US ruined Afghanistan: The Ides of August


What really happened in Afghanistan? Marianne Williamson with journalist Sarah Chayes
(Marianne Williamson, Sept. 2, 2021) Reflections on Afghanistan: Williamson and Chayes discuss Chayes' viral article “The Ides of August,” about Chayes' experiences working as a reporter and special counsellor to the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the US War on Afghanistan.
The Ides of August
"Taliban"? Sure, anyone with a gun wanting to survive might be called a student (talib).
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I’ve been silent about [formerly Buddhist] Afghanistan for a long time. But too many things are going unsaid.
I won’t try to evoke the emotions, somehow both swirling and yet leaden: the grief, the anger, the sense of futility.
Instead, as so often before, I will use my mind to shield my heart. And in the process, perhaps help readers make some sense of what has happened.
For those who don’t know me, here is my background — the perspective from which I write this.
I am Sarah Chayes, former US official
I covered the fall of the Taliban for NPR, making my way into the former Afghan capital, Kandahar, in December 2001, a few days after the collapse of that regime. Descending the last great hill into the desert city, I saw a dusty ghost town.
Pickup trucks with rocket-launchers strapped to the struts patrolled the streets. People pulled on my militia friends' sleeves, telling them where to find a Taliban weapons cache or a last hold-out. But most remained indoors.
It was [the month-long Muslim holiday of] Ramadan. A few days later, at the holiday ending the month-long fast, the pent-up joy erupted. Kites took to the air. Horsemen on gorgeous, caparisoned chargers tore across a dusty common in sprint after sprint, with a festive audience cheering them on.
This was Kandahar, the Taliban heartland. There was no panicked rush for the airport.  
I reported for a month or so, then passed off to Steve Inskeep, now Morning Edition NPR host. Within another couple of months, I was back in Afghanistan, not as a reporter this time, but to try actually to do something. I stayed for a decade.
I ran two non-profits [NGOs] in Kandahar, living in an ordinary house and speaking Pashtu [one of two languages spoken in Afghanistan, the other being Dari], and eventually went to work for two commanders of the international troops, and then the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff.
From that standpoint — speaking as an American, as an adoptive Kandahari, and as a former senior U.S. government official — here are the key factors I see in today’s climax of a two-decade long fiasco:
Afghan government corruption, and the U.S. role enabling and reinforcing it. The last speaker of the Afghan parliament, Rahman Rahmani, I recently learned, is a multi-millionaire, thanks to monopoly contracts to provide fuel and security to U.S. forces at their main base, Bagram.
Is this the type of government people are likely to risk their lives to defend?
Two decades ago, young people in Kandahar were telling me how the proxy militias American forces had armed and provided with U.S. fatigues were shaking them down at checkpoints.
By 2007, delegations of elders would visit me — the only American whose door was open and who spoke Pashtu so there would be no intermediaries to distort or report their words.
Over candied almonds and glasses of green tea, they would get to some version of this:
“The Taliban hit us on this cheek, and the government hits us on that cheek.” The old man serving as the group’s spokesman would physically smack himself in the face.
I and too many other people to count spent years of our lives trying to convince U.S. decision-makers that Afghans could not be expected to take risks on behalf of a government that was as hostile to their interests as the Taliban were.
NOTE: it took me a while, and plenty of my own mistakes, to come to that realization. But I did.  
For two decades, American leadership on the ground and in Washington proved unable to take in this simple message.
I finally stopped trying to get it across when, in 2011, an inter-agency process reached the decision that the U.S. would not address corruption in Afghanistan. It was now explicit policy to ignore one of the two factors that would determine the fate of all our efforts.
That’s when I knew today [and the fall of the current capital of Kabul] was inevitable.
Americans like to think of ourselves as having valiantly tried to bring democracy to Afghanistan.
Afghans, so the narrative goes, just weren’t ready for it, or didn’t care enough about democracy to bother defending it. Or we’ll repeat the cliché that Afghans have always rejected foreign intervention; we’re just the latest in a long line. 
I was there. Afghans did not reject us. They looked to us as exemplars of democracy and the rule of law. They thought that’s what we stood for.
And what did we stand for? What flourished on our watch? Cronyism, rampant corruption, a Ponzi [pyramid] scheme disguised as a banking system, designed by U.S. finance specialists during the very years that other U.S. finance specialists were incubating the crash of 2008. A government system where billionaires get to write the rules.
Is that American democracy?
Well…? More


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