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Sunday, February 13, 2011

Knee-Jerk Reactions: On the U.S. Government Enabling Dictators

While in the U.S. Senate, Paul Kirk, the interim U.S. Senator who took Ted Kennedy’s seat, said, “Without a legitimate and credible Afghan partner, that counterinsurgency strategy is fundamentally flawed. The current Afghan government is neither legitimate nor credible. . . . We should not send a single additional dollar in aid or add a single American serviceman or woman to the 68,000 already courageously deployed in Afghanistan until we see a meaningful move by the Karzai regime to root out its corruption.” 

Kirk was essentially arguing that the U.S. was enabling (i.e., in the sense that one enables an alcoholic) President Karzai, who had been reelected by widespread fraud. Whether the U.S. Government was trying to have it both ways, or was utterly unwilling to put its money where American principles are, the perception around the world was probably that the United States had sold itself out for short-term strategic/military advantage. 

How resilient are principles that are upheld only when they don't cost anything?  Could it be that standing more on principle--insisting on fair and free elections as a precondition for any American aid and military involvement--would mitigate the need for a surge? Such thinking runs against the grain in the modern world, which is actually rather primitive in its insistance on knee-jerk force.  An eye for an eye and the world will be blind (Gandhi).  September 11, 2001: we must hit back.  There is no other option. They must pay. Ironically, practicing Christians were not only cheering, but also leading the charge.  An eye for an eye.

“Be realistic!” you might say.  "It's a real world out there!" Ok, how about this: the U.S. Government could have concentrated its military force in Afghanistan on the actual culprits, rather than on rebuilding the country or taking on the Taliban.  Is it really so idealistic to cut off U.S. aid to autocratic governments? I suspect that we are limited by the status quo as a normative and descriptive limitation that is actually quite dogmatic in the sense of being arbitrary.  In other words, we believe our self-constructed walls are real; we don't see how rigid we have become.

Given the emphasis on force, does it make all that much difference who is occupying the U.S. Presidency? President Bush invaded Iraq. President Obama criticized this policy then led a surge of his own in Afghanistan.  Eisenhower warned of the military-industrial complex, and both Bush II and Obama played ball with these pay-masters.  Meanwhile, we were mollified with the government's “scoldings” of Wall Street banks (the strongest of which went back to their old ways anyway).  Can we blame the bankers for ignoring government officials whose principled leadership is so contingent? People, especially powerful people--like Wall Street bankers and Karzai--can sniff hypocrisy and automatically reduce the respect given.

The United States is like a giant machine, or a very fat person, who can only move slowly…turning woefully slow with a rudder that is too small.    Meanwhile, we vaunt our ship as the biggest ever made: A city on the hill, from Puritan lore. We can’t sink, we assure each other.  But our ship of state is made of iron. I assure you, it can sink, and all the more because we have drifted out into deep water without realizing how far we have gone…how far off course.  Our rudder is too small for our mechanized monstrosity--our Titanic laden with $14 tillion in federal debt alone (not counting those of the states). Our primative knee-jerk reactiong after 911 suggests that everything we know is wrong, even as we presume we can’t be wrong.   So as we rearrange the deck-chairs at our mascurade dance, we order more champaigne and congraduate each other on having the biggest ship.  Meanwhile, is anyone looking ahead for icebergs?  We are so sure of our ship, and thus so vulnerable.

Source:

Brianna Keilar, "Obama Ally Breaks with Him on Afghanistan," CNN, December 2, 2009.