Although talk about Afghanistan dominated the media and international politics, the hot topic of the US and its position regarding the allies was also discussed. BBC Arabic has dedicated a program to discuss this issue for days under a slogan borrowed from late Egyptian President Muhammad Hosni Mubarak, “America’s support is unreliable,” as a metaphor for the US’ abandonment of its allies.
No one knows exactly if he actually said that, or whether it was an uttered notion under the pressure of circumstances. No one remembered that the man was an ally for more than three successful decades. The saying was more widespread among America’s opponents, who had not spared the Gulf states, as if those states had the exact same relationship with the US! Meanwhile, the chaotic exit from Afghanistan made the idea of “America’s weakness in the world” a real given to some, and many forces thought that the Afghanistan model could be repeated. Repeating the model is a fantasy, each experience has its own specificity, Afghanistan is not Vietnam and the latter is not Iraq. It also differs from the previous experiences in Germany and Japan after World War II.
Through analyzing experiences, we can see some of the gaps that have led to the situation at hand. Success in Germany and Japan has been researched in many studies, and it was agreed that Germany is similar to the Western experience in development and culture, so there was little effort to put it on the path to advancement despite the difficult beginnings. The Marshall Plan, also known as the European Recovery Program, the brainchild of General George Marshall, Chief of Staff of the army during World War II and then the US Secretary of State, had the biggest role in the German recovery.
In Japan, General Douglas MacArthur hired a number of sociologists to understand the Japanese society, led by anthropologist Ruth Benedict, who developed the theory of self-sufficiency related to the national character, which she called order and calm, followed by her book Chrysanthemum and the Sword: Patterns of Japanese Culture. In contrast, Paul Bremer, who was appointed as the head of the Coalition’s Provisional Authority in Iraq, had poor knowledge about other societies. He also headed a crisis study company whose chairman, Henry Kissinger, was a diplomat. This goes to show that Bremer’s appointment was closer to partisan rather than professional lines, so his disturbed decisions led to the collapse of Iraq, among other factors. Military leaders took over the mission in Japan and Germany (Europe) with experience and vision, while civilians managed Iraq theoretically.
Perhaps if we note the elements of change in approaching the issues imposed by global conflicts, we can see that the American democratic system in the last 25 years has been structurally flawed. Although it is said that democracy corrects its mistakes, mistakes have increased and the system has become more divisive and polarizing, such as a departing president who lost the election (Donald Trump) refusing to admit defeat, and even leaving the capital without handing over power to his successor, a rare scene that reveals the depth of the crisis, in addition to other piece of evidence proving this flaw. One can’t help but wonder about all the experience that was supposedly accumulated by the US institutions in Washington based on its abundant think tanks!
Ahead of the war to topple the Iraqi regime, one of those think tanks held an exploratory seminar in London about the next war in Iraq, which I attended. In the discussion, I talked about the importance of “the day after” debate, i.e., after the fall of the regime, but the organizers had another opinion, which is that it is not important! Western democracies have become trapped in poll results, and this maybe one of the indicators on the flaw in the system, but that’s not the only problem as most politicians in those democracies would like to believe. Hence, the inability to understand Afghan society was clear, and Donald Trump chose the easy solution to negotiate with the Taliban, even if it was behind the back of the elected government and the recognized legitimate representative.
President Joe Biden came next to implement the agreement, propelled by public pressure in his party to get rid of external burdens and pay attention to the domestic economic conditions. But so far, we have not answered the pivotal question: has the US’ ability to influence the world ended or not? Although some like a definitive yes or no answer, the right systematic tendency is not to give a categorical answer, especially in view of the US relationship with our Arab region, which is rife with contradictions and conflicts. The US is more likely to have partnerships that regulate the relationship and separate the strategic from the immediate and the urgent. The US is a major country and perhaps the most powerful one in the world today, which possesses the most destructive weapons, and is influential in several economic, political, military, and strategic issues. Perhaps by reviewing the Afghan experience, ideals could be separated and the efficiency of exporting the western model of politics and governance could be reflected upon. It does not necessarily apply to the experiences of other peoples with different cultures whose own model has evolved while retaining the outlines of civilized human dealing.
The Afghan issue is not yet over, it is now wide open, and with the announcement of the new government the possibility that the country will become a safe haven for international terrorism exists. It is not unlikely that an international or rather cosmic alliance will take place against its existing regime with the now-growing internal resistance, because its ability to transform and evolve is curtailed by its ideology and limited understanding of the Islamic law. The other scenario that has been talked about is the outbreak of a long-term civil war between the different ethnic, sectarian and cultural components, which will create a headache for the neighbors. So far, the whole issue is in the soft zone, and in the next few weeks the world will witness a different experience, everyone is worried about the Afghan developments because it’s different and scary for everyone.
The US Secretary of Defense’s urgent visit to the Gulf region carries more than the message of gratitude, it is a visit for rebuilding trust and affirming commitment.
This article was originally published in, and translated from, pan-Arab daily Al-Sharq al-Awsat.