Jewish World Review June 17, 2002 / 7 Tamuz, 5762

David Warren

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Those darn American imperialists! | We are about to hear, I should think, some serious whining and squawking about the U.S. abandonment of Afghanistan. As ever, the Americans will take the heat, even though they will be the least culpable. The British are, as quietly as possible, abandoning their commitment to the international security force they led into Kabul some months ago. The other European contributors to the force, and the like-minded Turks, are ever-so-quietly following suit -- "like Arabs decamping in the desert", in the tried-and-true cliche.

At a time when the government of Hamid Karzai, with its tenuous hold on power, is begging everyone not only to stay, but to post fresh troops in all the other Afghan cities to impose some kind of civil order, our allies feel they have had enough. The German "peacekeepers" in Kabul probably decided they had had more than enough, when they found themselves under attack from delegates to the Loya Jirga, meeting in Kabul this last week.

"What kind of country is this, where even the people you're protecting attack you?" asked one plaintive German.

Yes, that would be Afghanistan, famous to memory. In the words of a senior representative of the British military, "History has taught us that Afghanistan is not a country to linger in." The British will leave behind a small strike force, of 100 or so, that will continue to hunt, alongside the Americans, for surviving cells of the Taliban and Al Qaeda. A rough job, but someone's got to do it, and we don't expect the Afghans to do it themselves.

For the hard truth, which should be constantly repeated, is that the U.S. and its allies did not go into Afghanistan to save the Afghans from themselves. We went in because our own lethal enemies -- the forces allied with Osama bin Laden -- were using Afghanistan for camps and sanctuary. We went in for the express purpose of annihilating them. If, in the course of doing this, we also did the Afghans a large favour, by deposing perhaps the most ruthless tyranny ever to have installed itself there, we may take a bow. But we do not require gratitude, for such an incidental gift.

We also opened the roads into Afghanistan for the shipment of desperately needed food and other aid, which we (in the West) continue to supply. We do that out of human decency, not from any grand strategic aim. And the brave individuals who volunteer to accompany and distribute these shipments will continue to be worthy of our admiration. Even at that, there is a hard question, whether these aid shipments ultimately do more harm than good, by giving the Afghans an alternative to creating their own food supply. Doesn't it just free up arable land to grow more poppies?

The maintenance of civil order within Afghanistan, is a job only Afghans can do; or fail to do, as will be more likely. They cannot reasonably expect outsiders to spill blood in this hopeless cause. We tried imperialism on for size in previous generations; we decided that it didn't fit, that we'd never again put on the hairshirt of "the white man's burden".

What we can do, in the words of a wise friend, is to "simply maintain a small highly mobile strike force, reinforced with good local intelligence, both HUMINT and SIGINT". We can watch, through human eyes on the ground, and high-tech eyes in ground, sea, air, and space. And in those unpleasant moments when we discern enemies of the Afghans who are also enemies of our own, we can call in air and commando strikes.

Again, we do this for our own motives, though we cannot help conferring some advantage upon the Afghans, each time we succeed in taking out another little nest of terrorists.

I began today's sermon by predicting the whines and squawks. These will come, almost entirely, from people on the "left" of our political spectrum. Now the strange truth, apparent only to those who know a little history, is that it is the same end of the spectrum that defended imperialism in former generations. That whole notion of "the white man's burden", which they hurl today with sneering contempt at people to be ostracized for their supposed racism, was invented in the first place by their nice, "liberal" ancestors.

The British Empire was a "liberal" kind of thing, especially in its last stages. As you may read from memoirs, as recently as the 1950s, its officers believed themselves to be bringing goodness and light to the poor benighted peoples of Africa and Asia. Once upon a time it was "Christianity" we were spreading, later, "democracy" and "the rule of law", then finally, as we ourselves began to lose our minds, hare-brained socialist schemes from the deluded graduates of that old, Fabian, London School of Economics. Very few of these plants grew -- indeed, only this last weed flourished -- when transplanted to other climes.

Christianity, democracy, the rule of law, indeed free markets, are things worth having, as we might attest; also motherhood, and apple pie. But none of them can be imposed, each must be freely chosen. All are things we chose for ourselves, over many centuries of trial and error.

It is our business to defend ourselves, however, when we ourselves come under attack. This is the meaning of "the war on terrorism". As President Bush and all other spokesmen endeavour to make clear, or should endeavour, we are in it for ourselves, alone. We have enough trouble "nation-building" in our own nations, putting things together and taking them apart, by broad public consensus.

We did not even occupy Kuwait, we simply liberated it from the Iraqis, and left the Kuwaitis to go back to their old ways. And we wouldn't have done even that if there wasn't a threat to our own oil supply. We now realize that we should have gone on, to permanently liquidate Iraq's Saddamite regime, but alas we didn't then have the foresight.

The same principle should apply, when, in the fullness of time, we, or more likely, just the Americans, enter Iraq again.

Our job is to remove the regime that threatens our own lives and prosperity. Any such job involves a certain minimal amount of cleaning up afterwards. But once that is done, and the immediate threat -- to us -- is removed, the job of our soldiers is to get in the boat, and sail triumphantly home. time.

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JWR contributor David Warren is a Columnist for the Ottawa Citizen. Comment by clicking here.

© 2002, Ottawa Citizen