Since the U.S. left Afghanistan, Straight Dope interest in the country has disappeared. Basically everyone’s worst fears have been realized. For example:
The video, the product of a seven-month investigation by the Opinion Video team of The New York Times, reveals that nearly 500 former government officials and members of the Afghan security forces were killed or forcibly disappeared during the Taliban’s first six months in power.
Nobody is surprised. A leopard never changes its spots. I feel sorry for the Afghan people, but they were willingly brainwashed by the Taliban. The intellectuals will flee the country, and it will once again become a stagnant backwater as it has always been.
I believe that there are some parts of the world that on the surface appear suitable for human habitation, but really aren’t. The other one that comes to mind is Haiti.
The whole premise behind the Michael Moore movie “Fahrenheit 9/11” is that the war was done to keep Halliburton in business. I find that quite believable, and that 9/11 itself was considered a good enough reason to invade.
It’s not lack of interest, it’s lack of anything to say. The US pulled out, the Taliban took over and they went right back to being Taliban. The Taliban will remain in power until another indigenous group takes over, whenever that might be. Nobody from outside is interested in spending blood and treasure in a futile attempt to change things.
Well, we thought that Afghans could govern themselves in a modern way because self-rule is our national philosophy. We do not believe some kinds of people are unable to rule themselves. We think all people vote, run a government, and arrange their affairs in a way that best suit them.
If Japan or Korea can become rich, democratic nations then there is no obvious reason why Afghanistan cannot do the same.
But of course we gave up, sacrificing victory in order to go attack Iraq for a second time.
I’ve read quite a bit in the past about the levels of social institutions that are required before democracy is realistic. Made sense to me. I’d suggest Japan and Korea pre-democracy were considerably ahead of and more stable than Afghanistan in several respects.
What were the comparable levels of education? Income? Economic stability? Access to health care?
Korea in 1953 was stinkhole in terms of education, income, healthcare and all the rest. Japan, the cause of Korea’s woes was not much better.
But in any case, a democracy in Korea came after a long occupation, many students coming to the US, billions in American contracts building local companies. It took just about fifty years. Do not look at Afghanistan now. Imagine it in another two generations.
I’d need to research it, but my seat of the pants guess was that Japan and Korea had much longer histories of relative stability, functioning middle classes, much higher literacy rates. And I’m not sure there was as influential fundamental religion.
Well the thing is, build a democracy in Korea looks like a piece of cake in hindsight. It took a long, long time and there were many military coups, dictatorships and all sort of missteps. Do not underestimate how tough the job was.
In the same way, do not underestimate how tough it would have been to build a modern state in Afghanistan. But the payoff would have been considerable too.
In a very real sense, the Taliban are the Afghan people. They do not represent all Afghans, but their attitudes reflect the majority of the tribal groups that fall loosely with the borders that we designated as the nation of Afghanistan. If you talk to most people in Afghanistan, they identify not as Afghani but their tribal affiliation, and if they are not Taliban themselves they view the Taliban as ‘friendly’ neighbors. Most Afghans, aside from the educated urbanites, want Afghanistan to remain a “stagnant backwater” because that fits with their regressive cultural and religious beliefs.
Haiti is an entirely different situation. Most Haitians do want a better nation but have lived under endemic corruption for so many generations that they simply lack any hope of ever having even a benign, much less democratic, government. And lest the blame be placed at the feet of the Haitian populace for not doing better with what they had, it should be pointed out that the United States invaded Haiti in 1915 and maintained an occupation for the next two decades in order to secure US business interests, after which it provided material support, intelligence, and military training to the Duvalier Regime (first ‘Papa Doc’ then ‘Baby Doc’) through 1986 and has continued to meddle covertly (and sometimes not so covertly) in Haitian politics since then while the US media steadfastly refuses to cover anything but natural disasters and assassinations. Haiti isn’t an example of an ‘irredeemable’ nation; it is an example of US covert international policy gone amok with no accountability or transparency.
I don’t think initial US policy was ever focused on ‘succeeding’ in regime change in Afghanistan, and originally the US was actually negotiating with the Taliban to turn over bin Laden. When they refused to do so—not because they owed any fealty to an Arab pan-Islamist with a Qutbist theology driving an international terrorist jihad, something the insular and mostly Pashtun tribal Taliban (itself a loose affiliation of common interests rather than a hierarchial organization with concrete goals)—but because of the internal disagreements about cooperating in turning over any Muslim to a decadent Western Christianized superpower; in essence, they refused to back down to the bully that is the America (“Fuck yeah!”). The US invasion was initially just about ‘getting’ bin Laden, notwithstanding that credible intelligence already had him in Pakistan, a notionally ‘friendly’ ally that was doing everything possible to keep the US from stirring up internal divisions by allowing any incursions into their sovereign territory.
The regime change mission came later as a post hoc justification for being there even as the actual mission became totally defocused and the propaganda effort was on to show how the US was protecting the interests of Afghan women and children (when the cameras were showing) and preventing opium farming (even though the Taliban were doing a quite effective job of that and US troops were ordered to ignore opium fields belonging to powerful local warlords in the interests of ‘diplomacy’). There was never any real definition for ‘success’ so of course the US and Coalition could not ‘succeed’ except in pouring hundreds of billions of dollars into facilities and infrastructure that was often destroyed as fast as it was shoddily constructed by often overpaid US and European contractors. It was yet another example of trying to win the ‘hearts and minds’ of people who largely did not want to give those away to people from an alien culture. That the Taliban rule is theocratic, misogynistic, anti-intellectual, and often brutal and self-destructive is tragic, but it isn’t as if this a new thing in the history of Afghanistan.
The best thing we could and should do is offer those people who want something different to emigrate to Europe and the US, become educated, and then work themselves to bring those advantages back to Afghanistan after which democratic institutions would follow, but of course the last thing anyone wants are brown-skinned immigrants, at least until the coming population crash emerges as an economic and elder care catastrophe, after which we’ll be wondering where to find people to take care of all of the old people and fuel economic growth. Brilliant.
Please feel free to head over to Afghanistan and give them the benefit of your help in civilizing them. I’m sure they’ll appreciate your efforts.
ISTM that Japan and Korea had relatively homogenous populations with a well-defined national identity and cultural cohesion. From what I’ve read, this is not true at all of Afghanistan.
Maybe the Afghans are capable of building a “modern state” and a democracy. But America is not capable of building a “modern state” and a democracy in Afghanistan. Twenty years trying brought us absolutely nothing – not a single iota closer to democracy and a “modern state” than when we got there. It was a complete and total failure, perhaps the most embarrassing and pathetic US foreign policy failure since Vietnam.