Monday, October 30, 2017

Is U.S. Policy in Afghanistan Doomed? - By John Dietrich

Politico provides an account of a State Department election night “party” in Kabul’s U.S. embassy.  The author, May Jeong, describes the State Department employees, "who are officially barred from political activism while living abroad but tend to support Democrats.” 
As proof she reports, “On the wall hung a Donald Trump piñata.”  She reports a change in the party’s attitude when it became clear that Trump was going to win the election.  The article explains the role of Scott Guggenheim, “senior adviser” to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.  He describes Guggenheim as, “one of the most powerful people in the country.”  Guggenheim has worked with Ghani since 2002.  Ghani and Guggenheim are member of the same elite.  Ghani is described as “former academic whose lifelong passion has been studying how to fix broken countries.”  Guggenheim spent the first half of his career as an international development expert.  They attended some of the same schools and both worked for the World Bank.
Jeong claims that Guggenheim’s “sympathies run far closer to Afghanistan than the United States” and that he “often slips into the collective possessive pronoun—our country, our people—and refers just as reflexively to ‘you Americans.’”  He sees Afghanistan as a victim of modernizing struggles.  Apparently he believes in the “Noble Savage Theory.”  He attributes Afghanistan’s trouble to the result of British colonialism.  “What the British achieved was turning one of the oldest civilizations into warring tribes.”  The problem with this theory is that most of Afghanistan’s problems preceeded the British invasion.  The United Nations Development Program rates Afghanistan one of the worst countries in the world to be born female.  The sexual abuse of children is long standing characteristic of Afghan culture. “The practice is called bacha bazi, literally ‘boy play,’ and American soldiers and Marines have been instructed not to intervene.” 
One of Guggenheim’s major duties is to act as Afghanistan’s informal ambassador to the world of foreign donors who fund most of the country’s budget.  Approximately 70 percent of the Afghan government’s budget since the 2001 has been supplied by foreign donors.  Guggenheim asked,  “Is the Parliament of Afghanistan really representative of the country, or is it a bunch of warlords dividing up national rent? This is what American foreign policy in Afghanistan has created. The institutions they built up are deeply corrupt.”  There are billions of taxpayer dollars circulating through Afghanistan.  One example is the $43 million ($42.7 million, to be exact) spent to build a compressed natural gas station in Afghanistan. Naturally this figure was disputed when the cost became public.  Critics claim the true cost was somewhere between $5 million and $10 million.  This is not a very precise figure for a facility that would cost no more than $500,000 in neighboring Pakistan.
Guggenheim views Afghanistan as an American experiment.  He was attracted to the job there by “the promise of the early years.”  He saw Afghanistan as a “modern society that would catch up to regional success stories like India or Iran.”  After emerging from decades of civil war and misrule it offered a country-sized laboratory.  Afghanistan was a chance to implement some of the theories Guggenheim and Ghani had “discussed during countless conversations at weddings, backyard swims and garden parties across decades.”  Progressives believed that a vote for Ghani was “a vote for progress, for reform, for equality, for human rights, and a sense of Afghanistan joining the rest of the world.”  Guggenheim described his vision: “What I’d like to see is countries with deep historical legacies, that are struggling, pull it off.  Some sense that they will finally get their act together and they are going to be democratic and there is going to be basic freedoms. Kids can go to a movie theater and not worry about being blown up, that sort of thing. I’m still a deep idealist on those scores.”  This would have been a prefect time for Mr. Guggenheim to break out in song: “You may say I’m a dreamer But I’m not the only one.  I hope some day you’ll join us And the world will live as one.”  But how many eggs will be required to make this omelet?
The people implementing U.S. policy in Afghanistan will have to put away their piñata and deal with the Afghan people for what they are.  They will not be holding any “gay” pride parades in Kabul in the near future.  The United States is providing billions to support an admittedly corrupt government yet this government is giving away mining rights to Chinese companies.  Guggenheim appears to be coming to the realization that the theories formulated at “weddings, backyard swims and garden parties across decades” may not be practical.  He declared, “What you are doing is doomed.  But isn’t that the story of life? And so, you do it anyway.”  Jeong described this as “sardonic wit.”  It is a type of wit that goes over well at garden parties but not in foxholes.  He should not try out his wit on the mothers of soldiers who have returned to the U.S. in body bags.  The elite has a different sense of humor.
 John Dietrich is a freelance writer and the author of The Morgenthau Plan: Soviet Influence on American Postwar Policy (Algora Publishing).  He has a Master of Arts Degree in International Relations from St. Mary’s University.  He is retired from the Defense Intelligence Agency and the Department of Homeland Security.