Afghanistan and the false moralising of liberal intervention
February 3, 2012
A problem, at least it seems to me, is that as soon as you get yourself involved in other people’s business you have a responsibility towards them. Once you’ve intervened and influenced things, all of a sudden everything that happens in your responsibility and you have an obligation to see things through to the end, whatever that end might be.
This problem is highlighted by the Taliban’s declaration that they will retake the country when NATO leaves. They’re probably right, unfortunately. Once NATO leaves, the current government (if it can even be called that, it behaves like a nepotistic crime syndicate) will collapse, with most of its members defecting to the Taliban, and the psychopathic, sexually repressed lunatics in charge of the insurgency will roll into Kabul, triumphant in their victory. More than ten years of foreign occupation will have not made one bit of difference to what will ultimately happen in Afghanistan, except perhaps that our governments will be poorer and those in Afghanistan who did not take the side of the occupation will be angrier. Women will undoubtedly suffer at the hands of their rulers, and much of the relative progress that has been made in the country since the invasion will be undone.
We already have a model of how Afghanistan deals with a prolonged military occupation – the invasion in the 1980’s by the Soviet Union. They too were attempting to instil their preferred model of government in the country but could not sustain their military presence faced with a growing Islamist insurgency and impending bankruptcy and economic recession. The Soviet Union left Afghanistan in rubble, with the Taliban strengthened by their apparent victory. Whatever good came of the Soviet presence, secularisation of society, education for women, and an improved infrastructure was vastly outweighed by the damage the occupation inflicted on Afghan society.
In 2010, Time Magazine published a shocking front page. Stating “What happens if we leave Afghanistan”, it depicted an 18-year old girl who had been sentenced to have her nose and ears cut off by a Taliban commander for “fleeing abusive in-laws”. It was followed by a story about the plight of Afghan women, and how their lives had improved since the overthrow of the Taliban.
This manipulative headline is moronic and offensive for several reasons, but it helps to make the only necessary point we need to take into account when discussing the occupation. First of all the picture and the cover are misleading. The horrific crime which has scarred this young woman obviously took place while the occupation was happening, so it more seeks to demonstrate how incapable we are of protecting Afghan women from the Taliban. But more importantly, it highlights the real problem with humanitarian intervention in the first place – why should the citizens of a nation be forced into taking on the responsibilities of another because our governments tell us to? It’s not as though we went into Afghanistan with benign intentions – we went in to get Osama Bin Laden. And now our political and military leaders, particularly in the United States, are masking their incompetence in defeating the Taliban and orchestrating a withdrawal by waving horrifying pictures in our faces and telling us it’s our fault if women can’t go to school.
I feel a great amount of sadness when I am presented with the state of women’s rights in Afghanistan, and I would argue a failure of the left has been the failure to recognise the influence and power of NGO’s and international organisations that make distinct and concerted efforts to help people in these situations, without the need to be backed by a military. The idea that an occupation of a country can be humanitarian is a deadly mistake, and we have to stop seeing our occupation of Afghanistan through that lens. It must be recognised that we are only digging our own graves and that, should we leave, the government that ultimately comes to power will not be sympathetic to the West or to ideas of freedom and democracy.
Whilst an immediate withdrawal would almost certainly lead to turmoil in the country, it is the best bad option at this point. Afghanistan represents the last frontier; the failed military venture which finally ends the warped dream neoconservative dream of “humanitarian” war and the idea that, if we just kill enough of them, democracy will triumph.