If Iraq has been the disaster zone of Bush foreign
policy, Afghanistan is still generally thought of as its success story – to
the extent that anyone in our part of the world thinks about that country at
all any more. Before the invasion of Iraq, Afghanistan experienced a relative
flood of American attention. It was, after all, the liberation moment. Possibly
the most regressive and repressive regime on Earth had just bitten the dust.
The first blow had been struck against the 9/11 attackers. The media rushed
in – and they were in a celebratory mood.
As Bush administration efforts quickly turned Iraqwards, however, so did media
attention. By June 2003, just two months after the invasion of Iraq, the
American Journalism Review tells us, "only a handful of reporters
remained in the struggling country on a full-time basis, while other news organizations
floated correspondents in and out when time and resources permitted." More recently,
just Newsweek, the Washington Post, the Associated Press, and
possibly the New York Times (which seems to have Carlotta Gall back on
the beat) consider Afghanistan – the devastated land that has been the crucible
for, and breeding ground for, so many of the crises and problems of our era
– important enough to have full-time reporters assigned to it.
There was a burst of media attention last October for the Afghan presidential
election, won by Hamid Karzai. It was a demonstration of something we've seen
since in Iraq and elsewhere – that people everywhere feel understandable enthusiasm
at the thought of determining their own fates with their own hands (however
limited their ability to do so may be in reality). It was, in fact, with the
Afghanistan election that the Bush administration's "Arab Spring" blitz, its
present success story about spreading democracy worldwide, with an emphasis
on the Middle East, really began.
Since then, what news Americans have gotten about Afghanistan has consisted
largely of infrequent reports on the
deaths of small numbers of American troops there; statements, interviews,
and press conferences by various American generals or officials on the ever-improving
situation in the country, or on
the Pentagon's sudden willingness to tackle the drug problem there; pieces
on "abuses" of Afghan prisoners by American troops or CIA agents; or statements
about how we must stay in the country until a struggling new democracy truly
takes root in that impoverished land. Throw in the odd propaganda visit by an
American dignitary and you more or less have Afghan news as it exists in this
country. After all, in most of Afghanistan there are no reporters. Even the
5,000 European troops guarding the capital, Kabul, under the NATO banner have
but recently begun to make it beyond Kabul's bounds. The Americans alone have
given themselves the run of the country, and they have generally preferred to
keep the news to themselves.
The last wash of Afghan news came when, after a year of planning, Laura Bush
made it there for six hours last week to "offer support for Afghan women in
their struggle for greater rights," to meet President Hamid Karzai, and to have
a meal with American troops at Bagram Air Base. (Headlines were of the "Laura
Bush Pledges More Aid for Afghanistan," "Laura Bush in Afghanistan to Back Women's
Education," "First Lady Drops in on Afghanistan" variety.) Standing next to
an Afghan woman, shovel in hand, she also had her picture taken and disseminated
in the American press. The caption in
my hometown paper says she was "posing for a photograph at a women's dorm
at Kabul University and planting a tree." As a photo, nationalities aside, it
might easily have graced the pages of Soviet Life magazine and come from
a distant imperial era.
So Afghanistan has once again become the land
that time forgot. Given the
present Bush democracy blitz and given the country's "success" – a "struggling"
or "nascent" democracy or "semi-democracy," liberated from one of the worst
regimes on Earth and helped back onto its feet by 17,000-plus American troops
stationed on its territory, it seems a case worth revisiting. What follows is
the best assessment I can offer – from this distance – based at least to some
extent on more fulsome reporting done for media outlets outside the United States.
