19 August 2021

The agony of Afghanistan, part one

Craig Whitlock: "Well over 100,00 Afghans also died in the war." Video screenshot. Source.

Stephen Zunes, coordinator of Middle East studies at the University of San Francisco, speaks for many of us in the peace community:

Once again, I'm being criticized for not having good enough answers about what the United States should do in regard to an international crisis that wouldn't have happened if policy makers had listened to people like me in the first place.

Today's heartbreaking scenes in and near Kabul's airport rightly cause us to demand answers. However, the scandalous wastage of human and financial resources over nearly twenty years, the imperial arrogance of the Afghanistan war's initiators (those who claimed the power to "make reality"), the USA public's lack of attention or care, should be even more heartbreaking. Might it be possible for you and me to link those airport scenes, and the flood of fresh news stories about Taliban repressions, with that whole sorry history?

Guns and money, as we know (or should have known) cannot force a happy reality into being, neither in Afghanistan, nor in Iraq, nor anywhere else. Even a competently executed campaign, which Afghanistan was not, cannot guarantee a perfect outcome.

However, maybe you've read some of the same Afghanistan coverage that I have, basically asking, "Was it all in vain?" Paradoxically, while I never really want to be caught arguing for nation-building campaigns, I also feel that it is only fair to count up some of the gains. Much of our nearly trillion-dollar investment was misdirected or misspent, and many of the USA and allied personnel were inadequately prepared for Afghanistan's unfamiliar realities -- but life became better for thousands, perhaps millions, of Afghan people. Life expectancy improved, infrastructure was built, girls and women gained educations and other opportunities. In addition to the refugees fleeing the constant realities of civil war, thousands of other Afghans were able to emigrate to pursue careers or build families in other places, according to their own desires.

The tragedy was that the foreign inputs, in concert with courageous and visionary local activists, that made these lives better were simply unsustainable. For all but the successful emigres, there's now the prospect of very limited choices: slide back into the conditions of Taliban repression, or join the armed opposition that promises to prolong Afghanistan's decades-old civil war, and that is begging the international community for weapons, ammunition, supplies.

Without context, the awful stories and videos from Afghanistan become instant grist for the political-spinners' mill. From my own circle of Facebook friends, I read posts along these lines: "Calls from everywhere for Biden to 'resign in disgrace' over crisis in Afghanistan" and "Biden's Afghanistan catastrophe proves he does not deserve title of 'commander in chief'." Meanwhile, the Washington Post's Aaron Blake reports that former members of the Donald Trump administration are "...seeking not just to bash Biden, but to distance themselves from the Trump administration’s own actions on this front."

Supporters of Joe Biden, of course, have their own biases. They may resort to blaming Trump, or the original neocons, or the inevitability of the current debacle. I guess what's least likely to happen is a dispassionate examination of whether and how the USA's military and intelligence apparatus, whose budget is roughly equal to the rest of the planet's military budgets put together, failed to plan and execute their withdrawal. How, for example, did they actually intend to fulfill their promises of resettlement to all Afghans who stuck their necks out to help this ill-fated effort in remodeling a nation?

A more basic inquiry is just as important, if even less likely: how was the USA public persuaded to approve (by 90% in public polling!) the war in the first place? Specifically, by what rhetorical tricks and faulty logic did the USA's desperate need to respond to the September 11 attacks, and the anger and grief generated by those attacks, become exploited and harnessed to initiate a twenty-year war? After our previous generational disaster in Viet Nam, and after the Soviet Union's own miserable experience in Afghanistan, how did we go that route yet again?

One of the most insidious aspects of the corruption that flowed from the Afghanistan project -- stuffing hundreds of billions of dollars into a small, impoverished country -- is that, whatever happens now, that money has enriched contractors and Pentagon vendors, along with their lobbyists. Nobody can claw those dollars back. Worse than that: we can almost be certain that the next time they come up with an irresistible outrage and a suitable villain, the cycle will start again.

Or will it?

(part two)

"Reality" bites: Michael Tallon puts the whole case a little less politely.

Josh Marshall: Is the mess in Afghanistan really a terminal PR disaster for Biden, or is this the only way the DC-based press knows how to think?

Patterson Deppen looks at the infrastructure of our permanent war footing.

... American military bases overseas are now scattered across 81 countries, colonies, or territories on every continent except Antarctica. And while their total numbers may be down, their reach has only continued to expand. Between 1989 and today, in fact, the military has more than doubled the number of places in which it has bases from 40 to 81.

Rafael Behr looks at Russia thirty years after the Moscow coup.

The only doctrinal contagion from post-Soviet Russia is caustic anti-idealism – a nihilistic, trolling statecraft that treats arguments about universal rights and the moral superiority of democratic systems as pitiably naive or obscenely hypocritical. That case is easily assembled with reference to unsavoury regimes propped up by the Pentagon, corruption scandals and Washington’s hubristic military interventions.

Timothy Snyder translates Paul Celan. (Poetry after Auschwitz.)

Oslo's Deichman Library is a world champion.

Craig Thompson tried to leave the Center of the Earth... (and urges cross-cultural workers to "keep an eye out for each other").

Martin Kelley's latest recommended Quaker links.

Junior Wells pays tribute to Junior Parker.

1 comment:

kfsaylor said...

The use of the reflective process, through the agency of political, religious, and educational, and economic institutions and the individuals who support these institutions, to guide and inform human relationships and interactions predictably nurtures circumstances like those reflected in the particular circumstances reflected in Afghanistan. The directly and continuously experienced power and presence of the immanent spirit of Jesus Christ in the conscience and consciousness discovers to the individual a different way of human relations outside the reflective nature and the political, religious, educational, and economic agents of the reflective nature. This different way is established in the living and active awareness (in the conscience and consciousness) of the experience of the increase and decrease of the presence of the Spirit of Christ in and during a particular interaction or relationship. This living awareness is, in itself, that which guides and informs human relations and is sufficient in itself to rule human behavior