The US aims in Iraq and Afghanistan always seem to have as a bottom line the establishment of a functioning democracy. In Afghanistan there is also an added objective that frees women from previous customs of abuse and provides secular education for the citizenry. We also seek to avoid “nation-building” for a variety of reasons of which the most politically compelling is the desire to avoid long-term involvements similar to those we undertook in Europe after World War II. Our aims seem obviously desirable to us, beyond dispute.
But what if the people of Afghanistan and in some part, the people of Iraq, find them disputable and at odds with their deeply held beliefs and traditions? Presumably we would continue or re-institute the fight in either or both countries if we had not achieved our aims or they proved quickly abandoned after we left. And, if we did that, we would be involved in “nation-building” again, perhaps on a larger scale and for a longer time than in Europe.
My point is that our aims may be contradictory; without “nation-building” democracy, women’s rights, universal secular education may be unachievable. We may have set ourselves up to fail, independent of any action by Al Qaeda, the Taliban, or Iran’s interest.
We have involved ourselves in two traditional societies: Iraq is less so but the influence of religious affiliations in both Iraq and Afghanistan pervades many areas of public policy and that influence is long-standing. Our influence has been transient, however powerful. Both countries look forward to our leaving. It is difficult to avoid thinking that among the leaders, that eagerness for our departure is not so they can get back to doing things the way they have done before we forced them to do them our way.
Addendum: Today, April 23, 2010, the Washington Post carried this story that could hardly crystallize my point better: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/04/22/AR2010042206227.html?wpisrc=nl_cuzhead