When you begin to look around, you quickly find that just about everyone –
Bush proponents and
critics alike – seems to agree on at least some of the following when it
comes to the experiment in "democracy" in Afghanistan: The country now qualifies,
to the Human Development Index in the UN's Human Development Report 2004,
as the sixth worst-off country on Earth, perched just above five absolute basket-case
nations (Burundi, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, and Sierra Leone) in sub-Saharan
Africa. The power of the new, democratically elected government of Hamid Karzai
extends only weakly beyond the outskirts of Kabul. Large swathes of Afghanistan
are still ruled by warlords and drug lords, or in some cases undoubtedly warlord/drug
lords; and while the Taliban was largely swept away, armed militias dominate
much of the country as they did after the Soviet withdrawal back in 1989. In
addition, a low-level guerrilla war is still being run by elements of the former
Taliban regime for which, in areas of the south, there is a
Women, outside a few cities, seem hardly better off than they were under the
Sonali Kolhatkar, co-director of the Afghan Women's Mission, told Amy Goodman
of Democracy Now!:
"We hear … about [how] five million girls are now going to school. It is
wonderful. When I was in Afghanistan, I noticed that in Kabul, certainly schools
were open, women were walking around fairly openly with not as much fear. Outside
of Kabul, where 80 percent of Afghans reside, totally different situation. There
are no schools. I visited the Farah province, which is a very isolated, remote
province in western Afghanistan, and there were no schools except for the one
school that Afghan Women's Mission is funding that is administered by our allies,
the members of RAWA. Aside from that one school for girls, there are no schools
in the region. And so we hear all of these very superficial things about how
great Afghan women are, you know, the progress they're making. The UN just released
a report recently on Afghanistan where they described Afghanistan's education
system as, quote, 'the worst in the world.' And, you know, we never hear that.
Our media, when they covered Laura Bush's trip, will not mention, will not do
their homework, and will not mention these facts."
According to the UN report, "Every 30 minutes a woman in Afghanistan dies from
pregnancy-related causes. … 20 percent of children die before the age of five
… [and] the poorest 30 percent of the population receive only 9 percent of the
national income, while the upper 30 percent receive 55 per cent."
Reconstruction throughout the country has been faltering; funds promised by
international bodies and states have not been delivered in anything like the
amounts agreed upon; the new Afghan National Army, being trained by the Americans,
is a weak reed when it comes to national (or local) security; most nongovernmental
aid organizations, many of which largely abandoned the country because it was
so perilous for their workers, have yet to return or are just barely testing
the waters again; and what economic growth there is seems to exist largely thanks
to the drug trade, which is said to account for
60 percent of the country's gross domestic product.
Having cornered most of the world's supply of opium poppies and a growing
slice of its heroin-production facilities, Afghanistan seems to be well on the
way to becoming the globe's narco-state par excellence. It has "bumper harvests
that far exceed even the most alarming predictions," according to "senior Pentagon
officials" quoted by Thom
Shanker of the New York Times.
Paul Rogers, the canny geopolitical analyst for
the OpenDemocracy Web site, sums the situation up this way:
"Afghanistan is returning to levels of production typical of the chaotic
period after the withdrawal of Soviet military forces in 1989. According to
United Nations sources, opium poppy cultivation from 2003-04 increased by 64
percent; around 120,000 hectares (300,000 acres) are now under cultivation.
The most recent UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) report, 'Afghanistan: Opium
Survey 2004,' finds that Afghanistan now accounts for 87percent of the world's
illegal production of opium. … On the basis of the 2004 estimate, 2.3 million
people in over 330,000 households are involved in production, 10 percent of
the Afghan population."
According to the Times' Shanker, "One military officer who has served
in Afghanistan gave a more pointed assessment: 'What will be history's judgment
on our nation-building mission in Afghanistan if the nation we leave behind
is Colombia' of the 1990s?" It's an apt analogy, though economically Colombia
looks like paradise compared to Afghanistan. Until recently, the Pentagon actively
resisted in any way interfering in the burgeoning drug trade – in part, undoubtedly,
because it was funding local warlords involved in the trade. The recent organized
murder (on the eve of his departure from the country) of a British development
specialist, Steven MacQueen,
who had been involved in a small-scale project to wean Afghan farmers from opium
growing, was but one ominous sign of the direction the new democracy seems to
The Karzai government is weak indeed. Parliamentary elections have just been
postponed for the third time – until September. Warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum,
the new defense minister, is probably a bona fide war criminal (and former American
ally) with 30,000 militia under his command. And this is but to scratch the
surface of a nearly lawless land destroyed by decades of war against the Soviets,
of civil war among warlords, of war and rule by the Taliban, and of bombing
and invasion by the United States (which paid the Northern Alliance and other
warlords to do most of its war-fighting work for it and has been dealing with
the results of that decision ever since).
