US Causes its own Problems in Afghanistan

Afghanistan is in a horrible state, by any measure. From the increasing power of fundamentalist extremist groups, to rising poverty, rising opium exports, a rising number of suicide and other attacks on foreign troops or Afghan government infrastructure, the people of Afghanistan will not see relief any time soon. More and more international criticism is rightly blaming the foreign troops supposedly there to help build a safer, secure country.

Billions of dollars are being spent on more foreign troops to do so-called peacekeeping under NATO or to hunt terrorists under the US’s Operation Enduring Freedom. This only worsens the situation. According to the Senlis Council, an Afghan/European think tank, “Operation Enduring Freedom and the related militaristic counter-narcotics policies are significant contributors to the current state of war in Kandahar and the other southern provinces” where the Taliban are the strongest. Really, the NATO “peacekeeping” mission that is painted as something different from the hunt for anti-US elements is really not that different, since there’s “no peace to keep,” according to Senlis.[1]

The Council points to three main issues contributing to the anti-US and anti-Karzai insurgency: poverty, drugs, and insecurity. All of these are being responded to by the US in such a way as to worsen the situation.

On poverty “little has been achieved” since the US toppled the Taliban in 2001. This is because little has been done, and an extremely tiny proportion of foreign money has been spent on programs for the poor of Afghanistan. Since “[t]he basic needs of the local population are not being met” the predictable consequence is that “the population is giving its support back to the Taliban and other local power-holders.”

On Drugs, the US tactic of choice has been forced eradication. Senlis states that, “this ineffective counter-narcotics policy…has intensified the local power games.” Since warlords and Taliban factions allow the cultivation of poppies by poor farmers, many Afghans are shifting their support back to such groups.

On Security, “the current state of war has been triggered by the very interventions which were intended to counteract the Taliban and Al Qaeda.” These interventions have featured an “aggressive international military presence” and “lack of respect and understanding for the local communities.” International military responses to insurgent attacks are “largely ineffective,” and appear to lack “any learning process.” These tactics “have in fact exacerbated the dynamics (in particular the support of the Taliban in [Kandahar] province) that initially brought the international community to Kandhahar.”

There is no sign that the US or its protege Hamid Karzai are changing their approach. The international troops are still conducting hunts for so-called terrorists, which the New York Times calls “a disastrous approach to counterinsurgency warfare.”[2] And Karzai continues to give carrots to extremists and warlords (appointing them to cabinet, to the justice ministry, the parliament, allowing the reinstatement of the Commission on the Prevention of Vice and the Promotion of Virtue), but doing nothing to combat the very dire crisis of poverty, inadequate health care, insecurity, and poor access to education. It’s hard to blame him, since it’s only the Afghan people who want him to deal with these problems, and they have no money. The people with the real power in Washington, London, Ottawa, and at the UN, who can actually support the solutions financially, the ones who should put vast sums of money into programs for the people that go beyond helping run elections, instead tell Karzai the military campaign (of which there is “no end in sight”) is extending his authority.[3] If they had any brains they would realize that it is precisely this “support” that is causing his increasingly bad reputation with his people.[4]

Funds should be diverted away from the military buildup, and the US, UK, Canada, and their allies should stop using their troops against the Afghan people. It’s time to repay Afghans for all the suffering they’ve endured in the name of fighting the West’s battles against “communism” in the 1980s and “terrorism” in the 1990s and 2000s.

OK to offend Muslims, not USA

Luckovich Cartoon

Guess what? It’s okay for Danish Christians to print racist anti-Muslim cartoons, but cartoons critical of well-documented US torture are “a disgrace” and require an apology. Mike Luckovich’s 22 June political cartoon in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (reprinted above) depicts an American torturer, giving lessons in “torture etiquette” to an Al Qaeda torturer. According to the newspaper’s public editor Angela Tuck, the cartoon resulted in a powerful “backlash,” with 90% of 18,000 readers disapproving of the piece in an online poll. Tuck all but apologized for the publication of the cartoon, saying it was “ill-timed,” since it was published alongside photos of the mangled remains of two US servicemembers who had been tortured and killed in Iraq. Luckovich himself apparently “believes now that allowing some distance between the murders of Tucker and Menchaca [the mutilated US soldiers] and the cartoon’s publication would have been better.” [1]

One reader wrote in to the Cumberland Times of Maryland/West Virginia, which also carried the Luckovich piece, saying the paper’s editorial staff has “reached a new low.”

