Monday, August 31, 2009
Time to Turn Back the Tide of Afghan Defeatism
Murray Dobbin crows about "failure" of democracy in Afghanistan
In the "Saving Private Brian" episode of Family Guy, Brian and Stewie are trying to get out of enlisted service in Iraq -- an enlistment that is actually illegal, as Stewie is a baby and Brian is a dog -- by intentionally shooting each other in the foot and calling it an accident.
Even after Stewie and Brian are told that they're out of luck, as being wounded isn't enough to be sent home, their fortune drastically turns. Democracy kicks in.
Suddenly, a human pyramid of Iraqi prisoners collapses into a laughing pile of identical fratboys. Terrorists filming the beheading an American prisoner become barbers instead administering a shave. Burka wearing women transform into trampy women working a bikini carwash, spraying each others' chests while they make out.
Seth MacFarlane's message is a simple one: the notion that democracy will magically and automatically heal all the ills of Iraq is a silly notion.
Meanwhile, in an op/ed column appearing in both The Tyee and the ideologically parochial Rabble.ca, Murray Dobbin insists that the outcome of the Afghan election is actually meaningless. He insists that American aid provided to the Mujahideen during the Soviet occupation of the country rendered democracy impossible, and that the United States has undermined Afghan democracy because an independant and secular democracy in Afghanistan would surely thwart American imperialist ambitions.
In a particularly revelatory turn, Dobbin even goes so far as to open his column with a quote from Karl Marx.
The complaints of people like Dobbin -- that a perfect democracy has, as yet, failed to emerge in Afghanistan -- are every bit as silly as the rosy visions of a post-democratic Iraqi miracle that MacFarlane critiques.
Dobbin trots out numerous polls -- suggesting that, among other things, Americans don't agree that they're winning the war in Afghanistan, that Americans want a troop decrease, and that Americans do not believe that the Afghan election will produce an "effective government" -- to support his argument that introducing democracy in Afghanistan is a lost cause.
But for someone who clearly fancies himself a historian, Dobbin is uniquely ignorant to history.
Nowhere in the world, in all of history, has a functional and vibrant democracy popped up overnight. Ever.
Even in the United States -- if one were to take that to be a rough model for democracy -- the early years of the union were marred by an ineffective federal government. At one point in early American history, the state of Maryland threatened to secede from the Union because the other states refused to help them quell various militia uprisings.
Even the establishment of British democracy was marked by civil war between King Charles I and Oliver Cromwell. History speaks for itself -- even Cromwell's victory, on behalf of Parliament and at the head of the new model army resulted in what was actually a military dictatorship under Cromwell. A fully-developed British democracy was still centuries of incremental change away.
Likewise, a fully-developed, fully-functioning democracy in the western model is a long way -- likely a very long way -- away in Afghanistan. That there is not yet such a democracy in Afghanistan is not a failure, and it doesn't mean we should abandon Afghans to their own devices and to the tender mercies of the Taliban.
Rather, it means that the western world needs to afford Afghan democracy time and space in which to grow.
In Fear's Empire, Benjamin Barber reminds us that a democracy imposed by an outside power -- at least, as this author would add, without domestic support for it -- is not truly a democracy. The same goes for a democracy in which the form of that democracy is imposed.
The democracy in Afghanistan may not resemble a western democracy as closely as we would like. But nearly every western democracy in existence today has grown and taken form over a matter of literally centuries. The slow development of the Afghan state is not sufficient excuse to abandon it.
One should recall that Americans once wrote off Iraq as a lost cause as well. But improvements over the past two years in Iraqi stability show that insurgencies -- even insurgencies as determined as the Taliban and their allies -- can be fought, contained and, given the right mixture of time and determination, defeated.
As Hugh Segal would remind us, the costs of abandoning Afghanistan are great, and would expand beyond Afghanistan into Pakistan and even India. It cannot be allowed to happen, no matter how utterly indifferent individuals like Dobbin seem to be in regards to whether or not it does.
The defeatism of Dobbin and his contemporaries requires that we ignore successes and pay attention only to the challenges and setbacks in Afghanistan. But considering that they don't have a credible frame of reference from the very beginning of their critique, there is very little reason to give their criticisms any more credit than their thinly-veiled conspiracy theories are due.
Democracy is not a magical panacea that will solve every problem Afghanistan faces. Nor should defeatists like Murray Dobbin be allowed to denigrate efforts there on the basis that it hasn't sprung up overnight.