Afghanistan: 'An Inspiration to the Cause of Freedom'

Here is our government's official take on Afghanistan, circa March 2006:

The democratic process taking hold in Afghanistan is an inspiration to the cause of freedom, President Bush said in the country's capital, Kabul, today.

"I hope the people of Afghanistan understand that as democracy takes hold, you're inspiring others," Bush said while visiting Afghanistan for the first time. "And that inspiration will cause others to demand their freedom."

Bush said he was "enthralled" to see the progress being made in Afghanistan. As evidence of this progress, he pointed to the growth of an entrepreneurial spirit enabling Afghans to realize their dreams, to young girls going to school for the first time, to the country's free press, and to the standing-up of a well-trained military dedicated to the sovereignty of the nation...

Bush emphasized that the U.S. is committed to the "universal" value that all humans desire to be free. "And we know that history has taught us that free societies yield the peace," he said. "We want peace for our children, and we want peace for the Afghan children, as well."

Here is a recent news item of a sort that has become familiar in the last few years:

An Afghan journalist accused of distributing an unacceptable translation of the Koran should be put to death, says former Prime Minister Ahmad Shah Ahmadzai.

Former journalist Ghows Zalmay, who was also the spokesman for Afghanistan's Attorney-General, was arrested in November last year for distributing a translation of the Koran into Dari, one of Afghanistan's two official languages.

Ahmadzai, who ran in the 2004 presidential election against current President Hamid Karzai, told Adnkronos International (AKI) he supported the death penalty for Zalmay.

"Today Afghanistan is full of vices. Several Afghan restaurants serve liquor, despite it being illegal and on top of it, such material is distributed," Ahmadzai told AKI.

"I am in favour of his death."

The point is not to take a cheap shot at the Bush administration with a facile juxtaposition. (Well, that's not the only point.) Clearly, Bush oversold the "freedom" angle, perhaps because he mistakenly assumed that democracy inevitably leads to liberty. If most Afghans agree with Ahmadzai that death is an appropriate penalty for an unauthorized translation of the Koran, executing Zalmay would be democratic, but it would not exactly be "an inspiration to the cause of freedom."

Bush's second mistake, we have to hope, is that American security depends on the freedom of people in other countries. This, I gather, was the main rationale for the invasion of Iraq, which the Bush administration advertised as a pre-emptive strike against an aggressive dictator armed with weapons of mass destruction. Although I never supported that war, I did think that military action against Al Qaeda and its Taliban allies in Afghanistan was justified. I did not realize it meant that the U.S. would be committed to transforming Afghanistan into not just a democracy but a liberal democracy, on the theory that "free societies yield the peace." Can't we settle for a regime that is less inclined to welcome anti-American terrorists, even if it continues to ban liquor and arrest heretics? And if that is in fact what our government is aiming for, how is this approach different from old-style realism?

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  • jtuf||

    Can't we settle for a regime that is less inclined to welcome anti-American terrorists, even if it continues to ban liquor and arrest heretics? And if that is in fact what our government is aiming for, how is this approach different from old-style realism?

    My thoughts exactly. I applaud private groups like the International Society for Idividual Libertry for making the world more libertarian. If private groups focus on hearts and minds, the military can focus on security.

  • ||

    In so many cases when I look at huge differences between my culture and other cultures around the world I am careful not to judge them or hold my own culture superior.
    This is not one of those cases. Only a barbaric imbecile would call for the death of a man selling an improperly translated version of a book.

  • ||

    If Ahmadzai still thinks liquor is a vice, then the terrorists have won.

  • thoreau||

    Clearly, Bush oversold the "freedom" angle, perhaps because he mistakenly assumed that democracy inevitably leads to liberty.

    Well, I assume that we'd still have habeas corpus if the candidate with the most votes in 2000 had become President.

  • TallDave||

    Repression is all they've been taught for decades. Freedom is an alien concept that will take time to catch on. Democracy is just one kind of freedom that may or not may lead to others.

    I read a great story from a soldier in Afghanistan around the time that Afghan had to flee the country after converting to Christianity. He had a talk with one of the Afghanis, who insisted the convert had to be killed. The soldier explained that that attitude makes Americans angry, because we believe people have the right to choose their religion. The notion surprised the Afghani, and he said he would have to think about that.

    A lot of concepts that are so familiar to us in the West we take them for granted are totally missing in much of the non-Western world.

    I did not realize it meant that the U.S. would be committed to transforming Afghanistan into not just a democracy but a liberal democracy, on the theory that "free societies yield the peace."

    The problem is that if you proceed from an assumption that repression in the name of religion is OK, it's not a big leap to blowing up the sinful Westerners' buildings to punish them.

