While reading John Rash’s Jan. 11 column “Despite drawdown, Afghan stakes still high,” I wondered how many of the 57 percent of Americans mentioned who believe that prosecuting the Afghan War was “the wrong thing to do” have an understanding of America’s recent history in Afghanistan.
Rash linked the recent movie “Lone Survivor” to the current situation in Afghanistan. Another movie, “Charlie Wilson’s War,” tells the story of American Cold War politics and the use of the Afghan mujahedeen as a surrogate to resist the Soviet invasion and attempted occupation of Afghanistan during the 1980s.
After the 1988 Soviet pullout — precipitated, in large part, by the hundreds of millions of American dollars used to arm the resistance — there was no will in Washington to invest in a postwar Afghanistan. The resulting political vacuum was filled by the Taliban, which in turn gave sanctuary to a nascent Al-Qaida (including former mujahedeen members, most notably Osama bin Laden).
I suspect even less known among the American public is the CIA-engineered removal of democratically elected Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh in 1953 — the subject of the 2010 documentary “American Coup.” Mossadegh had angered petro-centric Western powers by nationalizing the Iranian oil industry. After his removal, a more compliant leader, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, was installed. Infamously, the brutal autocratic shah brought about the Iranian Revolution, which in turn placed the current theocracy in power — the leadership that has so vexed and frustrated Washington ever since.
Getting back to Afghanistan, Rash mentions that ranked last in a recent Pew poll of Americans’ top foreign policy priorities was “promoting democracy in other nations.”
Perhaps this is an indication that the public is coming to terms with the reality that domestically, the further away from local elections one gets, the further away from the democratic process one gets. This culminates at the highest level, where the two candidates who attract the most financial support from a select few entities face off nationally.
Perhaps Americans are beginning to understand that this mutation of “democracy” is not something that should be replicated anywhere. Or, more importantly, that “democracy” — even in its purest form — is not something one nation can export to another.
At any rate, Americans for decades have elected politicians whose agenda has been protecting the status quo even if that means ignoring public opinion. This has repeatedly involved misappropriation of resources — both monetary and military — in counterproductive ventures. These boondoggles have left the nation more — not less — vulnerable, creating new enemies around the globe while squandering resources that could be used to actually strengthen the nation (Infrastructure maintenance, anyone? National debt resolution, anyone?) and improve the lot of average citizens. This is an entirely bipartisan problem, recently demonstrated by the budget deal struck that restored full funding to the bloated and wasteful military-national security complex.
Afghanistan is just the most recent manifestation, raising the question: How long can our leadership continue to refuse to learn from the past before irrevocably compromising the future? Maybe someone will make a movie that examines this quandary.
Gene Case lives in Andover.