First, a recap: In February, Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai (left) responded to widely believed allegations that he stole last year's election. His answer: he would personally appoint a committee to investigate the charges. The solution failed to impress U.S. officials, who had pressed for a complete and transparent investigation of the election. The Americans responded by reneging on an expected invitation to Karzai (Hon.'05) to visit the White House. That in turn displeased Karzai, who chose to invite Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Kabul, where, predictably, Ahmadeinejad ranted about America's evil intentions throughout the world. Karzai's move confused many people and annoyed President Obama, who flew to Kabul, visited with U.S. troops, and sat down to a surprise dinner with the Afghani president. Just a few days later, Karzai warned in a speech to the Afghani people that "there is a thin curtain between invasion and cooperation-assistance." What could possibly happen next? In what looks increasingly like the script of a political farce, it's hard to say. For insight, BU Today turned to Nick Mills, an associate professor of journalism in the College of Communication and author of Karzai: The Failing American Intervention and the Struggle for Afghanistan (2007). – BU Today
Dominant Social Theme: Insights, please. We're puzzled that the war is not going better.
Free-Market Analysis: This interview with Professor Nick Mills of Boston University is interesting because he apparently knows Hamid Karzai first-hand and has written a book about him. Thus the interview contained in this interview has not been sanitized so far as we can tell by the US military or the Pentagon itself.
The rest of this article will deal with the information contained in the interview. We won't deal, then, directly with Karzai's mental state, but readers can come to their own conclusions as to whether Karzai is unbalanced or has been justified in airing recent and well publicized complaints about his Western "allies" in the war against the Taliban. Karzai apparently believes that the US and its allies ought to negotiate now with the Taliban versus later, and that war itself should be wound down as soon as possible. Here's some more from this intriguing interview:
Q: Should we dump [Karzai]?
A: We can't do that. Afghanistan has a constitution now. We made Afghanistan create a parliamentary democracy. Who are we to say that's now out the window? …
Q: Obama ordered a troop surge in December, promising to begin withdrawals mid-2011. You were skeptical, but might he prove skeptics wrong, as the Iraq surge did?
A: There's a different set of circumstances in Iraq and Afghanistan. I don't think there's ever going to be a military solution to this – and Obama didn't say the rate of withdrawals. It could be one soldier a day for all anyone knows. That causes everyone to hedge their bets.
Q: What would you advise Obama to do now?
A: Begin the withdrawals and match that with a corresponding increase on the civilian side in aid to education and health and infrastructure. Find a way to better the lives of the Afghanis.
Q: Are we doing that now?
A: Yes, but it's increasing the peril by increasing the troop levels. They're now seen as an occupying army, like the Soviets.
Q: Do we need at least a minimal troop force to ensure that Afghanistan doesn't re-emerge as a terrorist haven?
A: That we can ensure pretty well from a distance. You have good intelligence on the ground and in the air. There's no reason for al-Qaeda to go back into Afghanistan. They can go anywhere; they just need a cave in the mountains. In the Iraq surge, we bought off the Sunni sheiks. In Afghanistan, the people we'd have to buy off are the Taliban. A lot of the Taliban are not hard-core ideologues. Karzai, to his credit, has wanted all along to negotiate with them.
We wanted to quote this part of the interview because in only a few short answers (in no particular order) Mills makes some astonishing points. In several hundred words, this American journalist asserts that the US is increasingly seen as an "occupying army," that the Iraq surge worked because the US "bought off the Sunni sheiks." And finally, the US "made Afghanistan create a parliamentary democracy."
This is not in-line with the wider American story line either about Iraq or Afghanistan – not that the American military or the US political establishment has bothered with a congruent explanation of the war. But if someone were to try to explain the American messaging it would include the idea that the Afghan people "wanted" a parliamentary democracy, that the Iraq surge worked because of the military strategy and no one was "paid off," and finally that the American military is in the midst of winning the "hearts and minds" of the average Afghan.
In fact, we don't believe the Afghans – especially the tribal Pashtuns, some 40 million strong – had any desire for either a Parliament or Western style regulatory democracy. We think, from everything we've read in the non-mainstream press, that the surge did absolutely nothing (or very little) to secure a victory in Iraq – but that reported truckbeds full of American money that rolled into Sunni strongholds (and continue to this day, apparently) did a great deal to purchase Iraqi peace for the moment.
As far as winning "hearts and minds" go, as we were involved in this modest composition, there came reports that the Taliban had shot and killed the deputy mayor of Kandahar. Meanwhile, the US military apparently shot four children that it mistook for Taliban infiltrators. The US, at this writing, continues to deny that the apparent children were something other than terrorists.
Yes, the violence continues, and there is no guarantee of its surcease, short of US and allied withdrawal from Afghanistan. While US president Barack Obama has indicated a US withdrawal will indeed take place, the immediate reality is actually a troop build up in anticipation of further campaigns. What is strange about this strategy is that much of the progress announced in both Afghanistan and Iraq seems aimed at propagandizing home audiences rather than describing the reality of the war.
Allied forces can announce another victory once they invade and "secure" the upcoming target of Kandahar, but the "victory" will likely prove as ephemeral as previous victories in Afghanistan. Over the past century, there have been many such, secured at the cost of Western (and Russian) blood and treasure. They haven't lasted. The Kandahar victory, once it arrives, will not be any longer-lasting, we would judge, if history is a guide.
It's been the Bell's contention that the West (especially the Anglo-American axis) has fought an additional two wars over a ten-year period in the Middle East to generally extend its influence via the imposition of "democracy" and the construction of vast military bases. Ultimately, the nation-building in which the axis is involved may come to naught. But it only serves as a justification for the underlying intention, which was to project yet more military power into this bleeding and wretched part of the world. The military bases will likely remain even after a withdrawal of most of the troops. These bases will be the most tangible result of a decade's-worth of military conflict. Both Afghanistan and the West, especially Britain and America, will have paid a grievous price for their construction, especially if the war continues and escalates once again. Does Karzai, perhaps, have a point?
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