American Culture »J-Wire
October 8, 2021 by Jeremy Rosen
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The debacle in Afghanistan proved how difficult it is to change the culture of another country.
The United States tried it in Vietnam and Iraq and failed. How arrogant to think he could be successful in Afghanistan. Especially since all the other peur who tried to tame Afghanistan for a thousand years, failed. Not a single American president emerges with the slightest credit from the sad tale of the last twenty years in Afghanistan.
If you have Netflix I recommend you watch the series Turning to see how, after 9/11, unbalanced US policies became a reaction to horror
Through his actions, conflicting messages, and missteps in Afghanistan, he simply reinforced the Taliban narrative that the United States itself was morally bankrupt. He failed to present a moral or administrative alternative to his version of Islam. Why would anyone want to follow his example? When Islamic fundamentalists around the world look at the United States, they see what Christianity once called the “fucking Babylon.” It is a country torn apart by the inadequacies of its supposedly superior system, the social failures of its city centers, the corruption of its politicians and a culture of coercion where part of the community tries to impose its values on the other without moderation. . A culture dominated by dogma and intolerance.
To be fair, I can’t think of anyone else doing a better job these days of running a country according to their ideals. But what arrogance or stupidity led the United States to believe that it had the right to try to impose its way of seeing the world on others? Of course, the rest of the world envies America’s wealth and opportunities, but not its values. None of its previous examples of occupation in the world (except perhaps post-war Germany) have done it justice.
In the latest New York Review of Books, the Irish journalist Fintan O’Toole denounces America’s behavior in Afghanistan, its hypocrisy and its lies. It is a powerful and unrestrained analysis. After the defeat of the Taliban, in response to September 11, 2001, Donald Rumsfeld said: “Our job is to kill the bad guys. We are not going to get involved in nation building. This was the dominant view of American politics at the time. If only his successors had followed this rule. Yet the nation change was precisely what the United States began to do. Under Obama, the name of the mission changed from “Operation Enduring Freedom” to “Operation Freedom’s Sentinel”.
Senior military officials and the political establishment on both sides trumpeted the myth that war was not just about getting rid of the bad guys, but that it had to transform Afghanistan into an ethical, democratic and tolerant enlightened, just like Uncle Sam. The American public has been told they are doing a great job despite the growing number of victims and the evidence to the contrary. Anyone who dared to suggest otherwise was fired, whether in Washington or in the military.
When the Taliban first came to power in 1994, they succeeded because they brought order to a corrupt country caught in a civil war between gangs and tribes. If her religion was barbaric and crude, at least she was tackling corruption. But when America invaded, it restored corruption. As in Vietnam and Iraq, everything has become arbitrary. The Afghan elite that America supported in the hope of establishing an honest society had no such intention. The military, the police, the bureaucracy were all mired in corruption as America continued to pour money into the country and to local arrangers. As if money was the solution to all problems.
In 2010, the United States estimated that Afghans paid $ 2.5 billion in bribes annually. Meanwhile, the corrupt leadership salutes awyes billions in foreign accounts courtesy of the US taxpayer. Just as Obama believed that handing over huge sums of money to the Iranians would persuade them to be good, responsible human beings and friends with America, a similar mindset of appeasement has infected all US foreign policies in Afghanistan. (and elsewhere).
It has been American policy for years, even at home. Billions and now billions have been and will be donated to legitimate social causes. But much will be diverted for conceited projects, special interests, parents and corrupt politicians in exchange for favors. Unfortunately, the record so far of the money that solves all social problems is not good.
O’Toole is merciless. He attacks the American commitment to the principle of equal dignity and opportunity for Afghan women. It came up against an ingrained culture where women were oppressed and pedophilia common. In 2015, Joseph Goldstein of the New York Times revealed that American soldiers had been told not to intervene in the kidnapping and rape of young boys, even when it was happening on American bases. The Americans were ordered not to alienate their allies and when the officers acted against the abuses they were punished. During this time, the Pashtuns saw the amount of pornography, sexual permissiveness, and a culture of notoriety and self-righteousness that had come to define American popular culture. Why wouldn’t they want something else? Even if in Western eyes their Islam is morally inferior, to theirs it is not. This is why jihadism attracts so many followers.
We rightly condemn the abuses of colonialism, its arrogance and its crimes. However, we were deceived into thinking it was just a white western sin. At the same time, we have ignored the fact that all cultures and civilizations throughout history have been guilty of colonialism when the opportunity arose. The Taliban are colonial, as is IS. And the USA too. I am not making equivalence here, I am simply pointing out similarities. I have always thought that the occupation of Afghanistan was a terrible mistake. Perhaps tinted by reading, in his youth, the failure of the British at the Khyber Pass. I’m glad the United States has finally pulled out. But the disastrous debacle of Biden’s incompetent and chaotic escape will remain a stain on the United States.
Having said that, and despite its failures, most human beings would rather live in the US if only to take advantage of all they have to offer, even corruption! As illustrated by the millions of people who cross the southern border illegally. Capitalism, capitalism with a socialist bureaucracy, may not be ideal, but it is still a better and freer regime to live in than almost any other system. And China may now be the rising dominant colonial power, but how many people are lining up to leave the United States to live there? As if we let them in.
States should focus on their business and their security. As indeed Israel does. He has no illusions that being kind to Iran, the Taliban and the kleptocracies around them will make his life safer. Thank goodness he can survive against all odds. And the withdrawal from Afghanistan teaches Israel that while the current US support is very important, it should never think that it can completely rely on the United States as an ally.
When I was young in Europe, we used to joke (out of envy of the USA) that all great civilization goes through three stages; from barbarism to civilization to decadence. But the USA are the only ones to go from barbarism to decadence without any period of intermediate civilization. Of course, that was neither fair nor accurate at the time. Pray that he will stay that way.
Rabbi Jeremy Rosen lives in New York. He was born in Manchester. His writings cover religion, culture, history and current affairs – whatever he finds interesting or relevant. They are designed to entertain and stimulate. Disagreement is always welcome.