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Bernard-Henri Lévy

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In Afghanistan, Between Plague and Cholera, There's Dr. Abdullah

Posted: 03/13/2012 9:01 am

It's been ten years, almost to the day, since I returned from Afghanistan with the "Report" Jacques Chirac, Lionel Jospin and Hubert Védrine had commissioned, in which I described the possible contribution of France to the political, civic, cultural and military reconstruction of this country ruined by decades of dictatorship, war, and massacres.

Obviously, I shall not go into the details here of the recommendations I made then.

Nor shall I dwell on the long series of errors committed by an international community that never should have blindly depended upon the corrupt government of Hamid Karzai; nor negotiated with the fascist Taliban it had come to combat and, in principle, exclude from power; nor, finally -- undoubtedly the most blatant error -- announced so soon, with great fanfare, the date when it would withdraw its troops, in 2014.

Today, what is most important is the result.

And it must be said, the result is increasingly catastrophic.

The business of the Korans that were burnt in the rubbish collection site of Bagram Air Base, north of Kabul.

The criminal spree of this American soldier who cold-bloodedly murdered sixteen people, including nine children, in three villages of the Panjwai district, near Kandahar.

This 'Kurtz syndrome' that seems to threaten a however clearly small number of soldiers, driven, like Conrad's hero in Heart of Darkness, to the end of their tether by this war without a front or a visible enemy, whose stakes are elusive, and in which yesterday's friend can, without warning, become today's or tomorrow's enemy.

And, at the end of the day, the terrible paradox of an army of liberation, increasingly hated by the very people it wished to liberate.

Or, worse still: this growing fringe of the population who -- occupation for occupation -- may well end up preferring the "home made" occupation of the Taliban.

And, instead of a pacified country on the path to democracy we dreamed of leaving to the Afghans, a tragic situation, literally and figuratively, where all solutions -- as in Hegel's definition of the Tragic in his meditation on Antigone -- prove equally disastrous.

Leave there, immediately, even before the end of 2014, the projected date? An admission of failure and impotence. Ten years of sacrifice, ending in a farce. And the quasi-certainty of seeing Mullah Omar's men return as soon as we leave.

Stay? Prolong our presence beyond the deadline of 2014? Difficult, considering the human cost in the ranks of the Coalition of a war that has, after all, claimed the lives of over a thousand Americans, 404 Englishmen, 52 Germans, 36 Italians and 29 Frenchmen. Even impossible when it is the very people involved who don't want us there anymore and see us, more and more often, as the Iraqis and the South Vietnamese before them finally perceived the American troops who had initially come with intentions that were not always bad.

Go and stay? Withdraw combat troops but leave the military bases and instructors ? This is what was planned. But even this minimal presence could be reconsidered if the hatred of America, the auto-demonization of the Coalition, product of its own abuses, should continue to expand. (Sometimes I wonder if America and its wars of liberation, all of which, with the exception of the war against Naziism, have turned out so badly, might exist under a blighted star.)

And then?

Then, the nature of a tragic situation is such that there is, I repeat, no way out -- or in any case, no miracle solution.

But at least one can dream of one or two ideas.

Beginning with this one, which I have defended for years.

Admit that Afghanistan cannot be reduced, for all that, to a desperate confrontation between the Taliban killers and the corrupt members of Karzai's regime.

Learn to count to three, in other words, to this third force which is the democratic opposition to both of them, incarnate in the man -- Abdullah Abdullah, Commandant Massoud's former lieutenant -- who, during the blatantly fraudulent elections of 2009, managed nonetheless to garner over 30% of the ballots cast.

Remember, in other terms, that if the Tragic is one of History's laws, it does not necessarily always constitute the last word -- and that it happens that courage, just courage which is imagination by another name, succeeds in loosening the vice.

In Kabul, between the failed regimes we continue to support, through obstination and laziness, and the Taliban assassins we hire, through sheer stupidity, to make the beds, there are, then, the heirs of Massoud.

And perhaps before we pull up the ladder, it would be advisable to try to turn to them, in an ultimate attempt, a last-chance operation.

Abdullah Abdullah...

Remember this name.

Recall it, if you have forgotten it.

For Afghanistan and its friends, it is perhaps the very last card left to play.