Juan Cole: It's too Early to Celebrate the "Liberation" of Iraq and Afghanistan
Juan Cole, in his blog (March 21, 2004):
In the speech he used to inaugurate his reelection campaign on Saturday, Bush boasted that the US had"liberated" 50 million persons in Afghanistan and Iraq.
It is the problem with political rhetoric that it lacks all nuance or ambiguity. It is true that the Bush administration overthrew two harsh regimes, the Taliban and that of Saddam in Iraq. But in Afghanistan they only overthrew the Taliban because the latter stood in the way of getting at al-Qaeda. They accomplished the task by allying with the Jami`at-i Islami, or"Northern Alliance," the anti-Taliban Islamist movement among Tajiks, with which the pro-Iranian Hizb-i Vahdat of the Hazara Shiites was allied. Two years later, Afghanistan does not have an elected government (the so-called Loya Jirga or tribal council doesn't count for lots of reasons). Elections are scheduled for summer of 2004, but President Karzai is talking of postponing them. Afghans won't be"liberated" until they have an elected government and a sovereign parliament. At the moment, Karzai is the mayor of Kabul. Warlords like Ismail Khan rule provinces like Herat harshly, with Taliban-like restrictions on girls and personal liberties. The Taliban are resurgent in some Pushtun provinces in the south. 2/5s of gross domestic product is generated by drug production, raising fears of narco-terrorism.
As for Iraq, Bush was contradicted on Saturday by the Minister of Electricity, Ayham al-Samarrai. He is in Beirut for a conference, and a Kuwaiti newspaper (as reported by AFP asked him if the Interim Governing Council is an"imposed" body.
He replied"Absolutely . . The members of the Governing Council and the cabinet think they represent 70 per cent of the Iraqi people. How can they be sure? We have been imposed on the Iraqi people by America . . . Of course, most of the members are known in Iraqi society ... by their opposition to the former regime and also by their democratic thinking . . . However, we don't represent the people. No one chose us. Saddam was not chosen by anyone and neither were we." He said that the Governing Council takes few formal votes and is deeply divided."I think they have applied the vote once or twice when they have made more than a hundred decisions. . . Most of the essential decisions made by the council were cancelled by the (US) civil administrator (Paul Bremer) for lack of harmony among the members."
So, it is just premature to declare Afghans and Iraqis"liberated." Al-Samarra'i is an appointee of the Governing Council which in turn was named by the Americans, and even he is talking this way.
It is disturbing that the Afghan and Iraqi elections may both be postponed past the US presidential elections. The likelihood is that both parliaments will be dominated by Islamists, which would be a public relations problem for Bush in the campaign. By cleverly postpoining the elections, he ensures that no embarrassing poll results emerge from his two"liberated" projects.
I don't deny that the Taliban and Saddam were horrible for their people. It is a good thing they are gone. But the Taliban were removed pursuant to NATO and United Nations resolutions, i.e., with full international legality. The war in Iraq was an illegal one, and weakened international law and institutions, threatening us with the jungle. Ironically, Iraqis seem to me to have a better shot at a representative government with some real liberties than do Afghans, in the near future (assuming the security situation does not continue as it is, or deteriorate). Reality is like that, not black and white but shades of grey. Unfortunately for the next 6 months we are only going to hear the black and the white, not the nuances. I can't imagine that will be good for the people in the Middle East, or for Americans.
Surely we should move the US presidential process forward and start it in June or something, so we don't have all this dead time for half a year, and campaign rhetoric cheapens our discourse.
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