The Afghan story may, in many ways, be the saddest tale on Earth today, which,
given the role of the country in our recent history, may also make it the most
dangerous story around. Who now remembers a time in the 1950s and early '60s
when, in peaceful Cold War competition for influence with the Soviets, we were
building ranch-style houses near Kandahar in a country that had a middle class
and was reasonably prosperous? Today, it's as if that took place on the other
side of the moon. But let's not assume that everyone other than the drug lords
in Afghanistan is unhappy. Take the Bush administration and the Pentagon, for
Just the other day, Air
Force Brigadier General Jim Hunt gave an interview in which he announced
an $83 million upgrade for the two main U.S. bases in Afghanistan: Bagram Air
Base, north of Kabul, and Kandahar Air Field in the South. A new runway to be
built at Bagram will be part of a more general effort, said Hunt: "We are continuously
improving runways, taxiways, navigation aids, airfield lighting, billeting,
and other facilities to support our demanding mission."
The general offered some other figures relating to that mission: "150 U.S.
aircraft, including ground-attack jets and helicopter gunships as well as transport
and reconnaissance planes, were using 14 airfields around Afghanistan. Many
are close to the Pakistani border. Other planes such as B-1 bombers patrol over
Afghanistan without landing."
Strange, those 14 airfields, since in Iraq the U.S. has reportedly been building
up to 14 permanent bases (or "enduring camps"). You have to wonder whether
there's something in that number. In certain numerological systems, 14 is evidently
with "addiction." The question is: What exactly are America's airfield upgraders
and base builders addicted to?
Gen. Hunt typically explains the addiction, or mission, this way: "We will
continue to carry out the … mission for as long as necessary to secure a free
and democratic society for the people of Afghanistan." But here's the curious
thing: We're ramping up our air bases in Afghanistan at the very moment when
our generals are also claiming that the leftover guerrilla war being carried
out by Taliban remnants is on the wane. After another of those American drop-ins
on Hamid Karzai and his country, General Richard Myers, Chairman of the Joint
Chiefs, recently announced
from the relative safety of Kabul airport that Afghanistan was "secure"
("Security is very good throughout the country, exceptionally good"), even as
he suggested that "the United States is considering keeping long-term bases
here as it repositions its military forces around the world." In the process,
he also discussed what he and others politely call a future "strategic partnership"
between the Pentagon and Karzai's Afghanistan (which is a little like saying
that a lion and a mouse are considering forming an alliance).
In recent months, guerrilla attacks had indeed fallen off radically, though
a particularly fierce Afghan winter may in part have been responsible. As
spring arrives, the pace of the fighting seems again to be picking up somewhat.
Still, if you were considering Afghanistan in isolation, the logic of our generals
and officials might seem to indicate that, as the war against Taliban and al-Qaeda
remnants winds down, so should American troop strength and base positioning.
That on bases, at least, the opposite seems to be happening might lead you to
scratch your head – especially if your only source of information was our largely
in which the news is reported (when it is) more or less country by country and
days can pass before you run across a piece that includes, say, three or four
countries, much less discusses the actual geopolitical look of things. Throw
in the fact that Pentagon basing policy is considered an inside-the-paper story
for policy wonks and that U.S. bases – wherever located – are not considered
subjects worthy of significant coverage.
