Why is it I’m struck, but not surprised, by The New York Times article today on the ugly killing of three Americans visiting a Kabul hospital – deliberately killed by an Afghan policeman?
This case is particularly sad since the visitors were linked to what is the more positive humanitarian face of the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan. While Americans have a right to be angered by this action, we should not be surprised by it. If we are surprised, then the more fools we.
American troops and a smaller number of allies have been in Afghanistan for more than 12 years. They have brought devastation and death to a country that has a long history of rising up in anger against foreign armies on Afghan soil to expel or kill them — see the three Anglo-Afghan wars against Britain in 1839–42, 1878–80 and in 1919, followed by the war in the 1980s against Soviet troops. Now it is our turn. Yes, Washington toppled the harsh Taliban government in Kabul in 2001, but for all the regime’s unsmiling Islamic fanaticism, a rough justice had prevailed under the Taliban across the country, after over a decade of destructive civil war among anti-Soviet mujahideen. The US has delivered some benefits to the Afghan population in the process, but it comes under the aegis of military occupation. Huge sums have been wasted, as in Iraq, with similar results (see “We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People (American Empire Project).”
The point is not to debate whether Washington’s hand-picked leadership is better or worse than the Taliban; the issue is how much domination – by nervous and often trigger-happy foreign military forces, dictation of policies, and years of death by U.S. drone strikes – has created a situation for which Afghans have limited tolerance. It should have been clear from day one that large numbers of Afghans — although certainly not all — would quickly resent the prolonged presence of such foreign forces who possess scant understanding of the dynamics of Afghan factions, politics, or society. Given America’s own history of rebellion against English-speaking British soldiers (virtual kinsmen) in the American colonies in the Revolutionary War, how is it we are routinely so tone-deaf to powerful nationalistic impulses in Afghanistan and elsewhere around the world where U.S. occupational, or security forces, are a law unto themselves?
Whatever the intentions of American policy have been, that policy has relied primarily upon military instruments in an immensely complex tribal society and has contributed heavily to the wave of anti-American anger across Afghanistan and beyond. Terrorism is metastasizing across the region. Do we really want to keep a U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan for another decade, to be targets of angry Afghans — in a feckless effort to micro-manage that country’s chaotic political evolution?
© Graham E. Fuller 2014