What Makes Us Think We Can Help "Govern" Afghanistan?
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The U.S. military is intent, according to the Wall Street Journal, on “delivering a new administration and millions of dollars in aid to a place where government employees didn't dare set foot a week ago.” Slated to be the future “mayor” of Marja, Haji Zahir, a businessman who spent 15 years in Germany, is, according to press reports, living on a U.S. Marine base in the province until, one day soon, the American military can install him in an “abandoned government building” or simple "a clump of ruins" in that city.
He is, we’re told, to arrive with four U.S. civilian advisors, two from the State Department and two from the U.S. Agency for International Development, described (in the typically patronizing language of American press reports) as his “mentors.” They are to help him govern, and especially dole out the millions of dollars that the U.S. military has available to “reconstruct” Marja. Road-building projects are to be launched, schools refurbished, and a new clinic built, all to win Pashtun “hearts and minds.” As soon as the fighting abates, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs has suggested, the post-military emphasis will be on “economic development,” with an influx of “military and civilian workers” who will "show a better way of life" to the town's inhabitants.
So explain something to me: Why does the military of a country convinced it's becoming ungovernable think itself so capable of making another ungovernable country governable? What’s the military’s skill set here? What lore, what body of political knowledge, are they drawing on? Who do they think they represent, the Philadelphia of 1776 or the Washington of 2010, and if the latter, why should Americans be considered the globe’s leading experts in good government anymore? And while we’re at it, fill me in on one other thing: Just what has convinced American officials in Afghanistan and the nation’s capital that they have the special ability to teach, prod, wheedle, bribe, or force Afghans to embark on good governance in their country if we can’t do it in Washington or Sacramento?
Explain something else to me: Why are our military and civilian leaders so confident that, after nine years of occupying the world’s leading narco-state, nine years of reconstruction boondoggles and military failure, they suddenly have the key, the formula, to solve the Afghan mess? Why do leading officials suddenly believe they can make Afghan President Hamid Karzai into “a Winston Churchill who can rally his people,” as one unnamed official told Matthew Rosenberg and Peter Spiegel of the Wall Street Journal -- and all of this only months after Karzai, returned to office in a wildly fraudulent presidential election, overseeing a government riddled with corruption and drug money, and honeycombed with warlords sporting derelict reputations, was considered a discredited figure in Washington? And why do they think they can turn a man known mockingly as the “mayor” or “president” of Kabul (because his government has so little influence outside the capital) into a political force in southern Afghanistan?
And someone tell me: Just who picked the name Operation Moshtarak for the campaign in Marja? Why am I not convinced that it was an Afghan? Though news accounts say that the word means “togetherness” in Dari, why do I think that a better translation might be “crushing embrace”? What could “togetherness” really mean when, according to the Wall Street Journal, to make the final decision to launch the operation, already long announced, General McChrystal “stepped into his armored car for the short drive... to the presidential palace,” and reportedly roused President Karzai from a nap for “a novel moment.” Karzai agreed, of course, supposedly adding, “No one has ever asked me to decide before.”