Afghanistan should have been easier. Eight years after overthrowing the Taliban—the world’s most detested and backward regime, which provided no service to its people—the United States has restored many brutal warlords the Taliban expelled. The authority the United States established is a failure, corrupt and brutal. Americans and their allies manage to kill innocent civilians, and the Taliban have once again become attractive to many Afghans. A few tens of thousands of troops will not turn things around.
President Obama’s stated goal in Afghanistan is to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda. Why, then, did McChrystal argue for fighting the Taliban and remaking Afghanistan? Why has Obama agreed? Assuming that al Qaeda will set up bases in Afghanistan recalls predictions that Saddam Hussein would give his imaginary weapons of mass destruction to al Qaeda. It assumes that the Taliban are irrational and unaware of their interests. And it rests on much more fundamental assumptions, too: that al Qaeda is a significant threat to the United States and that the best way to reduce the threat is by attacking the movement itself.
The attacks on September 11, 2001 were tragic and criminal. They were painful for the victims and their families and a shock to a powerful, arrogant, and proud nation blissfully unaware that it was so resented.
But beyond the terrible murders, the attacks themselves had little impact on the American economy or way of life, though the response at home and abroad changed everything. Al Qaeda used its “A-team” on that day to attack a slumbering nation. Can a few hundred angry, unsophisticated Muslim extremists really pose such grave dangers to a vigilant superpower, now alert to potential threats?
Al Qaeda is not determined to do evil for the sake of evil. It is a movement that won support, to the extent that it has, in response to America’s imperial excesses. Many of the popular grievances and resentments it mobilizes—including U.S. support for the Israeli occupation of Palestine and for friendly dictators—are legitimate, even if killing American civilians is a heinous means of addressing them. The resentments were not produced by al Qaeda’s ideology. They have existed for decades. The causes have remained the same, though the discourse used by those who fight imperialism has changed from secular to religious. Addressing these problems at their roots would do much more—for Afghans and for us—than sending in the military once more to do the work of decent politics.
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Something From Nothing: US Policy in Afghanistan
Nir Rosen has an excellent article about Afghanistan in the Boston Review. The seering conclusion: