You can’t get anything accomplished if no one gives a damn.
Matthieu Aikens’ ‘Last Tango in Kabul,’ which appeared 18 August in Rolling Stone, is a fascinating and well-written article. I read it eagerly, and it reminded me of other pieces-fiction and non-fiction-that I have read on Afghanistan. The country shouldn’t be interesting, from a tourist standpoint: it’s poor, unsafe, it has little in the way of arts, architecture, music and the like. But yet I’d still love to visit it and, if I had a little more nerve and a free-for-all attitude, I’d love to have been in Kabul for what Aiken’s describes as the ‘Kabubble,’ when expats post-9/11 were making easier money and “laissant le bon temps rouler” despite the shambles the country was in.
Yet although the piece reads like a novel, at the end of it I felt ultimately…ashamed. Aikens points this out in his article, the fact that these expats cared more about getting rich than doing what they were supposed to do: helping Afghanistan. It would certainly seem like they failed at their mission, since Afghanistan is hardly a thriving democracy nor is it any safer; in fact, one of the stresses of Aikens’ article is that its more unsafe than it was in the past, at least for foreigners.
“As we’re learning in Iraq, invading a country is much easier than leaving it behind.”
America invaded Afghanistan because it wanted to destroy the Taliban, which was responsible for the 9/11 Attacks. America wanted to find Osama bin Laden, the mastermind behind the attacks. The latter was accomplished nearly 10 years after 9/11; the former, well….if the catapulting rise of the Islamic State–or Da’ish– in Iraq and Syria is any indication, it doesn’t take much for extremists to pop up or return. Perhaps the Taliban was squashed for a while during America’s takeover of Afghanistan, but that doesn’t mean that ‘former members’ weren’t feeling the same ideologies as before just because they were biding their time.
The problem with Afghanistan was that the US had concrete goals: find Osama. Stop the Taliban. These goals didn’t have anything to do with the ordinary people, or day-to-day living. Afghanistan is poor; Afghanistan needs development. Sure, former FLOTUS Laura Bush said we were invading to help Afghani women. Well, in order to help Afghani women, we have to help-and influence-Afghan men first. This is a task that takes time; developping Afghanistan takes time. I’m sure some of the expats living in Kabul meant well; I hope they tried their best. But, ultimately, if the Americans didn’t really care about making lasting change, and most Afghans were either pro-Taliban/anti-West or wary, then there will be no positive change. If neither side gives a damn, then how do we expect anything to be accomplished?
The expats in the story had every right to enjoy themselves and go to clandestine speakeasys and parties; living in Afghanistan would be no picnic. But this story is no more different than that of NGO workers and young people who jet off to some exotic location to teach English or ‘help the poor.’ I believe in international work; I believe in NGOs. I believe that it would have been OK for the US to stay in Afghanistan post-invasion if it had really tried to engage with the people, with the Taliban, and properly used the $104 billion meant to rebuild–hell, build–the country. I believe that people have good intentions in these things. But in the end, it’s also all about us. It’s all about our perception of ourselves as do-gooders, as helpers. We stay a while, things seem peachy, and then we leave. We build people a house, but do the people have the means to upkeep that house, pay for the running water, the electricity? We teach English, but do those kids have the means to actually go out and use it? Did we make the people of Afghanistan hate the West a little less? Probably not.
The US might be worried about leaving Afghanistan in light of IS and Iraq, but that isn’t going to stop us from getting the hell home. If the Taliban starts up again, or IS somehow manages to puddle-jump Shiite Iran and get to Afghanistan, well, Obama will probably just shower down some rockets and hope that killing people will do the trick. Even if all members of an insurgent Quick-fix solutions to concrete problems seems to have been the answer in past diplomacy, although there are signs of change, at least in the academic world. War does not solve our problems; killing ideologies does.