Sunday, March 18, 2012

The United States in Afghanistan 2012

"A nation that forgets its past is doomed to repeat it."  Winston Churchill

Among the follies of our foreign policy is the belief that the United States is serving its national interests by continuing its failing attempts to guarantee a democratic solution in a culture so primitive, so alien to our Western mores that it defies the boundaries of our collective imagination.
Cultures take centuries to change.  Cultures imbued by theocracy take even longer.   Afghanistan is such a place.

One only need compare the history of our own country to realize that the political and cultural forces militating against change are so embedded in the Afghan people that we are faced with a Sisyphean task so overwhelming, so impossible, that our efforts, no matter how noble, are doomed to ignominious failure.

As an historical analogy, the American Civil War ran roughly four years from Ft. Sumter to Appomattox, but actually continued for another 150 years thereafter. Vestiges linger even yet. Those states that seceded from the Union did so not only because they wanted to keep their slaves, but also because they were culturally different from their Northern brethren.  Southern agrarian, slave-holding society bore a religious ethos, based upon inequality of the races, not only upon economic disparity between it and their northern countrymen.  Southerners believed that white men had the God-given right to hold slaves.  The morality of holding slaves was never really open to debate among Southerners.  Holding slaves was the droit de seigneur. The South would fight to the death, and did, to uphold its principles.   Northern culture was an anathema to it, a base, industrial, immoral society inhabited by crude, irreligious, and yes, heathen Yankees devoid of any pretense or genuineness of refinement, a threat to southern paradigms, virtues and ways of life.  Margaret Mitchell wrote about it; we all viewed it in the 1939 classic film of her novel, the name of which does not here need repeating.

Evidence of those deeply held beliefs could not and did not change overnight, despite the posting of Federal troops in Charleston, Atlanta, and New Orleans after open hostilities had ended and after Lee surrendered.  Nor was the imposition by the radical US Congress of black legislatures in the south which lasted only as long as Federal troops remained stationed there to override the deeply held beliefs of the populace.  The sad history of reconstruction, of Jim Crow laws, of lynching, of black post-bellum economic servitude and segregation bears wretched testimony to the excruciatingly slow pace of cultural change.  Yes, the south is different now, but it was not so different in 1960, a hundred years after the Civil War had ended. And this in a country with a Constitution founded on democratic principles authored by the founding fathers of all of America, many of whom were southerners.

Cultural differences in Europe now, for a further example, threaten to destroy the Euro, pitting hard working Germanic culture against profligate Greek culture.  Germans do not wish to pay for Greek irresponsibility, but are forced to do so because the Greeks are their customers.  This problem is almost intractable and Greece may very well be printing Drachmas again, rather than surrender to Germanic austerity.  And this is a problem between culturally different democracies, a minor problem compared to the problems we face with Islamists and the Taliban, religious zealots all.

Space here does not allow a full history lesson, but the British were among the many nations interfering unsuccessfully in Afghan politics, the Brits using a divide and rule strategy between Afghani Pashtuns and Baloch territories.  Later, Afghanistan experimented with reform in the 1920s including the banishing of the burqa and establishing co-educational schools, alienating religious leaders.  All reforms were abandoned in 1929 when a new leader Mohammed Zahir Shah became king in 1933, ruling until 1973.  After that, the United States financed the Mujahadeen religious warriors against the Soviets, who had invaded in 1979.  After the Soviet  defeat, (after killing 1 million Afghans), the Taliban assumed control of the country, ultimately creating an Islamofascist nightmare, women subjugated, religious police, and a culture that precluded the development of any modernity.

Now we delusionally expect that this primitive, Islamist, women-stoning society that executes women for adultery, is to grasp liberty and equality for all?  A society that throws acid on the faces of women who dare to go to school to seek an education?  A society that has a caste of theocrats that superstitiously believes in practices such as honor killings is going to find its Thomas Jefferson in an abbreviated epiphany under beneficent American auspices?

The politicians in Washington are dithering over a decision to abandon that place, a decision that should have been made long ago.