by Matthew Rothschild
The Progressive magazine, October
George Bush likes to view himself as the
Great Liberator, and he has said many times that he's freed fifty
million people: the combined populations of Iraq and Afghanistan.
But Iraq is going to hell, with 100 civilian deaths a day due
to the civil war-oh, I'm sorry, I mean the sectarian violence.
Afghanistan is headed down the same road.
"The government and its international
partners remained incapable of providing security to the people
of Afghanistan," says Amnesty International in its annual
report. "Absence of rule of law, and a barely functional
criminal justice system, left many victims of human rights violations,
especially women, without redress. Over 1,000 civilians were killed
in attacks by U.S. and Coalition forces and by armed groups. U.S.
forces continued to carry out arbitrary arrests and indefinite
Much of the country is in disarray. Corruption
runs wild. Warlords, including some of the same individuals who
brutalized the populace before the Taliban took over, now exercise
power in many provinces. There are even warlords in the cabinet
of Hamid Karzai.
And, five years after its defeat, the
Taliban has regrouped in the south, carrying out ever more brazen
attacks on U.S. and NATO forces.
Suicide bombings are dramatically on the
rise. "There have been forty suicide bombings during the
past nine months, compared to five in the preceding five years,"
Ahmed Rashid, author of Taliban and Jihad, noted in the June 22
issue of The New York Review of Books.
On September 8, the Taliban conducted
a suicide car bombing outside the U.S. embassy in Kabul. That
attack killed at least sixteen people, including two U.S. soldiers.
Two days later, a suicide bomber killed a provincial governor
who was a Karzai friend.
For the people of Afghanistan, life remains
grim. The United Nations Development Program ranks Afghan-istan
near the very bottom: 173 out of 178 countries in terms of health,
life expectancy, and other indicators.
Especially for girls and women, conditions
are deteriorating. "Violence against women and girls remains
rampant," Human Rights Watch reports. "Women and girls
continue to confront tight restrictions on their mobility, and
many are not free to travel without a male relative and a burqa."
Their education is also under assault.
"Brutal attacks by armed opposition
groups on Afghan teachers, students, and their schools have occurred
throughout much of Afghanistan in recent months," Human Rights
Watch reports, with at least seventeen assassinations of teachers
or other education officials in the last two years. One school
a day is now under attack, the group says.
As a result, only 35 percent of girls
attend elementary or middle school, and only 10 percent go on
from there, according to Human Rights Watch. In five provinces,
90 percent of girls don't attend any school.
At one community mosque, a letter was
posted warning girls "to be careful about their safety. If
we put acid on their faces or they are murdered, then the blame
will be on the parents," the letter said, a mother in Kandahar
told Human Rights Watch. Because of the threats, she withdrew
her girls from school.
Meanwhile, opium production has reached
record levels, up 50 percent in the last year. Now Afghanistan
supplies an amazing 92 percent of the world's opium supply.
For this, the Bush Administration has
no one to blame but itself. The blunders Donald Rumsfeld has made
in Afghanistan-leaving aside Iraq-should have been enough to cashier
him long ago. First, he let Osama bin Laden escape from the caves
of Tora Bora. Then, he refused to deploy a sufficient number of
troops to restore order throughout Afghanistan. (Sound familiar?)
And finally, he was oblivious to the rise of the opium trade.
"Senior Bush Administration officials
had displayed a complete lack of interest in the Afghan opium
problem ever since 9/11," writes James Risen in State of
War. "In fact, the White House and Pentagon went out of their
way to avoid taking on the Afghan drug lords from the very outset
of U.S. military operations in Afghanistan."
They refused to bomb drug labs. When they
stumbled on opium crops and heroin production, they were ordered
to ignore them, Risen reports. And they chose not to take on the
warlords involved in the drug trade because they didn't want to
alienate anyone who might help them hunt down bin Laden. Rumsfeld
himself even met with Afghan military commanders who were known
as "the godfathers of drug trafficking," Risen writes,
quoting Barnett Rubin, a U.S. scholar on Afghanistan. Rubin continued:
"The message has been clear: Help fight the Taliban, and
no one will interfere with your trafficking."
Now the Taliban itself is deeply involved
in the opium trade, and the warlords have proven ineffective in
taking on the Taliban. Some of them are even working together.
The blasé attitude of the Pentagon
comes through most clearly in a comment by Douglas Feith, then
under secretary of defense for policy, shortly after the Taliban
fell from power. "He said we won the war, other people need
to be responsible for Afghanistan now," a former National
Security Council official told Risen.
But the U.S.-installed government could
not get the job done alone. "Afghanistan should be able to
rely on its own security within a year," Interim Interior
Minister Younis Qanooni said-back in February 2002!
Behind the failure in Afghanistan lies
the Iraq obsession. "How is it, then, that Afghanistan is
near collapse once again?" asks Ahmed Rashid. "To put
it briefly, what has gone wrong has been the invasion of Iraq."
The Bush Administration was in such a
hurry to get to Iraq that it shortchanged the effort to control
Afghanistan, diverted special agents and other resources to Iraq,
and loosened the noose on Al Qaeda.
"At the moment when Al Qaeda was
most vulnerable, the United States relented," Risen writes.
When senior members of Bush's war cabinet
"voiced concerns about the ability of Al Qaeda-style terrorists
to recruit and gain support on a widespread basis in the Islamic
world," Bush shut them up with a facile response, Risen reports.
One official told him: "The President dismissed them, saying
victory in Iraq would take care of that."
Sam Zarifi is the Asia research director
for Human Rights Watch. "We have squandered a huge amount
of political goodwill and military advantage and financial kindness,"
he says. "We didn't implement enough security at a time when
it was obvious that it was needed, and that allowed all the bad
guys to come in and do what they always do."
The decision-makers in the Bush Administration
"were never really committed to Afghanistan," Zarifi
says. "Iraq distracted the United States from the central
battlefield in the war on terror, which is here in Afghanistan."
On March 1, Bush made a surprise visit
to Kabul to heap praise on Karzai. "We're impressed by the
progress that your country is making, Mr. President," Bush
told him. "A lot of it has to do with your leadership."
A few months later, Karzai gave his approval
to the reinstitution of the Taliban's old Department for the Promotion
of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. That agency was notorious for
beating women whose socks were too colorful and men whose beards
were too short. Now, if parliament approves, it will be coming
Liberation is not what it used to be.