It begins to look as if the only people who want to continue the disasters in Afghanistan and Pakistan are the upper military folks who have vested interests in making a failure into a success. If only there was a way to do that! We have proven over the last 12 years that as a country we are totally inept at exporting what we call democracy anywhere else at the point of gun. King Hussein of Jordan, among others, tried to tell us that back in 2001 or 2002, though I can no longer find the reference. His was not the only voice to challenge Bush adventurism.
Our failures in Iraq and Afghanistan were not strictly military ones. Our military has proven over and over that it is a superb killing machine. It does that job exceedingly well for a tool without mercy. What it doesn’t do, and isn’t capable of doing, is building anything resembling friendship and rebuilding among conquered peoples. We should never have allowed it to be used that way, but over the years in the US the military has gained the upper hand in the competition between the various departments in Washington. The military gives orders, it doesn’t really know how to do diplomacy, and should not be asked to do so.
There has also been a failure in understanding in the US. For a long time too many of us have held to the fat headed belief that the rest of the world should be just like us, that we could show “them” how to do things the better way (our way, of course). Unfortunately, that “better way” has all to often been unsuited to the people, the economies, and the climate conditions of the countries we set out to “improve”. We’ve talked ourselves into believing that the rest of the world wants to be just like us. What a fat-headed ignorant fantasy! Yet over and over again, we repeat the same mistakes. We think we don’t need to learn the customs and ethos of another country; the projects that will work under local conditions that can be taken over and successfully run by locals. Iraqis kept a whole bunch of creaky machinery running under Saddam. They adapted to what they had and what was available in the way of knowledge and parts. to import electric generators that may have been state of the art here in the US into a country without the infrastructure or the kinds of skills required to operate it was just blindness. The result is often a feeling of frustration with the “backward” other local population which is really just a cover for a merciless and careless feeling of superiority which is totally unjustified. As a result frustration increases on both sides, as we’re seeing in Afghanistan. How can we criticize the Karzai government’s corruption when it is a result of much of our own dealing with it, and when, as we are now finding, our own government may well be purchased in our next election by unknown corporate bosses with too much money.
If only we could admit to ourselves that there are limits to what we as a country can do in the world, and let go of the mirage of being the sole superpower. Out feet are made of heavy clay that sooner or later will sink us.
Don’t get me wrong. I love this country – just not the worst of its faults. It is certainly for me, who grew up here, the most comfortable place to live in most of the ways I can think of. Yet neither can I be blind to the horrors that have been committed in our names by leaders of limited vision or the wrongs that we do unnecessarily and selfishly to many of our own population. Right now, we have angered Afghans with our insensitivities to the point where even those whose loyalties we have purchased through salaries are turning against us. Soldiers we have trained are shooting Americans and Europeans. We say we are shocked, but how may of ours have made the effort to learn the languages, customs, and history? How many of us have any idea of how offensive our behaviour has been at all levels, how totally unwilling we have been to see that afghanis and iraqis might have something to say about what happens to them on a daily basis? Many of them have been at war for 30 years or more. What can we possibly teach them about warfare in their own land? It’s not as if we’d done such a superb job when they’ve been successfully keeping us at bay for most of that time.