I believe in freedom of the press, but I also believe that it comes with a responsibility to print the truth, and also to maintain some measure of character, class, and dignity…[W]e have more than our share of families who currently have loved ones “in harm’s way” still fighting, as all of those other veterans have done down through history, to protect the rights of you and your staff to be mouth breathing, drooling, idiots whenever you choose. What a disgrace! You should all be ashamed. When you guys awake from your collective moronic stupor, you owe all of us an apology. [2]

An advertiser to the Journal-Constitution, the Mercedes-Benz dealership RBM of Atlanta, printed a full page ad apologizing for Luckovich’s cartoon. The ad reads in part:

To Our Clients: We are sorry!

While we strongly affirm the right of free speech, the June 22, 2006 Mike Luckovich cartoon depicting the U.S. as torturers on par with Al-Qaida was very offensive to us. Moreover, to publish this cartoon directly above the pictures of the two brave men who gave their lives, willingly, and were tortured and mutilated in service to their country (and each of us) is unacceptable.[3]

The Hawaii Reporter published an op-ed by Jeff Emmanuel that finds “revolting” the “hinting at moral equivalence between the U.S. and bloodthirsty terrorists.” Emmanuel considers this “another shot in the mainstream media’s seemingly unending battle to blur the moral line between America and the brutal, barbaric enemy we are facing.” According to him, “America DOES NOT torture prisoners, and America DOES NOT target civilians; no nation in history has been more of a global force for good than America.” [4]

Remember the Western pontifications in favor of the free speech rights of newspapers that wanted to publish the Jyllands-Posten anti-Muslim cartoons, one of which shows the Prophet with a bomb for a turban? [5] Some considered those cartoons racist, since they painted all Muslims as terrorists [6]

Many commentators thought the cartoons deserved to be printed, and many publishers did so, simply to make a point about freedom of speech, or because the cartoons were “news.” The Hawaii Reporter published an op-ed by Onkar Ghate of the Ayn Rand Institute, that described a “fear of criticizing Islam,” and expressed contempt for governments that took offense at the cartoons. According to Ghate, governments should instead “defend our freedom of speech by force,” because “an individual’s freedom of speech is sacrosanct, no matter who screams offense at his ideas.”[7] Ghate rightly criticized the death threats that were issued by ultra-conservative clerics and others, but his disdain seemed to encompass all Muslims who demonstrated against the cartoons, as if nonviolent protest was not also covered by free speech rights.

The two cartoon controversies are not equivalent. Here are some significant differences:

  1. Some of the anti-Muslim cartoons are racist, painting an entire group of people with a negative stereotype; the Luckovich cartoon could only be said to generalize US military policy
  2. The anti-Muslim cartoons were drawn by non-Muslims, outside of the criticized community; Luckovich is a member of the society he is criticizing
  3. The anti-Muslim cartoons, being racist, are by definition false; the truth of the Luckovich cartoon is at least worth debating

I think point 3 is important. The Jyllands-Posten cartoons were not designed to inspire debate on the merits of violent resistance (for example), only to insult Muslims. Luckovich’s cartoon, on the other hand, should be debated. Does the US torture prisoners? Is it any better than Al Qaeda in that regard? Emmanuel’s claim that “no nation in history has been more of a global force for good” is an attempt to stifle the debate that the people of this country need to have about the role of the US in the world. His statement that “America does not torture prisoners” hurts his credibility and calls into question the rest of his argument against the printing of Luckovich’s cartoon.[8]