The Arrogance of the West

Lyonel Charles Feininger (1871–1956), Villa on the Shore, woodcut, 1921.


“Those who fight for their home cannot be defeated”

"The West doesn't understand them," said Owais Tohid, a "well-known Pakistani journalist" who in 1996 traveled around Afghanistan interviewing the Taliban. The story is told by Fatima Bhutto, a Pakistani writer, in a panel organized by the English newspaper The Guardian.

Bhutto is not just any surname in Pakistan. His mother was Afghan. Fatima Bhutto is the granddaughter of former Pakistani Prime Minister and President Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. Benazir Bhutto, her aunt, was Prime Minister twice in the 90s of the last century. She was assassinated in December 2007, on the afternoon of a day when she had earlier met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who was visiting Pakistan.

Al Qaeda commander Mustafa Abu al-Yazid claimed responsibility for the attack, saying they had liquidated a key US collaborator who wanted to end the US fighting. mujahedin, who fought them in Afghanistan. Six years earlier, the Americans had invaded the country and started the war that ended last week.

"They don't understand us," the Taliban repeatedly told Tohid. He was reminded of the beautiful phrase repeated by Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader deposed in 2001: “They have the clocks, but we have the time”. The United States and its NATO partners have the technology and the weapons, but the Taliban are fighting for their home. “Defeat was inevitable,” said Fatima. “The arrogance of the West has not changed much, whatever the case may be. They imagine they can land their military gear on a political scene and change it forever.”

But violence "never worked, not once, in all of America's failed adventures." And he cited the cases of Vietnam, Laos, Korea, Iraq, Syria, Libya and Afghanistan. He recalled Ho Chi Minh, the Vietnamese leader who led the fight against the American invasion: “You can kill ten of my men for every one of you we kill. But even so, you will lose and we will win. As long as we persist, we will win!”

“Those who fight for their home cannot be defeated. They are not given alternatives, they have to fight; they have nowhere to go, nowhere to retreat,” said Fatima Bhutto. “This is a lesson feverish Western colonists never learn: home, not violence, is how wars are won.” “The West’s profound misunderstanding of Islam – and its proud refusal to learn anything about it as it has unleashed its wars on the Muslim world over the past two decades – along with this ignorance is what made the defeat in Afghanistan inevitable,” in the opinion. by Fatima Bhutto.

Last Thursday, the host of ABC News, George Stephanopoulos, asked President Joe Biden if he believed the Taliban had changed, if their eventual government would be different from the one the United States overthrew in 2001. “No,” Biden replied. He added: "I think they are going through an existential crisis as they want to be recognized by the international community as a legitimate government."

Stephanopoulos does not escape the parochial view that characterizes much of the American press, incapable of seeing beyond the horizon from the Capitol Hill in Washington. As suggested by Fatima Bhutto, perhaps the question should have been whether the United States had changed, whether it had learned anything from the outcome of this new war.

Betrayal of the Afghans?

“They were ruthless people.” This is how Scott Fitzgerald qualifies Tom and Daisy Buchanan, characters from his remarkable novel “The Great Gatsby”, and which Andrew Bacevich, president of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, recalls in his article on the US failure in Afghanistan. Bacevich returns to Gatsby to illustrate the idea: "They tore things and people to pieces and then retired to their wealth and ease, leaving others to clean up the mess they had made."

But Bacevich is not doing literature. He's talking about US policy in Afghanistan. The reference to the literature is only a resource. “Through the abuse of military power, the United States has made a terrible mess of Afghanistan,” is the title of his article, published last week in the Boston Globe. “Almost half a century ago,” he recalls, “after crushing things and people in South Vietnam, the United States undertook a similar withdrawal. And today it is doing it again in Afghanistan.”

But Stephanopoulos is not worried about that. Nor did Stephen Wertheim, a senior member of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “The fall of Kabul”, he said in the same debate organized by the The Guardian, "is a terrifying event, which augurs new tragedies". "The United States betrayed the Afghans it protected, especially women and girls, whom it promised a future free of the Taliban, a promise it could not keep."

A “terrifying event”, a “catastrophe”, as Joseph Borrel, head of the European Union's foreign policy, said “loud and clear” to the European Parliament. “He did nothing more than express the general consternation that politicians across the continent feel at the unexpected occupation of Kabul by the Taliban”, in the opinion of the columnist for the The Washington Post, Ishaan Tharoor.

The “War on Terror”

Five years after the fall of Saigon, President Ronald Reagan considered this war a “noble cause” that the United States could have won. For a while, defeat made the US think better of intervening militarily abroad.

“Then, with the end of the Cold War, the collapse of the socialist world in Eastern Europe and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, that changed: military activism became the norm of American foreign policy,” says Bacevich. And he makes a list: Panama, Kuwait, Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo, plus the nations that suffered air attacks.

