of the societies represented inside Iraq and Afghanistan. Call them what you will… but there are apparently enough of these folks who do not want anything other than their own religious world, who indeed form these imposing forces that fill in the vacuums created by the failing policies of powers like us, the Russians (as the Soviet Union).. and thousands of years of other invading armies. Seems to me if any struggle for what they want as freedom under their own definition it has to be an internal struggle for power. One can’t quite call it that they need their own civil war because they have had little affinity for a centralized government calling the shots. Hence any “war” would have to be similar to what the early European states went through.. civil unifications among tribal regions to create a single authority for improved survival and defense from conquest from neighboring nations. So far in their history Afghanistan hasn’t been much of a demand to conquer and hang on to. Iraq has been a slightly different story.
Yes.. I see the current Afghan government falling to the Taliban… likely within a year.. and we will abandon the embassy, but honestly, what’s the rush as the Taliban has all the time in the world. The region simply wants no outside influence and to be left alone to their traditions. It matters not if the West democracies like Afghani traditions or not. Our gender rights for women, and civil rights in general, mean nothing over there… much less human life in general. I have long been of the opinion that for the typical evolution of a nation’s growth that the nation must pass through a period of authoritarian leadership.. monarchy, dictatorship, whatever. Honestly, those forms can be benevolent in nature as well as oppressive. Not all authoritarian leaders crave power for the sake of power. Monarchs usually show a basic benevolence to their subjects. But if the authoritarians end up oppressive then there’s the break point at which the citizenry will rise up to a cause they feel worth dying for to obtain. Afghanistan hasn’t even been unified under a single leader because largely of it’s impossible geography. It remains tribal and nomadic for the most part in the vast rural areas. Honestly, if the Taliban can get it all together by imposing fear and intimidation and ruthless compliance, more power to ’em. They will likely succeed in the urban areas. But at some point someone charismatic will form an army from the rural folks and change things. Consider that Saddam had Iraq under comparatively firm control with some level of law and order. No question he was a ruthless and oppressive dictator but there was order in the country. It was when he crossed his borders in conquest of another nation was when he had to be removed (under very questionable pretexts, as we all know). Since then democratic rule has been difficult and civil order a problem given the tribal factions and introduction of ISIS. The Iraqi people may have been oppressed.. but apparently that didn’t tick people off enough to oust him on their own.
Sadly, when oppressive regimes return to power there’s the inevitable purges to “cleanse” any counter-influences left behind from the previous regimes. After 20 years of our infidel presence there we’ve certainly left a fair amount to purge out… from .mp3 music to internet connections to people themselves. There is a slight possibility that the Taliban may just want to show themselves as attempting to be “legitimate” on the world stage. It depends who is running the show for them. Remains to be seen. We pretty much know that unless the U.S. government moves quickly a number of Afghani people who supported our two decades there are going to end up in Taliban hands and literally heads will roll.
Iraq? A bit different given their economy is running to some measure (especially with oil). Being a large country their geography is diverse, and they also are home to certain religious sites across a couple of faiths.. and of course, the Fertile Crescent of the Tigress and Euphrates Rivers. The citizenry is also better educated, many in the U.S., so ISIS taking over urban areas is unlikely, and their military is more engaging although not reliable perhaps. If we leave there completely? Not sure we would. The place remains a kind of “forward operating base” for watching Iran. We’ve already removed most of our troops.
Well, again, it’s all speculative and I know nothing about the inner intel that (hopefully) inspires our policies. But in the end, let Afghanistan go… hang on in Iraq to the point that it becomes a threat to our troops.