Back in 2004-05, Pres. Bush and his people were trying to ‘re-brand’ America’s overseas military adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq as being part of a campaign to bring the wonderful fruits of democracy to various peoples around the world. At the tip of a cruise missile, no less… Oh my goodness how tragic and wrongheaded every single step along this way has been…
Thus we had the sudden emergence of the phenomenon of the ‘purple finger’. Images of those people emerging from voting booths with their purple-stained digits were flashed around the world. (And one purple digiteer even got to attend Bush’s State of the Union Address in January 2006, I seem to recall. ‘Our’ achievement there…)
Today, the people of Afghanistan went to the polls for their second nationwide election since the U.S.-led invasion of their country in 2001. I’ve been following the reporting from there via Twitter’s #Afghan10 hashtag. Canadian journo Naheed Mustafa tweeted “I’m not convinced it’s all worth it for 40% turnout and little legitimacy.” She linked to this piece of serious-looking reporting from the ever-professional folks at McClatchy.
Mustafa is quite right to take seriously the legitimacy angle, since that above all is what the U.S. government seeks to gain from a ‘successful’ holding of the election. Of course, Afghanistan’s 30 million people probably have different meta-goals… which quite likely would include there– as in other war-torn countries– the goal that election result in the formation of a stable and accountable national government that can lead a successful process of internal reconciliation while rapidly building up its ability to deliver basic services to the Afghan people.
Right. I imagine many Afghan citizens have had the opportunity to see what has happened in Iraq since the (technically more or less ‘successful’) holding of the nationwide election there back in early March.
In Iraq, the four large political blocs have still not been able to come to agreement on forming their new government, more than six months later. And in the absence of any new governing authority having emerged, the caretaker government of PM Nouri al-Maliki is still limping along. The security situation continues to be terrible, with large-scale suicide bombings still happening every couple of weeks. And the delivery of other basic services like clean water, electricity, banking services, etc etc, continues to be performed at levels considerably worse than what Iraq’s people enjoyed back in the 1970s.
A technically ‘successful’ election guarantees nothing in terms of quality of governance; and therefore nothing in terms of people actually being able to enjoy the basic rights of citizenship.
… Ah, but here in the U.S., Pres. Obama has been continuing to trumpet the arguments that what has been happening in both Iraq and Afghanistan somehow represent the “progress” that he promised and that he still hopes to embody. regarding Iraq, he has been careful not to engage in the kind of jejune “Mission Accomplished” triumphalism that Pres. Bush used to revel in. But still, as the August 31 deadline for the “end of U.S. combat operations” in Iraq went by, Obama did his best to describe that milestone– which was not actually such a real milestone at all– as marking something that the U.S. had indeed ‘accomplished.’ Um, well, the timetable leading toward a complete withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Iraq is one that was agreed between the Bush administration and PM Maliki’s government in Iraq back in November 2008. So if Obama is saying that he has been trying to stick to the U.S.’s promises in that regard (well, more or less), than is that really anything to trumpet as an “accomplishment”? Shouldn’t nations and governments be expected as a matter of course to live up their international commitments?
I believe Obama could and should have done a lot more to remind people in the U.S. and overseas that it was a national (and Republican-initiated) commitment he was living up to in Iraq. And he still could and should be doing a lot more to engage all the international community– including, of course, all six of Iraq’s neighbors– in a joint effort to underline the value of Iraq’s territorial unity and independence, and to offer all support for the speedy formation of a stable and empowered national government there.
And then there is Afghanistan, which is currently much more “Obama’s war” than Iraq is or ever has been. After all, Obama supported the original U.S. invasion of Afghanistan (as he did not, of Iraq); and he was also, last winter, the president who made the solemn decision to undertake a new surge of American forces there.
Today, the WaPo had a very significant piece of reporting by Karen DeYoung, in which she just about confirmed what I have been arguing for 10 months now, namely that the whole “strategy” according to which Obama had decided to undertake the Afghan surge was one directed much more at U.S. domestic audiences than at making any actual, definable strategic gains on the ground in Afghanistan.
- Despite discouraging news from Afghanistan and growing doubts in Congress and among the American public, the Obama administration has concluded that its war strategy is sound and that a December review, once seen as a pivotal moment, is unlikely to yield any major changes.
This resolve arises amid a flurry of reports from outside experts and former officials who are convinced that the administration’s path in Afghanistan is unsustainable and its objectives are unclear. Lawmakers from both parties are insisting that they be given a bigger say in assessing the war’s trajectory.
The White House calculus is that the strategy retains enough public and political support to weather any near-term objections. Officials do not expect real pressure for progress and a more precise definition of goals to build until next year, with the approach of a July deadline President Obama has set for decisions on troop withdrawals and the beginning of the 2012 electoral season…
Well, the way I read that, the only “strategy” the people in the White House are really concerned about is the one that has to do with domestic considerations… They just want things in Afghanistan to not look too bad until they are able– as per the announced timetable next year– to start pulling the American forces home… with that part of the timetable tied tightly to the beginning of the U.S. electoral season…
How solipsistic can a country and a (democratically elected) government become? There seems to be literally no limit.
Finally, of course, I cannot leave this short reflection on U.S. policies and the push toward purple fingerism in distant countries under the sway of the U.S. without some quick reference to what happened in Egypt and Palestine after the U.S. had successfully lobbied– back in 2005 and early 2006– for the holding of ‘democratic’ elections in both countries. In Egypt, the opposition Muslim Brotherhood did considerably better than the U.S. had expected, and Pres. Mubarak thereafter moved back into his traditionally repressive mode with no further U.S. intervention in the matter… And after Hamas won the free and fair elections in Palestine in January 2006… Well, I guess I don’t have to remind many JWN readers about what happened there.