Even before the attacks on the Twin Towers, “the list of places invaded or attacked by the United States was long. And once the 'war on terror' started, it became even longer,” he points out. “If you don't learn from mistakes, you're more likely to make them again. But the United States learned almost nothing from Vietnam,” says Bacevich. “Could we do better next time?” he asks.

Bacevich suggests that the time has come to settle scores, to learn lessons, in an article that could be useful to the host of the ABC News, George Stephanopoulos. The first lesson is that betting on global war as a response to terrorism is foolish. The second is that any attempt to reorganize a country through military invasion is costly and rarely successful. And the third – perhaps the most important, according to him – is that the threats to US national security are not in Central Asia (we could add that they are not in Latin America or the Caribbean either), but right there, in the territory where they live. . It is threats such as those resulting from climate change, border insecurity or internal unrest that – in his opinion – constitute the greatest threat.

indifference and cruelty

the forum of The Guardian on Afghanistan offers yet other parameters for the analysis. Shadi Hamid, senior member of the Brookings Institution, is not surprised by Biden and his advisers' indifference to the Taliban takeover of Kabul. “It wasn't your fight,” he says.

To this trait of indifference, Hamid adds that of cruelty. “Cruelty is something else,” he says. It refers to Biden's speech on Monday, August 16, in which he defended his decisions on Afghanistan and reproached the cowardice of his allies in the government of Kabul, for handing over the country to the Taliban without a fight. “Our mission to reduce the Al Qaeda terrorist threat in Afghanistan and kill Osama bin Laden was a success,” Biden said. "Our decades-long effort to overcome centuries of history, permanently change and remake Afghanistan was not."

Biden had previously attacked his former allies, those responsible for the regime that Washington had put in power. “Our troops cannot go on fighting and dying in a war where Afghan forces are unwilling to fight for themselves. We spent a trillion dollars, trained a military force of about 300.000 men, incredibly well equipped. A force greater than many of our NATO allies,” said Biden, repeating what, it is now known, was nothing more than a fantasy that hid, among other things, the enormous corruption between Afghans and US contractors. “We gave them every opportunity to determine their future. What we failed to do was give them the will to fight for that future,” he added.

The phrase reveals a misunderstanding of what was at stake. Perhaps what Bacevich suggested in his article when he said that “the time had come to settle accounts”. “In his speech, Biden showed his characteristic stubbornness, refusing to admit any mistake or responsibility”, says Hamid, in the face of a decision that even European allies consider “a mistake of historic magnitude”.

“Why can't we create an Afghan government that is up to the challenge?” asked Michael McKinley, former US ambassador to Afghanistan, in an article published inForeign Affairs. For two decades they tried to impose a Western democracy on Afghanistan. In 2014, during the Obama administration, Secretary of State John Kerry negotiated the formation of a national unity government in Afghanistan, which never worked. The result was that, in the following elections, in 2019, less than two million voters voted, far less than the more than eight million who had voted just five years earlier, Mckinley recalled.

the false positives

Haroun Dada, an Afghan-born business consultant based in Chicago, introduces another element to the debate on the The Guardian. “As we look at the mistakes of the US and Afghan administration and the successes of the Taliban, it is critical to understand the plight of peasant casualties at the hands of US and NATO forces. These forces maimed, tortured and killed Afghan peasants.” “They collected the pieces for sport”, says Dada. They defined the teenagers as “enemy fighters to justify their crimes and falsify statistics” (the same as the Colombian military, trained by the US during the government of Álvaro Uribe, the so-called “false positives”. Young people recruited by the army and later murdered by the same military, presented to the press as guerrillas killed in combat. More than six thousand between 2002 and 2008. False statistics that allowed them various rewards, from promotions to money, or vacations).

“The United States should be held accountable,” said Mansoor Adayfi, one of those young men captured in Afghanistan, tortured and detained for 20 years at the Guantánamo base without ever being brought before a court. An 18-year-old Yemeni man from a tribal area of ​​Yemen with no electricity or running water, he was conducting academic research in Afghanistan when he was captured by warlords, accused of being an Al Qaeda leader, and handed over to the CIA.

His story was published in The Guardianon August 16th. “86% of Guantánamo detainees were captured after the US distributed leaflets in Pakistan and Afghanistan offering large rewards for 'suspicious persons'”. “The abuses at Guantánamo,” he says, “have served as a model for regimes in the Middle East and around the world.”

Adayfi was considered one of the most dangerous prisoners, especially for his resistance to his captors, for his hunger strikes. He told it in a book. "If this book is to do anything, it is to hold the United States accountable for the lives of these men, for what they did to them."

*Gilberto Lopes is a journalist, PhD in Society and Cultural Studies from the Universidad de Costa Rica (UCR). author of Political crisis of the modern world (Uruk).

Translation: Fernando Lima das Neves.


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