But, of course, our strategists in Washington pay notoriously little attention
to the press and, from the beginning, they've been thinking in the most global
of terms as they plan various ways to garrison the parts of the world – essentially,
its energy heartlands – that matter most to them. And if you turn, for instance,
to a striking piece in the Asia Times by Ramtanu Maitra, "U.S.
Scatters Bases to Control Eurasia," you can get a sense of what all
this Pentagon basing activity really adds up to. Maitra reports that a decision
to set up new U.S. military bases in Afghanistan – up to nine scattered across
six different provinces – was taken during Donald Rumsfeld's drop-in on Kabul
Airport in December. These small bases, expected to be small and "flexible,"
are to be part of a new American global-basing policy that "can be used in due
time as a springboard to assert a presence far beyond Afghanistan."
As Maitra points out, Senator John McCain, the number two Republican on the
Senate Armed Services Committee, while on a Kabul drop-in of his own and after
talks with Karzai, proclaimed himself committed to a "strategic partnership
that we believe must endure for many, many years" and assured reporters that
the "partnership" should include "permanent bases" for U.S. military forces.
(He later backtracked on the bases, his statement perhaps being a bit too blunt
for the moment.)
For our Afghan bases to make much sense, you have to consider, as well, those
14 (or so) permanent bases in Iraq, our many other Middle Eastern bases, our
full-scale access to three or more Pakistani military bases, our penetration
of the once off-limits former SSRs of Central Asia, including the use of an
air base in Uzbekistan and the setting up of a base for up to 3,000 U.S. troops
at Manas in impoverished Kyrgyzstan (where "the Tulip Revolution" has just ejected
a corrupt pro-Russian regime). In fact, you have to see that from Camp Bondsteel
in the former Yugoslavia to the Manas base at the edge of China, the United
States now effectively garrisons most of the heartland energy regions of the
As Maitra comments,
"Media reports coming out of the South Asian subcontinent point to a U.S.
intent that goes beyond bringing Afghanistan under control, to playing a determining
role in the vast Eurasian region. In fact, one can argue that the landing of
U.S. troops in Afghanistan in the winter of 2001 was a deliberate policy to
set up forward bases at the crossroads of three major areas: the Middle East,
Central Asia, and South Asia. Not only is the area energy-rich, but it is also
the meeting point of three growing powers – China, India, and Russia.
"On Feb. 23, the day after McCain called for 'permanent bases' in Afghanistan,
a senior political analyst and chief editor of the Kabul Journal, Mohammad
Hassan Wulasmal, said, 'The U.S. wants to dominate Iran, Uzbekistan, and China
by using Afghanistan as a military base.'"
Throw in our access to potential bases in the former Eastern European satellites
of the former Soviet Union (Romania and Bulgaria in particular) and you have
the Pentagon positioned in quite remarkable ways not just in relation to the
oil lands of the planet, but also in relation to our former superpower adversary.
People ordinarily say that the Soviet Union "fell" in 1990 as the Berlin Wall
came down, but in fact the Soviet Union has never stopped "falling." Susan
B. Glasser and Peter Baker, until recently Moscow bureau chiefs for the
Washington Post, quote "analysts" as now speaking of "'the second breakup
of the Soviet Union.' Some were even daring to ask the ultimate question: Could
Russia itself be next?"
Just in the last year, we've seen "the Rose Revolution" in Georgia, "the Orange
Revolution" in Ukraine, and now "the Tulip Revolution" in Kyrgyzstan, all heavily
financed and backed by groups funded by or connected to the U.S. government
and/or the Bush administration. As Pepe
Escobar of the Asia Times writes:
"The whole arsenal of U.S. foundations – National Endowment for Democracy,
International Republic Institute, Ifes, Eurasia Foundation, Internews, among
others – which fueled opposition movements in Serbia, Georgia. and Ukraine,
has also been deployed in Bishkek [Kyrgyzstan]. … Practically everything that
passes for civil society in Kyrgyzstan is financed by these U.S. foundations,
or by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). At least 170 non-governmental
organizations charged with development or promotion of democracy have been created
or sponsored by the Americans. The U.S. State Department has operated its own
independent printing house in Bishkek since 2002 – which means printing at least
60 different titles, including a bunch of fiery opposition newspapers. USAID
invested at least $2 million prior to the Kyrgyz elections – quite something
in a country where the average salary is $30 a month."
