Monday, February 16, 2004

Our ongoing failure in Afghanistan and Iraq

Nathan Newman points to the continuing botch of "democracy" in Afghanistan:

Administration officials said in recent days that security conditions remained dangerous or at least uncertain in a third of the country, hampering registration so badly that only 8 percent of eligible Afghan voters have been enrolled. Among women, only 2 percent have registered.

Nathan continues with a link to an utterly infuriating Boston Globe article:

Because fundamentalist warlords now rule areas of the country like their personal fiefdoms, the situation of women and girls in parts of Afghanistan today remains a continuing crime against humanity. In three western provinces ruled by the warlord Ismail Khan, any female unaccompanied by a husband or male relative in public may be seized by virtue vigilantes and subjected to humiliating examinations to determine whether she recently had sexual intercourse.

Please tell me again why diverting our efforts and resources to Iraq was the right strategy for promoting democracy and fighting terrorism? Nathan sums it up:

I opposed the Afghanistan war. Not because I thought the world wouldn't be better off without the Taliban, but because I had deep faith that the Bush administration was using the war for political purposes, and would abandon real help for the people of Afghanistan as soon as they found another target for their war propaganda needs.

Unfortuntately, Bush has lived down to my low expectations.

This also puts me in mind of "Professor Nagl's War", a recent must-read article in the NY Times Magazine about the counterinsurgency effort in Iraq. The article provides an in-depth description of the challenges facing Major John Nagl, perhaps the U.S. Army's foremost counterinsurgency expert, and acting "third in command of a tank battalion in the heart of the so-called Sunni Triangle, which extends north and west of Baghdad". The excerpt that came to mind is the following:

Ignoring the civic side of counterinsurgency has been likened to playing chess while your enemy is playing poker. Though this truism is now well known in the military, Nagl acknowledges that it is not being applied in Iraq as well as it should be.

The civic chores are supposed to be shouldered by the American-dominated Coalition Provisional Authority, led by L. Paul Bremer III, but the C.P.A. remains isolated and rather inept at implementation. Its presence is minimal outside Baghdad, and even in the capital the C.P.A.'s thousands-strong staff spends much of its time in the so-called Green Zone, in and around Saddam Hussein's Republican Palace, behind elaborate rings of security and far removed from Iraqi civilian life. Some of the staff are on 90-day tours: they arrive; they learn a little; they leave. On the few occasions when C..A. officials venture outside the compound, they are usually escorted by G.I.'s or private guards.

One morning, during breakfast at the battalion canteen, I asked Nagl about the Coalition Provisional Authority. He has yet to see a C.P.A. official at the base, he said. He pointed to an empty plastic chair at the table and asked: "Where's the guy from the C.P.A.? He should be sitting right there."

This administration is not serious about establishing democracy. Obviously, counterinsurgency and nation-building are difficult. What's disgusting is that this administration barely even seems to be trying. Bremer and the C.P.A. sit in their gated compound like perfumed princes running a satrapy while our soldiers pay with their blood and sweat. We pour billions into the fat reconstruction contracts in Iraq, while Afghanistan descends back into warlordism and sub-medieval conditions for women.

Any honest observer can only conclude that the Bush administration is not serious about improving the conditions of life for anyone in the Middle East; or, if they are, they're hopelessly and criminally incompetent. In any case, anyone who trusts them is either a villain or a deluded fool. Whenever I read of conservatives, right-wingers, and "liberal" hawks accusing anti-war liberals of wanting to coddle dictators and terrorists, it makes my blood boil. I'm not mad that we ousted the Taliban and Hussein. I'm mad that our administration fucked it up, and are continuing to fuck it up, and will continue to fuck it up for the indefinite future. I'm mad that they're actively undermining the war on terror, and that they don't particularly seem to care to investigate the failures behind 9/11, and that they're taking away our freedoms in the name of preserving them.

I'm mad as hell that they have the gall to do all these things and yet accuse their critics of hating democracy. No, you assholes, you're the ones who support an administration that is fucking up democracy all over the world, including here at home. Don't you dare smear us by questioning our commitment to liberal ideals.