ballot box elixir

The absurd expectation heaped on Afghanistan's election is a fig leaf for leaders seduced by the allure of military power

An excellent article from Simon Jenkins in The Guardian who labels the attitude of western leaders toward elections in Afghanistan as liberal arrogance. I loved he article. Jenkins is saying loud what many of us are thinking. Believe me, this is the obituary of liberalism, and it is such a pity that we should end up emptying our values and most of all our democratic values from their substance just to satisfy our imperial hubris...
Why can't Afghanistan be more like Sweden? It is insufferable that this miserable statelet can reject liberal democracy despite the efforts of 70,000 Nato and NGO staff kicking their heels in Kabul's dust for eight years. We have blown $230bn of US and UK taxpayers' money and left 1,463 soldiers dead. Everything has been tried, from gender awareness courses to carpet-bombing Tora Bora. Thousands of Afghans have been massacred. Yet still the wretches won't co-operate. They even fiddle elections.

That sums up the west's response to the election staged last August by the Afghan ruler, Hamid Karzai. His decision yesterday to run a second round in two weeks has been greeted in Washington and London with an outburst of relieved congratulation. He may have had no option, but he had been raining on Nato's parade.

The abuse and now the expectation heaped on this presidential election are absurd. It is as if Kandahar were a precinct of Boston or a ward of Sutton and Cheam. In a country awash with guns, drug lords, suicide bombers, aid theft and massive corruption, that a few ballot boxes might have been stuffed and returning officers suborned hardly qualifies as indictable crime. The fact that Karzai has been able to win any sort of legitimacy is amazing, with the Taliban controlling half the provincial districts and Nato incompetence reducing turnout in the south to somewhere near 5%.

Nato and the UN were warned well in advance that the election would be rigged, yet their synthetic fury and that of the western media led to the sacking of a capable UN official. The rigging has frozen a decision on reinforcements by Washington's national security council, plunging troops at the front into greater danger. And why? The US would have better deployed its dominance in Kabul by demanding a coalition government rather than another costly election.

Power in a dysfunctional state seldom lies with any representative of the majority. Ever since Washington flew Karzai back to Kabul in 2002, he has received billions of dollars in aid money, which he has shrewdly used to barter deals with tribal chiefs and provincial commanders. Afghanistan has never enjoyed unified central government, but what it has emanates from Karzai's status as agent for the occupying power. If America is content for him to squander money on clinging to power, bribing Taliban and fuelling a narco-economy, why is it so fastidious about election rigging?

The answer, of course, lies not in Afghanistan but in Washington and London. This war, like all hopeless wars, is haemorrhaging popularity. From the moment Obama adopted Afghanistan as "his war" and allowed himself to be led by David Petraeus – that most dangerous of generals, a clever strategist – he was engulfed by the siren call of glory. He is now truly trapped.

Since glory resolutely refuses to show her face, American voters must be given a proxy. It is that they are rescuing the Afghans from their worse selves by "being given democracy", much as Victorian Britons gave them God and the Queen. It was compensation for Kipling's white man's burden, and its "old reward: / The blame of those ye better, / The hate of those ye guard".

If Osama bin Laden cannot be found, if the Taliban cannot be eliminated, if troops cannot be withdrawn, if victory cannot be declared, then western leaders must find a reason for soldiers to die. Like Crusaders of old, they are told to die for the sacrament of a holy grail, in this case the franchise. Therefore it must not be desecrated by dodgy registers, fabricated returns and bought voters' lists.

It does not matter to the British people how the Afghans choose to conduct an election. It does not matter how one of the poorest countries in the world chooses to govern itself under the UN charter of self-determination. Few elections outside western democracies bear much scrutiny. We still hold our noses and deal with Iran, Kenya, Zimbabwe and Russia.

The excuse that we are preventing another 9/11 is ludicrously thin. That event, whose plotting and training were in Europe and America, will cause the US to spend what Congress puts at a staggering $1.3 trillion in wars and related security by 2019. And still no one has arrested Bin Laden. It must be the most extravagant punitive expedition to the Asian mainland since Agamemnon set off for Troy.

The impact on international affairs has been devastating. British foreign secretaries – not least David Miliband – strut the press conferences of the world declaring "what we want to see" in regimes that are no business of Britain. In a BBC interview yesterday, the former Lib Dem leader Paddy Ashdown spoke of what "we" should do in Afghanistan as if it were in his old Somerset constituency. Every inch the liberal imperialist, he seemed to think we owned it.

