“Soft despotism is a term coined by Alexis de Tocqueville describing the state into which a country overrun by "a network of small complicated rules" might degrade. Soft despotism is different from despotism (also called 'hard despotism') in the sense that it is not obvious to the people."
Monday, December 26, 2011
Afghanistan Reconstruction - Can the US Government Do Anything Right?
The haste shown by the US in winding up its operations in Iraq and the prospect of a similar exit plan from unstable Af-Pak reveals the hollowness of America’s strategic vision
America’s Iraq mission seems futile from both the Iraqi as well as its own long-term perspective. The exit of the US troops after imposing a nine-year long war which claimed the lives of 4,500 of its own soldiers and cost $1 trillion, was disgracefully hurried. Despite the decade-long association with locals, the departing soldiers were not even given time to say their goodbyes. They not only kept the details of their final trip secret but also convinced local tribal leaders and government officials that nothing was going to change.
The stated goal of the 2003 Iraq invasion was to remove a regime that allegedly developed and used weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Saddam Hussein was accused of human rights abuses and the America-led powers pulled out all the stops to manipulate the will of the United Nations.
However, if George W Bush’s stated goals of 2003 are subjected to scrutiny today, it all turns out a waste. Saddam is gone, but there was no evidence of WMD. Iraqi society is completely torn between the Shia majority and the Sunni minority. In the absence of American forces, the fragile attempts to get the two warring sides to work together could collapse.
Signs of chaos are already descending on Iraq. The Sunni-backed political block is boycotting Parliament to protest the so-called dictatorship of Shia Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Tension further escalated with the Maliki Government calling on the Kurdish region to hand over
Vice-President Tariq al-Hashemi, another prominent Sunni figure in the Allawi-led “Iraqiya” block, on terror charges.
In terms of US interests, there are three major counts of failure.
First, the US has been unable to set up a stable democratic Government which can work to America’s advantage. Instead, the shaky Government has given ample opportunity for Iran to interfere in its internal affairs and work against US interests.
Second, due to the high cost of war — $ 1 trillion — the US administration has lost Americans’ support for future military adventures in any other country.
Third, the US has been accused of inventing the whole WMD scare and demonising Saddam only for securing control of Iraq’s oil reserves. The Americans had hoped the reconstruction of Iraq would be paid for by the Iraqis with payment in the form of oil at pre-fixed prices. But this didn’t work out. Therefore, the commercial rationale of going to war against Saddam Hussein and effecting regime change came to a grand zero.
Following the Cold War, America perceived a major challenge to the new world order from rogue states which allegedly posed serious danger to regional stability in many corners of the globe. It is here that the US assumed special responsibility for developing a strategy to engage, neutralise and contain “Backless States” to transform them into constructive members of the international community and work in the US’ favour.
Additionally, under George HW Bush and Bill Clinton, domestic political and commercial interests also played a significant role in determining and shaping this containment and engagement policy. Though the so-called “rogue” countries constituted a distinct group of nations, the concept did not translate into a singular American policy. Rather it generated debates on whether to go for containment or engagement with those States.
For example, with Syria and Pakistan, the US went for engagement, while for Iraq and Afghanistan, it chose containment. Depending on the target country, the objective of the US engagement or containment policy has been to precipitate either regime change or transform their political outlook. The latter was put on display in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The banality of ethnic war theorist John Mueller once argued that public support for the American wars in Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq can be explained with “a simple association”. As casualties mount, support decreases, says this theory. In this context, it’s not hard to understand why the support for the Iraq war among Americans dropped so fast. So, keeping in mind the public preference of the same outcome — victory — at lower cost or war — casualties — the US recently changed tack and resorted to use of drones for surgical operations.
The drone policy was successful in eliminating America’s greatest enemies — Osama bin Laden and others — but the image of the world’s only superpower took a beating. President Barack Obama was accused of cowardice after Iran blatantly refused to hand over the wreckage of the drone it had shot down. It has already threatened to bomb Turkey if the US or Israel tries to destroy its nuclear installations. General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, head of the aerospace division of the powerful Revolutionary Guard, threatened to target Nato’s missile defence shield in Turkey, installed to prevent Iranian missile attacks on Israel. Even the US-EU threat to block Iran’s oil exports is not feasible as this would more than double crude prices, with devastating consequences on a fragile global economy.
The Iraq experience of the US could become a model for withdrawal of its military from Afghanistan. But the 2014 target is set to open a can of worms in the Af-Pak region. According to a World Bank estimate, 97 per cent of Afghanistan’s economy is tied to international military and donor spending. With the Senate Foreign Relations Committee warning of severe economic depression in Afghanistan after 2014, it is not only the nation building that is at stake but the certainty of revival of terror networks in whose pursuit the US invaded Afghanistan.
US-Pakistan relations are at their lowest. As if the covert operation to take out Osama bin Laden was not enough, the United States military had to take a confrontationist attitude towards the Pakistani military. The “friendly fire” which led to the death of 24 Pakistani soldiers was followed by a diplomatic row which saw Washington maintain a rigid stance against the Pakistanis’ protests. This was quite unbecoming of a world power.
While Pakistan is heavily dependent on US defence and economic aid, the presence of the Haqqani network in Islambad suggests that Pakistan is actively aiding the enemies of America. The great American tragedy is that Washington knows full well that the ISI and Pakistani Army are working with the Haqqani network, but it is impotent when it comes to responding in a manner which leads to a resolution.
The officially stated goals of US foreign policy, as mentioned in its Foreign Policy Agenda, are to create a more secure, democratic, and prosperous world for the benefit of the American people and the international community. But going by the experience on ground, it seems America has failed woefully.