August 27, 2008

How We Let Down The Afghans (Again)

Prof Q takes another look at Afghanistan today. This is my comment in response:
I find it impossible to think about Afghanistan today without thinking about what might have been... Perhaps that's a good thing, because we Westerners cannot look to the future of Afghanistan without looking at how things went so wrong, acknowledging our own mistakes, and (dare we hope?) holding the prime architects of those mistakes accountable.

The Taleban's behavior before the war was intolerable, of course, and the international community was obliged to do something to help ordinary Afghans. You say "Afghanistan was not a war of choice" but in fact there might have been other more diplomatic ways to achieve change. For example, the Taleban's offer to hand over Bin Laden is just one more war story that has been buried because it does not fit the script.

It's nice to imagine where we might be today if the money wasted on war in Iraq had instead been spent on Afghan schools, roads and other manifestations of Western "soft power". Such a massive show of altruism might have won the hearts and minds of people across the Middle East, bringing calls for widespread democratic change.

Ironically, this is exactly what the architects of the Iraq War claim to have desired. But like the Bible says, "by their fruits shall ye know them." It seems increasingly obvious that their real objective - in both Afghanistan and Iraq - was control of oil by Western corporations.

This gives away the big lie about "our" concern for the suffering people of Afghanistan. Perhaps ordinary voters in NATO countries like Australia, the UK, Canada and the USA did care about the brutal suffering of Afghans under the Taliban, but our governments obviously did not. They used popular support for the war as a pretext for realising their own geo-political ambitions, and the ordinary citizens of Afghanistan (and Iraq) have suffered miserably as a result.

With the Cold War now being reignited in Georgia, we Westerners need to go back and look at the tattered remains of the "American Dream", and the vaunted promises of freedom which were posited for decades in contrast to Communist oppression. Was that all just a PR stunt? It seems that such promises have amounted to very little since the walls came down in 1989/90.

Again, I would suggest that the reason for this is not that we ordinary citizens of the West do not hold such visions of freedom and equality dear to our hearts, but that our supposedly representative governments - beholden as they are to corporate interests, including the giant US military industrial complex - do not truly share that vision.

As long as this is the case, there is little we can do for the peasants in Afghanistan, Sudan, Burma, Mozambique or anywhere else. We need to put our own house in order before we can go out and help others. And that process surely starts with some long-overdue accountability.
Meanwhile, still in Ozblogistan, Antony Loewenstein's new book, The Blogging Revolution, is out soon and he has just unveiled the official website. Here's a review for starters.

And don't miss this story: Iraqi PM Al-Maliki is set to sign new oil deals... with China and Russia. Naughty, naughty!

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