Afghanistan Now: ‘The People Do Not Want to Go Back’
Near the end of the September Republican debate in Tampa, Florida, Sahar Hekmati, an Afghan-American woman, posed a difficult question to the presidential aspirants gathered onstage: “As the next president of the United States, what will you do to secure safety and protection for the women and children of Afghanistan from the radicals?” CNN’s Wolf Blitzer called on two candidates, ostensibly representing opposite wings of the GOP, to respond. First up was Jon Huntsman, the former Utah governor eager to claim the mantle of moderation. “We are ten years into this war, Sahar,” Huntsman said in a grave voice. “But the time has come for us to get out of Afghanistan.”
The live audience erupted in wild applause.
Ann Marlowe just returned from her latest reporting trip to Afghanistan and Major Derrick Hernandez served two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. Together they review Sebastian Junger’s portrayal of the Afghan war.
Meanwhile, in a typically rambling commentary, Texas governor and sometime Tea Party favorite Rick Perry agreed that the US troops should be pulled out “as soon and obviously as safely as possible” but also made a vague call “for us to continue to have a presence there.”
These cramped and resigned attitudes stand in stark contrast with the soaring rhetoric of yesteryear. Recall how, during the first days of the initial invasion, Laura Bush was assigned her husband’s weekly radio spot—the first time a first lady had given the full address alone—to decry “the plight of women and children in Afghanistan,” which was “a matter of deliberate human cruelty, carried out by those who seek to intimidate and control.” In Afghanistan, she said, “the fight against terrorism is also a fight for the rights and dignity of women.”
Today, the notion that liberalization and counterterrorism are, or should be, complementary aims in Afghanistan sounds like sweet nostalgia. Even as President Obama, to his credit, ushered in a thus far successful troop surge in Afghanistan, the administration has studiously avoided that dreaded neoconservative concept, “democracy,” when discussing the country.
So what has changed over the course of a decade? Ask any journalist or analyst in Washington, and the answer is likely to sound something like this: NATO has done all it can for Afghanistan. If little progress has been made, well, that’s because the Afghan people, divided by myriad tribal and ethnic loyalties, are fundamentally incapable of building a coherent Afghan nation. Islamic radicalism, some would add, is the blood in Afghan veins. You might even hear trite historical ruminations about Afghanistan as the “graveyard of empires”—a wild country neither Alexander the Great, nor the British imperialists, nor even the Red Army could tame.