American policymakers have been aided greatly by the harsh and heavy-handed
rule of corrupt local leaders and by the crude politics of Russian President
Vladimir Putin who, in his attempt to protect the Russian "near abroad," has
positioned himself to fail in country after country. As Ian
Traynor of the British Guardian writes, "He has managed to maneuver
himself into the unenviable position of being identified as a not very effective
supporter and protector of unsavory regimes throughout the post-Soviet space."
And, of course, they have been aided by the genuine urge of peoples from Kyrgyzstan
to Ukraine not to be under the thumb of various Putin-style semi-autocrats –
(You could say, in a way, that the "near abroads" of both former superpowers
have been falling away for years now; for, in a similar manner, an urge to break
away and implement new forms of democratic and economic independence from Washington's
diktats has been evident in our former Latin American "backyard" – from Argentina
to Bolivia, Brazil to Venezuela – the difference being that the Latin American
version of this has lacked the funds from a distant superpower.)
The result of all this has been that, with the exception of Belarus and Siberia,
Russia has been pushed back into something reminiscent perhaps of its borders
several centuries ago. This has to be a dream result for former anti-Soviet
cold warriors like Dick Cheney and Condi Rice. After all, they've accomplished
what even the most rabid Cold Warriors of the early 1950s could only have dreamed
of. They have turned "containment" into "rollback."
In the meantime, the Pentagon, firmly ensconced in an ever expanding set of
bases in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Central Asia, has Iran militarily
encircled. With approximately 160,000 troops (not counting mercenaries) and
all those planes and helicopters, it now occupies two countries right in the
oil and natural gas heartlands of the planet.
In fact, though their situations are many ways different, there are certain
(enforced) similarities between Iraq and Afghanistan. In neither country did
we arrive with an exit strategy, because in neither case did we plan on departing.
Both countries are ruled by exiles, effectively installed by us. Realistically
speaking, both the government in Baghdad's Green Zone and the one in Kabul are,
in the kindest of terms, "wards" of the United States. Both lack the ability
to defend themselves. The Iraqi government is essentially installed inside a
vast American military base and, as Maitra points out, "the inner core of Karzai's
security is run by the U.S. State Department with personnel provided by private
contractors." (As a little thought experiment, try to imagine this in reverse.
What would we make of an American president whose Secret Service was made up
of foreigners hired by the government of Hamid Karzai?)
In both countries, democratic elections of a sort were conducted not just under
the gaze of, but under the actual guns of, the occupiers (though when it comes
to the Syrian occupation of Lebanon, the Bush administration quite correctly
insists that democratic elections shouldn't be run in an occupied country).
Above all, in both countries, the Bush administration is eager for a "strategic
partnership," which means that its officials are eager to remain free to act
beyond anyone's laws, in any manner of their choosing, and with almost complete
In recent months, the best news reporting on Afghanistan
has focused on the detention and jailing practices of Americans in that country
and has been based largely on limited investigations conducted by one or another
part of our government. A December Washington Post piece by R. Jeffrey
Cites Problems at U.S. Jails in Afghanistan"), while discussing "a
wide range of shortcomings in the military's handling of prisoners in
Afghanistan," managed to mention that we have "roughly two dozen" (count 'em:
24) prisons in that country. Smith's piece began:
"A recent classified assessment of U.S. military detention facilities in
Afghanistan found that they have been plagued by many of the problems that existed
at military prisons in Iraq, including weak or nonexistent guidance for interrogators,
creating what the assessment described as an 'opportunity' for prisoner abuse."
