May 10, 2023

With Friends Like These…

So first, our man in Kabul, Mr. Karzai, declares the U.S. one of his top three enemies, and now our man in Baghdad, Mr. Maliki, is publicly backing spiraling Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad as the U.S. slowly - too slowly in the opinion of some - backs away from Mr. Assad in disgust. Hell, even the Saudi king is condemning the Syrian leader. When the absolute monarch of the world’s only country in which women can’t even drive or appear in public alone says your regime is going too far, you’ve got problems.

We Americans really need to be zooming out and taking a long hard look at what exactly we’ve created in Iraq and Afghanistan. Sure, getting rid of the Taliban government in Afghanistan was a noble deed that dramatically changed the course of events in the region and even the world. But could we not have exerted a little more influence in the restructuring of post-Taliban Afghanistan so that its corrupt leader isn’t publicly calling the United States one of his top three enemies while we’re still there providing his security? Perhaps we could have insisted on more transparency within Afghanistan’s largest bank, now it’s most corrupt. Or perhaps we could have discouraged the creation of an “Islamic Republic” to replace the “Islamic Emirate” of Mullah Omar and the Taliban.

The same could also be said for Iraq. While the elimination of a brutal, bellicose dictator was also noble, even if we now disagree on whether it was ever necessary, allowing the creation of a corrupt and non-functioning Islamic government in Baghdad that is allied with Tehran to replace a corrupt but functioning secular government that hated Tehran might not have been the best course of action during the rebuilding of a post-Saddam Iraq. Since we basically built their new government from the ground up, writing many of their new laws and creating their new institutions ourselves, could we not have insisted upon a few things in the process - like maybe progress as opposed to regression?

Sometimes it feels like the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction in our conduct of international relations. Whereas we used to march around the planet and disregard local cultures, histories, and sensitivities, now it seems like we cater to them too much sometimes, especially to traditional patterns of behavior that are not truly endemic to a particular region or culture but rather to less developed societies generally (i.e., oppression of minorities, corruption, etc.).

When we defeated Germany and Japan after World War II, we occupied those countries, forcefully subdued their lingering insurgencies, reconstructed their governments, and set them on a course to become the dominant economic powers in their respective regions. Perhaps had our occupation and reconstruction strategies been a little less politically correct - with respect to both regional politics and domestic American politics - yet still respectful, both Iraq and Afghanistan might be in a much different place now - a better place. And perhaps, just perhaps, we’d be supporting our friends in Kabul and Baghdad instead of self-declared enemies.


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