What We Owe Afghanistan

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Taylor Marsh Political writer and cultural voyeur, author and speaker.

Earlier in the week we found out that a former Marine and Foreign Service officer resigned over Obama's Afghan strategy, even as the President is about to announce his future plans for the U.S. mission in Afghanistan. Matthew Hoh isn't waiting, because none of it, as far as he's concerned, makes any sense. Hoh simply doesn't believe in where the U.S. mission has been and where Obama is about to take the U.S. mission in Afghanistan. ...and this is before the bombshell news that Bush-Cheney authorized the CIA to start paying Karzai's corrupt brother, with Pres. Obama continuing the practice, according to a report today in the New York Times.

No doubt all of this will fuel people who want to withdraw, even as I disagree, which I've written about for years, going back into the 1990s, when Mavis Leno was championing the plight of Afghan women. However, when Hoh says, "But you have to draw the line somewhere, and say this is their problem to solve," I absolutely agree with him. But as it now stands, the Afghan women are worse off today than they were when the Taliban reigned. We cannot leave it at that or Afghanistan will be more than a corrupt mess, because no country can stabilize with the women of that country being gang raped, reduced as property and held under lock and key. It's also because we owe the Afghans. After all, it was Carter who authorized the first funding that begat Reagan's partnership with Zia that begat the mujahadeen that begat William Casey's obsessions that begat, and on and on, until Bush invaded after 9/11, then left Afghanistan to fester so he could preemptively invade Iraq, that became the miserable mess that was dropped in Pres. Obama's lap.

Hoh also believes in more emphasis on Pakistan, on which no expert I've heard or talked to disagrees. Sect. Clinton made an under the radar trip to Pakistan today and was greeted by a horrific car bombing that killed scores.

One of the biggest obstacles in Afghanistan is Pres. Karzai, a man who is the women of Afghanistan's enemy and proved it conclusively with the Marital Rape Law he championed that turned into an international incident. The news about the possible relationship between his brother and the CIA makes matters worse and also gives you a picture of what the women are living under. Ann Jones writes regularly for The Nation, reporting on the plight of Afghan women, among other issues. Her piece last week covered ground I've heard many times before, while bringing home a critical point that needs to be highlighted over and over again, which I covered on the NAF event featuring David Loyn. It focuses on Afghan aid. Jones:

Today, most American so-called development aid is delivered not by USAID, but by the military itself through a system of Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs), another faulty idea of former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Soldiers, unqualified as aid workers and already busy soldiering, now shmooze with village "elders" (often the wrong ones) and bring "development," usually a costly road convenient to the PRT base, impossible for Afghans to maintain and inaccessible to women locked up at home. Recent research conducted by respected Afghanistan hands found that this aid actually fuels "massive corruption"; it fails to win hearts and minds not because we spend too little but because we spend too much, too fast, without a clue. Meanwhile, the Taliban bring the things Afghans say they need-better security, better governance and quick, hard-edged justice. US government investigators are looking into allegations that aid funds appropriated for women's projects have been diverted to PRTs for this more important work of winning hearts and minds with tarmac. But the greatest problem with routing aid through the military is this: what passes for development is delivered from men to men, affirming in the strongest possible terms the misogynist conviction that women do not matter. You'll recognize it as the same belief that, in the Obama administration's strategic reappraisal of Afghanistan, pushed women off the table.

What Hoh and Jones and everyone else comes up against is that Afghanistan is worse today than it was. We've also unlocked the women's independence genie, which has unleashed misogyny that was once tightly bottled, because the men ruled with impunity, using religion as their shield. Without the West, the women of Afghanistan will suffer far more than they already have, with the country spiraling further down with them. Because, again, no country can survive the slaughter of women's rights and remain stable.

The other side of the knife is that it will take a very long time before Afghanistan will respect women on even a basic level: That their lives matter.

Sect. Hillary Clinton could be a powerful voice for Afghan women and girls. Yet the Obama administration obviously doesn't want to rock that boat, deeming the situation too volatile, with U.S. representatives from all quarters praising Karzai, which includes John Kerry. Meanwhile, the women and girls of Afghanistan go unmentioned on any serious note, especially where Karzai is concerned, even from progressives who are using the arguments that the violence is making things worse for women, without acknowledging what would happen if the U.S. pulled out and left the misogynistic mayhem to metastasize.

Karma is a bitch and she's looking for retribution. No, maybe it's closure. No. It's mercy.

We uncorked these forces. On all that's moral we cannot turn our backs. The hardest part is that it's not about more U.S. troops, even as we cannot think about withdrawing.

Taylor Marsh, with podcasts available on iTunes.