In such pieces, there are always "shortcomings" in American practices or dangerous
"opportunities" still available for "abuse." (The word "torture" is
seldom used in the U.S. media in such situations). The major abuses almost invariably
turn out to have been largely over by the time the investigation being reported
on took place. The Smith piece ends typically: "U.S. forces have 'tightened
up procedures for training up our people to handle and care for the prisoners,'
Keeton said. They now have standard operating procedures in place, she said,
and mechanisms to enforce them." All of which proves true until the next batch
of horrors pours out.
A recent Dana Priest piece for the Post ("CIA
Avoids Scrutiny of Detainee Treatment") on long-past crimes against
Afghans has a similar flavor. ("The CIA's inspector general is investigating
at least half a dozen allegations of serious abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan,
including two previously reported deaths in Iraq, one in Afghanistan, and the
death at the Salt Pit, U.S. officials said. A CIA spokesman said yesterday that
the agency actively pursues allegations of misconduct.") Such acts (or crimes)
are normally dealt with in the American press as individual cases – just as
recently stories of the various "extraordinary renditions," global kidnappings
of terror suspects, and the like, many of whom then passed through Afghan jails,
have trickled out largely as individual tales of terror and mistreatment, even
if sometimes then toted up. They are essentially part of what really is the
"bad apple" school of journalism, largely based on various military or official
investigations of what the military, intelligence agencies, and the Bush administration
To see the larger patterns in this you usually have to look elsewhere. For
instance, Emily Bazelon of Mother Jones magazine had this to say ("From
Bagram to Abu Ghraib"):
"Hundreds of prisoners have come forward, often reluctantly, offering accounts
of harsh interrogation techniques including sexual brutality, beatings, and
other methods designed to humiliate and inflict physical pain. At least eight
detainees are known to have died in U.S. custody in Afghanistan, and in at least
two cases military officials ruled that the deaths were homicides. Many of the
incidents were known to U.S. officials long before the Abu Ghraib scandal erupted;
yet instead of disciplining those involved, the Pentagon transferred key personnel
from Afghanistan to the Iraqi prison. … Even now, with the attention of the
media and Congress focused on Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, the problems in Afghanistan
seem to be continuing."
As it turns out, the problems are indeed continuing and in a form that simply
cannot be read about in the mainstream media in this country. Adrian Levy and
Cathy Scott-Clark went to Afghanistan for the British Guardian and traveled
the country investigating American detention practices to produce a piece, "One
Huge U.S. Jail," that really should be read in full by every American.
They do what any good reporter should do: They attempt to put together the pieces
of the jigsaw puzzle, take in the overall picture, and then draw the necessary
They start by saying, "Washington likes to hold up Afghanistan as an exemplar
of how a rogue regime can be replaced by democracy. Meanwhile, human-rights
activists and Afghan politicians have accused the U.S. military of placing Afghanistan
at the hub of a global system of detention centers where prisoners are held
incommunicado and allegedly subjected to torture." Then, based on their own
investigations, Levy and Scott-Clark lay out the geography of detention in America's
"Prisoner transports crisscross the country between a proliferating network
of detention facilities. In addition to the camps in Gardez, there are thought
to be U.S. holding facilities in the cities of Khost, Asadabad and Jalalabad,
as well as an official U.S. detention center in Kandahar, where the tough regime
has been nicknamed 'Camp Slappy' by former prisoners. There are 20 more facilities
in outlying U.S. compounds and fire bases that complement a major 'collection
center' at Bagram air force base. The CIA has one facility at Bagram and another,
known as the 'Salt Pit,' in an abandoned brick factory north of Kabul. More
than 1,500 prisoners from Afghanistan and many other countries are thought to
be held in such jails, although no one knows for sure because the U.S. military
declines to comment."
