August 31, 2021

CSI: Afghanistan

Afghanistan is a crime scene. The CIA and ISI, the CSI, have blood on their hands.
"Few men desire liberty; most men wish only for a just master." - Roman historian Sallust.
"Justice is the bond of men in states, for the administration of justice, which is the determination of what is just, is the principle of order in political society." - Aristotle.
Now that the last American soldier has departed Afghanistan, questions about the disastrous withdrawal continue to be asked.

But it makes no sense to start at the end. 

Why was the war fought in the first place? What were the objectives?

There is not a single answer as to why the American occupation of Afghanistan failed to bring security and prosperity to the country. 

Gandhi famously said of Western civilization, "I think it would be a very good idea."

The same could be said of the American empire. 

America's best export is its philosophy of government that its founders designed. 

In theory, spreading ideas of democratic government and personal freedoms should face very little resistance in any part of the world. Human beings thrive when there is freedom to express opinions that differ from the government.

But, in practice, America's ideological wars in Iraq and Afghanistan brought not self-government, but no government at all. 

U.S. intervention enabled the rise of rampant corruption and the worst practices of democratic elections. 

Western democracies produce weak leadership, so it was always delusional to expect anything different from a new democracy in Afghanistan. 

Christopher Hitchens, trying to understand what went wrong in Afghanistan, noted the country's inept government 12 years ago. An excerpt from, "Did We Take a Wrong Turn in Afghanistan?" Slate, July 16, 2009:
"I haven’t been in Afghanistan for some little time, but it is getting harder to avoid the impression that some kind of wrong turn was made quite a long way back on the road. Or perhaps a series of wrong turns—at any rate, some combination of losing the “drug war”; over-relying on airstrikes that frightened and harmed the civilian population; ceding many border zones to the Taliban and their Pakistani backers; and failing to check corruption, jobbery, and apathy in the ministries of the Hamid Karzai government, which is now slouching toward a re-election that seems to inspire nobody in particular."
The corruption of the Afghan government gave the Taliban a new opportunity to win Afghans over. 

And it was not only large-scale corruption amongst the political and military elite. Every country has that problem. It was the small stuff, the petty thief in uniform, that turned public opinion against the occupation. 

An excerpt from George Packer's article for The New Yorker, "The Last Mission," published in September 2009:

Sarah Chayes, a former reporter who founded a sustainable-development co√∂perative in Kandahar, and who is now an adviser to General Stanley McChrystal, the American commander in Afghanistan, told me, “What the Afghans expected of us was to help create a decent government. Instead, we gave them warlords, because we were focussed on counterterrorism.” Zeroing in on killing the enemy, with grossly insufficient troops on the ground, had led directly to the overuse of air strikes and the killing of civilians.

Meanwhile, every time an Afghan encountered the government, he was hurt by it—abused, asked for a bribe, hauled off to jail without evidence. At least the Taliban offered justice; they heard disputes and delivered swift, if often brutal, verdicts, such as confinement in a box or death. As a result, the Taliban was regaining prestige. Insurgents collected taxes and even set up a commission to hear grievances against their fighters, something that neither the Afghan government nor nato had done.

Afghanistan's political institutions failed long before its army did. When the Taliban advanced across the country this summer Afghan soldiers were not only not getting paid but they were not getting fed. And, as Napoleon said, "an army marches on its stomach." 

Nawid Paigham wrote about Afghanistan's decades-long descent to failed state status in his article, published last August, called, "A slide into war and chaos." An excerpt:
A country does not fall apart in a year, or even in a decade. It deteriorates slowly over decades. This, unfortunately, is what has happened in Afghanistan. And equally unfortunately, it may take decades more to repair the massive damage done.
The new Taliban regime may prove to be more just and less corrupt than the U.S.-installed democracy. It is not a high bar for them to meet. 

But ruling Afghanistan will take more than stamping out corruption and chopping the hands of thieves in public squares. 

The Taliban are inheriting a shell of a state, a very young population, and an economy based largely on drugs. It is hard to enforce the rule of law in such circumstances, much less the divine laws of all the prophets. 

When the Ayatollah Khomeini seized power in Iran in 1979, he famously said, "economics is for donkeys."

The theocrats of Iran could afford to live by such stupid statements because the Shah left Iran in relatively good shape. But the Taliban don't have the same luxury. They will need to wage an economic jihad to consolidate their hold over the country.

If they can't offer the people of Afghanistan a just government and the riches of peace then they will fail to hold onto power.