May 02, 2012
Obama, Afghanistan, and Israel

There is a lesson in the reports of Barack Obama's visit with the President of Afghanistan a year after bin Laden's killing.

As reported by the BBC


"US President Barack Obama has pledged to "finish the job" and end the Afghan war, addressing the US public live from a military base in Afghanistan. . . . He arrived in Afghanistan on a publicly unannounced visit to sign an agreement on future Afghan-US ties with President Hamid Karzai, ahead of a Nato summit. . . . Mr Obama said signing the pact with President Karzai was "a historic moment" for both nations. . . . In the speech, beamed back to prime-time evening audiences in US, the president said that at the upcoming Nato summit, to be held in Chicago, the alliance would "set a goal for Afghan forces to be in the lead for combat operations across the country next year"."

One should view this against the background of numerous reports about the chronic corruption of the Karzai regime, the history of Afghanistan being a place but not a country with a functioning government, and the foolhardy efforts of the Bush Administration to remake the place that by all signs is unable to be remade.

Obama's actions and comments appear to be transparently ridiculous, but they are wise. They reflect how a president should deal with a legacy of madness.

It seems like he is throwing Afghanistan under the bus, but there may be no real buses in that God-forgotten place.

One of my own Afghanistan stories, not meeting the standards of social science research, but still worthy of attention--


In 1976, the U.S. Information Agency brought me to Kabul to lecture at the university. I was put in the Intercontinental Hotel on an inner-city mountaintop, away from everything of interest. I persuaded my handler to put me in a less isolated hotel. After a day or two wandering the town (my handler could not get permission for me to lecture to students, and my sole venue was a two hour discussion with faculty members), I asked how to get to an interesting locale out of the city. Directed to the "central bus station," I climbed about a truck, whose body was outfitted with wooden benches, and headed west. Over the course of the next 50 miles or so, the truck broke down several times. Alongside the driver was a fixer, whose job was to jump out, open the hood, do something, jump back alongside the driver, and sit there until the next need to fix.

At the end of the ride, I found a place to spend the night, which cost me about $4, including meals, with another $2 required to have a man sit in my room throughout the night and keep feeding the stove with pieces of wood. The location was high and cold, and it seemed wise to spend a little more in the village. This was the man who asked me, "How long does it take to get to America from here by bus?"

My conclusion: no real buses in Afghanistan, so Obama is not really throwing the country under the bus. Rather, he is doing what he can to lessen the damage caused by his predecessor's foolishness, and covering over the decision with a rationale that may appeal to American voters who don't know much about Afghanistan, and probably don't care.

No doubt that Obama's profession of concern for Afghanistan is a blatant lie, but infinitely wiser than what George W. Bush proclaimed as his aspirations. Likewise, Obama's exit from Iraq. No less a transparent cover for fleeing from an impossible dream, but that is what politicians may have to do.

And what is likely to be the result of the American exit from Afghanistan? Probably more Afghan taxi drivers in those American cities where I have met them, some of whom may be those professors I met in Kabul, and hopefully more writing like Kite Runner. I'll guess that Afghanistan will go back to something like it was before George W. Bush, or before the Russians sought to remake the country, or before the British tried in the 19th century.

You think this is a lousy way to run a country?

The United States is not a country, but an empire. Think Rome, Britain and France at their height, or maybe even the Soviet Union. Extraordinary renditions are not all that different from the Gulag.

Empires have places like Afghanistan and Iraq. One can argue about the US going there, but the American leadership must find some way to leave.

And the implications for Israel?

Different story. This is not Afghanistan, but a western democracy with social services similar to those enjoyed by Americans, a military capacity to be wary of, and well placed advocates in Congress and the US Administration. Some of Obama's actions in the Middle East have been nutty in the extreme, but Israeli politicians and their American friends will push for better.

--


Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science

Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Tel: +972-2-532-2725

Cell: +972-54-683-5325
Fax +972-2-582-9144

irashark@gmail.com

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at May 02, 2012 02:44 AM