They conclude that – U.S. courts having made Bush administration detention
centers in Guantanamo, Cuba, vulnerable to potential prosecution – "what has
been glimpsed in Afghanistan is a radical plan to replace Guantanamo Bay … [as
an] offshore gulag – beyond the reach of the U.S. Constitution and even the
Geneva conventions." They add:
"However, many Afghans who celebrated the fall of the Taliban have long
lost faith in the U.S. military. In Kabul, Nader Nadery, of the Human Rights
Commission, told us, 'Afghanistan is being transformed into an enormous U.S.
jail. What we have here is a military strategy that has spawned serious human
rights abuses, a system of which Afghanistan is but one part.' In the past 18
months, the commission has logged more than 800 allegations of human rights
abuses committed by U.S. troops."
The Great Game
In the current Great Game of armed geopolitical
chess the Bush administration is playing, it's not quite clear who is on the
other side. Is it Vladimir Putin and his desire to create a new, more modest
version of the Soviet Union? Is it China – or rather, the anticipation of a
future oil-crazed Chinese move into the region? Is it largely to isolate Iran
and finally create American-style regime change there? Or is it all of the above?
Speaking of Russian-American competition, it has, it seems, become modish for
American officials from our secretary of defense to assorted generals to brag
that, in Afghanistan, we did in weeks what the Soviets couldn't do in years.
What the Soviets couldn't do in years, of course, was successfully conquer Afghanistan.
(Despite present appearances, needless to say, it's not yet clear that the Bush
administration has done so either.)
This seems to me a bizarre, yet telling expression of American imperial pride;
even a reasonable description of Afghan realities, as seen from Washington.
After all, the Soviets too swore they were "liberating" the Afghans from an
oppressive way of life as they staked their imperial claim on the country back
in the late 1970s. In fact, the largest American base in Afghanistan, Bagram
Air Base, is often referred to in the press as "the former Soviet base." If,
to put this in context, we went back to the Soviet period and observed Soviet
troops in Afghanistan doing what American troops are now doing (as, in fact,
they did, right down to the grim detention centers), we would certainly have
employed terms other than "democracy" or even "strategic partnership" to describe
what was going on.
It may be the case that Afghanistan will prove the perfect Bush "democracy."
It had an election and sooner or later will undoubtedly have more of them. Its
resulting government remains weak, malleable, and completely dependent on American
forces. The U.S. military and our intelligence services have had a free hand
in setting up various detention centers, prisons, and holding camps (where anything
goes and no law rules) that add up to a foreign mini-gulag stuffed with prisoners,
many not Afghan, beyond the reach of any court. Our 14 airfields and growing
network of bases and outposts are now to be "upgraded" as part of a "strategic
partnership" with an Afghan government that we put into power and largely control.
These bases, in turn, should serve as a launching pad for controlling the larger
region, and the detention and torture centers as suitable places for the unruly
of the area. Afghanistan, in short, is in the process of becoming an electoral-narco-gulag-permanent-base
dependency, and so qualifies as a model democracy, suitable to be spread far
If you wanted to come up with a little formula for what's happened, you might
put it this way:
American freedom of action
American air bases
So the Afghanis go to hell while making drugs their export of choice; the Bush
administration gets its bases; and if you happen to be one of the American conquerors
of that benighted land, you don't return home to parade down a major thoroughfare
in your chariot with your war booty and slaves before you (and a slave by your
ear whispering about the vanity of conquerors) à la the Romans, but you
do get an American version of the same. You can go out on the lecture circuit
and make a fortune, or become a play-by-play TV commentator for the next American
war to come down the pike, or if you're Tommy Franks, former Centcom commander
and victorious general in our Afghan border war, you might be
"tabbed to join the board of directors of Outback Steakhouse Inc." with
a modest $60,000 annual compensation (plus expenses and fees). Could life be
sweeter – or meatier? Could Outback Franks be next? Will Outback open
a Bagram outlet? Stay tuned as geopolitics meets the chain restaurant.