Simon Jenkins fires a powerful salvo of scorn and spleen to mark the 10th anniversary of the imperial quagmire in Afghanistan. Among the glories and triumphs of this magnificent adventure, Jenkins notes the fact that international agencies are now calling for emergency aid to combat the imminent threat of mass starvation in the liberated land. This is what 10 years, thousands of deaths and trillions of dollars worth of "nation-building" have produced: a broken, brutalized, bankrupt society on the verge of murderous famine.
The whole piece is well worth reading, but here are some highlights:
Ten years of western occupation of Afghanistan led the UN this week to plead that half the country's drought-ridden provinces face winter starvation. The World Food Programme calls for £92m to be urgently dispatched. This is incredible. Afghanistan is the world's greatest recipient of aid, some $20bn in the past decade, plus a hundred times more in military spending. So much cash pours through its doors that $3m a day is said to leave Kabul airport corruptly to buy property in Dubai. ...
The opening decade of the 21st century has been marked by two epic failures by the western powers that so recently claimed victory in the cold war; failures of both intellect and leadership. One is the inability to use the limitless resources of modern government to rescue the west's economy from prolonged recession. The other is the use of an attack on America by a crazed Islamist criminal as an excuse for a retaliatory war embracing a wide swath of the Muslim world. The decade-long punishment of Afghanistan for harbouring Osama bin Laden has been an act of biblical retribution. The demand that it also abandons the habits of history and adopt democracy, capitalism and gender equality was imperial arrogance. ...
The occupation of Afghanistan has been a catalogue of unrelieved folly. America is spending staggering sums on the war, which it is clearly not winning. Congressional studies show virtually no US aid reaches the local economy, most remaining with contractors in the US or going on security or being stolen. Local democracy has failed, as warlords feud with drug lords and tribal vendettas resurface. The "training of the Afghan police and army" has become a dope-befuddled joke. ....
What is strange, as Barbara Tuchman wrote, is not the folly of policy as such but its immunity to correction even when known to be folly. .... As during Vietnam, some wars pass the stage where politicians and generals dare step back and look. Pride, a craving for glory, an aversion to defeat, above all, the institutionalising of the war in its surrounding territory, come to drive strategy. Kabul is occupied by tens of thousands of soldiers, diplomats, NGO officials and contractors. Afghanistan has become a stew of the military/industrial complex, with aid mixed in. ...
The irony of this great folly is that its chief beneficiaries are likely to be those who lost the cold war, Russia and China. As the west's leaders struggle to rescue embattled armies and embattled economies from morasses of their own creation, they have left their old foes laughing with glee. Democracy has snatched defeat from the arms of victory – without a shred of a reason.
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