x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Well-intentioned Americans but an ugly America

The US must leave Afghanistan at the earliest possible date but not later than 2012, in accordance with the US president Barack Obama's "announced intent". I have said this with increased frequency in the past few months. Why?

The US must leave Afghanistan at the earliest possible date but not later than 2012, in accordance with the US president Barack Obama's "announced intent". I have said this with increased frequency in the past few months. Why? Early in 2009, the US admiral Mike Mullen was the first senior military officer to admit in a congressional hearing that "the US was losing the war in Afghanistan". Militarily, the situation has not undergone much change since. Politically, Mr Obama's new policy wants to bring peace to some key areas and "build the capacity of the Afghan security forces". It seeks to "promote better relations with the locals". But how a "surge" of a mere 30,000 troops can realistically achieve these objectives defies understanding.

The Afghan Taliban is a guerrilla force that fades away before US troops advance and refuses to join a battle except on its own terms. The US military appears incapable of grasping that simple fact. Consequently, even when they have had "actionable intelligence", instead of surrounding locations from all directions to minimise escape, they continue to attack from one direction. And as far as "improving relations" is concerned, how can the US expect that after the continuous humiliation of the local Afghan population for over eight long years? Will handing out goodies, whether they be chocolates or stacks of cash, suddenly create an environment where the local population forgets the past? Am I naive or does the US think the Afghans are stupid?

In the 1950s, Graham Greene wrote The Quiet American in which a moral, well-intentioned American creates chaos in Vietnam, despite his good intentions. A couple of years later Eugene Burdick and William Lederer wrote The Ugly American, in which a journalist from Myanmar comments: "For some reason, the [American] people I meet in my country are not the same as the ones I knew in the United States. A mysterious change seems to come over Americans when they go to a foreign land. They isolate themselves socially. They live pretentiously. They're loud and ostentatious." Ultimately, the phrase "ugly Americans" caught on while the positive contributions of the American protagonist of that book have been all but forgotten.

The US continues to live the plots of these novels. Americans are very friendly people but America, collectively, is an arrogant, pompous, conceited, self-righteous country that seeks to impose its own sense of moral and political standards on all peoples without making any endeavour to understand the local culture or the people. Like the proverbial "bull in the china shop", it continues to blunder about and leave destruction in its wake, despite its best of intentions - when these efforts are indeed well-intentioned.

This so-called "surge" is unlikely to achieve anything meaningful. Now that the Taliban know that there is a likelihood of withdrawal, they will bide their time and wait. The US will, albeit temporarily, regain control of some of the major urban centres and then leave. Or so I hope. The problem with this scenario is that by next year the US may have a Republican majority in Congress. And despite the desire of the American people to pull out of Afghanistan, there is a strong lobby in the US administration that favours a prolonged commitment. A Republican Congress would be more likely to approve the expenses required for a prolonged stay. Were that to happen, Mr Obama might be forced into changing his decision to pull out, which would only worsen the regional security situation.

There is little doubt that the US gets blamed for ills that it has not itself created or contributed to. Indeed, it has enough proverbial "blood on its hands" and does not need any more unearned blame. The mere fact that it does get blamed even when it is blameless should convince those Americans who favour a policy of a prolonged involvement in Afghanistan that although they mean well, they won't "be seen" to be doing well.

The Afghan president Hamid Karzai is also unlikely to succeed in tempting the Taliban soldier away from the battlefield, even though he was once a Taliban supporter, a fact now forgotten by history. The irony is that Mr Karzai was a supporter, while Jalaluddin Haqqani opposed the Taliban; the latter joined the Taliban after the fall of Kabul, when he realised that the CIA and the ISI were determined to ensure the Taliban's success.

The US departure is likely to see a return of the Taliban and a period of chaos. But nature has a way of bringing order through chaos. The sooner that process begins, the sooner the chaos can end. By prolonging the agony, for itself and for the Afghans, the US will receive no gratitude from any corner. So, please, look out for yourself America and leave while the going is not too bad. Brig General Shaukat Qadir is a former Pakistani infantry officer