We need look no further for an answer to the question posed by the American pundit Richard Haass. Surveying the wreckage of the Clinton/Bush/Blair years last summer, he asked why the west had squandered the legacy of its victory over communism. It had shifted Russia from humiliating defeat to chauvinist belligerence. It had antagonised half the Muslim world. It had left Europe squabbling and protectionist. China had risen to astonishing commercial power. America had beggared itself with military spending. In sum, the architects of victory had shot themselves in the foot.

The west is not under any threat that remotely justifies this wreckage. Instead, weak politicians, bored by domestic ills, have seized on any passing threat to boost their standing at home by fighting small wars abroad and making them big. That Obama should dash his store of popularity against the mud walls of Kabul is astonishing; no less so that Brown, not a stupid man, should insult his voters by declaring that "the safety of the streets" requires soldiers to die in their hundreds in Helmand.

Western leaders seem unable to resist the seduction of military power. They think that, because they could defeat communism and fly to the moon, they can get any poverty-stricken, tin-pot country to do what the west decides is best for it. They grasp at nation-building, that make-work scheme of internationalism against which any people, however pathetic, are bound to fight. All is hubris. The arrogance of empire has mutated into the arrogance of liberalism.


Gert said...

Wow. There isn't a syllable in Simon Jenkins' article I could disagree with. Must start reading parts of the Guardian again...

Sophia said...


I agree with you about Jenkins and about The Guardian.

Anonymous said...

Sophia - your cynicism makes you blind to real progressin Afghanistan.

Do you care at all about a woman's right to college education or to vote? Do you think women should be forced to wear a burka?

All you can do is put down USA without any constructive criticism.

Gert said...


"Do you care at all about a woman's right to college education or to vote? Do you think women should be forced to wear a burka?"

At the end of the day the Afghans will have to figure out their own way of life and build their own Nation State. Or do you believe the WASP and Zionist controlled US Congress and Senate have the right to impose their will on the people of Afghanistan?

Anonymous said...

why can't the USA be more like Sweden or Canada, who do nothing while Iran and the Arab world demonize Israel? That darn USA gets in the way of the Arab world finishing Hitler's job. Oh right, you think the Holocaust did not occur.

Elizabeth said...

I have been thinking the same thing about the Afghan election. It's amazing they had an election at all, and even if there was fraud, a lot of people support Karzai even if he is corrupt, there are reasons why he has been in power, and as the author points out, we deal all the time with countries with fraudulent or corrupt rulers so why be so picky about Afghanistan? come to think of it, Bush was elected in basically a fraud. And another election will just put the citizenry at risk again.

On the other hand, I think the author is glossing over some realities. The US isn't in Afghanistan because of some imperialist delusion or because of a liberal delusion, but because ann attack against the US was plotted by people who were based in Afghanistan. The Taliban are an extremist cult and I'm not at all sure that they will be content to mind their own business if back in power and furthermore, there is no reason not to think that they would again welcome the money etc. that other extremists would bestow on them in order to base their training camps in Afghanistan. Not to mention the instability of Pakistan and what the end result of that might look like. There is a great deal that could go wrong if the West just picked up and left Afghanistan and tried to pretend it didn't exist. And then there's the fact that most Afghans do not support the Taliban and if the Taliban is back in power, they will basically take the country back to the Stone Age and can we really allow this to occur? I think it is a bit silly to write off Afghanistan by saying "it's up to them what they want to do" when we all know that if the Western powers leave, self-determination by the Afghan people is NOT what will spring up in our absence.

Sophia said...


You write: ''The US isn't in Afghanistan because of some imperialist delusion or because of a liberal delusion, but because ann attack against the US was plotted by people who were based in Afghanistan.'' May I remind you that the US did not go to Afghanistan in the first place but to Iraq, and when the pressure mounted over the US to leave Iraq, Afghanistan became a priority, 5 years later after sept.11th attack. So I do agree with the author of the article for this reason: the reasons advanced for invading such and such a country are a cover. Read also Naomi Klein's latest where she explains how the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are essentially imperialistic wars.

Wolfie said...

Good lord, something worth reading in the Guardian. What a day to remember.

Lets hope that this truly the death throws of liberalism because its become the new totalitarianism. I wouldn't however give so much credence to the Klein proposition. Once upon a time empires dreamed of dominating the world in an imperialistic model. Now Neo-liberals dream of dominating the world with their liberal/socialist models with their oligarch corporate friends in tow. Both these positions are hubris and folly.

Sophia said...


Thanks for visiting despite your time out. Hope everything is OK.

Wolfie said...

Thank you Sophia. Things are still quite difficult for us but I do also have new responsibilities and joy.

Sophia said...

Dear Wolfie,

Thanks for the link. She is gorgeous, she has beautiful eyes. The mother is radiant ! Lucky you !

Give my best to your family !

Since March 29th 2006