  • ||

    Well, I assume that we'd still have habeas corpus if the candidate with the most votes in 2000 had become President.

    Uh, t, you may not have heard, but we do still have habeas corpus. As a US citizen, you always did. Just to make extra careful sure, the SCOTUS recently confirmed/extended habeas to non-US citizens held overseas in some, relatively undefined US military facilities.

  • thoreau||

    The court has made its ruling, but I wonder if the executive branch will enforce it.

  • ||

    A lot of concepts that are so familiar to us in the West we take them for granted are totally missing in much of the non-Western world.

    The international expertise on this board never ceases to amaze!

  • ||

    I did not realize it meant that the U.S. would be committed to transforming Afghanistan into not just a democracy but a liberal democracy, on the theory that "free societies yield the peace."

    It's becoming increasingly clear that the invasion of Afghanistan was seen by the administration, from the beginning, as a neocon Democratic Crusade war. Putting a government in place wasn't something they had to do after achieving their objective of rousting al Qaeda and the Taliban. They didn't go through the Taliban and take over the country to get at al Qaeda; they used al Qaeda as a pretext for going after the Taliban and "nation-building."

    That's why they had 30,000 troops garrisoning Kabul the day Osama walked out the back door at Tora Bora.

    That's why they focused like a laser there until we had military control of the country, then let their gaze wander to Iraq before finishing off what everyone else thought was the war's purpose.

    That's why they never pursued the possibility that the Taliban might give up bin Laden, even when they offered.

    We didn't need to fight a war in Iraq. We needed to fight a war in Afghanistan, but a different kind of war than the one we ultimately fought.

    Based on what's going on in both of those countries, it doesn't look like purposeful efforts to produce liberal democracies as a post-war strategy are actually likely to produce better outcomes than toppling the bad guys and leaving a tip for the cleaning ladies on our way out the door.

  • TallDave||

    nch,

    A fairly obvious point, but one that people don't think much about.

    For instance, I dated a girl in her twenties whose parents emigrated here from China when she was a few years old. She was surprised when I told her that the Chinese leadership is not elected -- and she was born there.

  • ||

    The Afghan people are not ready for representative democracy. They are unconcerened about freedom for others and the tyranny of an ignorant intolerant majority will play out.

    Wouldn't a benevolent despot be nice?

  • ||

    The court has made its ruling, but I wonder if the executive branch will enforce it.

    Me too. I've no doubt they would without the US looking over their shoulder. We leave, he's worm food. But a democracy would be responsible for his execution. A democracy will voluntarily either install a strongman or revert to feudalism in Afghanistan. A liberal secular democracy there is a pipe dream.

  • ||

    J sub D,

    I would say that most Americans are unconcerned about freedom for "others," too. The difference is, we don't think of Americans from different parts of the country as "others," but as members of our polity.

    My working theory is that democracy can only be liberal to the extent that the demos in question concieves of itself as such. If you look at the development of democracy in our society, it started off as local democracy, then grew to the state level and then several steps to the national level. This process occured alongside equivalent changes in how people defined the polity they belonged to.

  • Tsu Dho Nihm||

    If Ahmadzai still thinks liquor is a vice, then the terrorists have won.

    Nah, that's not a problem. The problem is that he consideres the vice to be a crime and worthy of punishment by the government.

    Huh...I guess they're not much different from the average American when it comes to that.

  • ||

    My working theory is that democracy can only be liberal to the extent that the demos in question concieves of itself as such. If you look at the development of democracy in our society, it started off as local democracy, then grew to the state level and then several steps to the national level. This process occured alongside equivalent changes in how people defined the polity they belonged to.

    IOW, tribalism is at odds with nationalism. I agree. 40,000 U.S. Marines isn't going to change that. I call for a benevolent dictator. It's the best we can realistically hope for.

  • ||

    If Ahmadzai still thinks liquor is a vice, then the terrorists have won.

    Nah, that's not a problem. The problem is that he consideres the vice to be a crime and worthy of punishment by the government.

    Huh...I guess they're not much different from the average American when it comes to that.



    Yep. Substitute reefer for liquor and almost any U.S. politician for Ahmadzai.

  • ||

    J sub D,

    I'd say that the logical conclcusion of my theory is that we should focus our efforts at the village/neighborhood level, both by promoting local democracy and making the central government dependent upon the support of local governments.

  • Invisible Finger||

    An Afghan journalist accused of distributing an unacceptable translation of the Koran should be put to death

    I hope the Afghanis learn their lesson: "Never ever distribute the Koran."

  • han||

    A more interesting question, one that Schweich never asks: Why is Afghanistan a narco-state?

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