A prisoner release in Afghanistan and American hubris

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Last week, CNN reported  Citing a lack of evidence, Afghan authorities released from prison 65 men Thursday over strong objections from U.S. officials, who said they pose a threat to security forces and civilians.

According to the New York Times, American officials had lobbied intensely with the Afghan government, first in private and then in increasingly acrimonious terms in public, to prevent the release.   

I was stationed in Korea fifty years ago, and I still remember how superior we Americans acted. We wouldn’t allow the Koreans anywhere near the radars or missiles, relegating them to lowly jobs like dog handlers, generator operators, and of course houseboys. Let’s face it, there is no American who knows what is really going on in Afghanistan, no American who knows who is really guilty or innocent – with really being the operative word here – no American in the military, no American in the diplomatic core, no American CIA Afghan expert, no old hand who has been there for three tours, and yet, we think we can tell them what to do.

At the Foreign Policy Magazine’s website, on Tom Rick’s Blog – The Best Defense – a former soldier has a post entitled Some reflections on the Vietnam War after visiting where my battalion was cut off and surrounded near Hue during Tet ’68 in which he says, among other things, that while visiting Vietnam,  Not only are there no Americans on the roads, in the air or in the fields, doing what Americans do, the Vietnamese seem perfectly in control of their own destinies. Maybe they were then too, but we were too driven to notice. He goes on to say This makes me think about the American Way of War — maybe best expressed as “you move over, we’re taking over.

Think about it for a few seconds, think about the fact that there are damn few Americans who even know the nuances of what is going on in America. Do you think that John Boehner knows what is really going on? If he did, how did he so misjudge the government shutdown? Do you think Obama does, then why can’t he get an Immigration Bill through Congress? And, if he didn’t because getting an Immigration Bill through is impossible, why did he try? Yet, we come into a foreign country and take over, telling the natives to move out of the way, we know what to do better than they do.

As an aside, the country we knew best when we conquered it, was the South after the Civil War. We spoke the same language, had similar histories, and many of our leaders and the Southern leaders had gone to school together (including the military leaders at West Point). After the North won, we moved military and civilian administrators into the South to run the place. Most school children, especially those in the South, know how badly we bollixed that. End aside.

Sending in carpetbaggers and telling people how to run their country just doesn’t work. It didn’t work in the South, it didn’t work in Vietnam or Iraq, and it won’t work in Afghanistan. We have brought in hundreds of carpetbaggers to run Afghanistan, spent billions of dollars, and about the only thing we have changed is raising the property values in parts of Kabul. There are now so many people in Kabul telling the Afghans how to run their country, that the European-style houses – built during the time the Soviets were there – are now selling for California prices, between $350,000 to $1 million dollars (this in a country with the per capita income among the lowest in the world at about $180 to US$190 dollars). According to the owner of Wazir Akbar Khan Property Agency, Rents in Wazir Akbar Khan and adjacent Shar-i-Naw are now in the range of US$3,000 to US$25,000 dollars while the same houses rented for US$150 to US$300 dollars before November 2001, even under the Soviets.

But if there is one area, in particular, that we shouldn’t tell people how to run their country, it is in the area of who to lock up in prison. We are crazy about putting people in prison. We have the highest incarceration rate of any country in the world – with the possible exception of North Korea – even worse, our rate is so much higher that we even have the highest actual number of people in prison. China is second with 1.5 million people in jail, but with a population of less than one fourth of China, we have an astounding 2.2 million people behind bars and China is not even a democracy. We put people in prison for almost everything, especially if they are people of color (and, let’s face it, those 65 people in jail are people of color). As an aside, it seems that the only thing we don’t put people in prison for is shooting young black men…that is if you are white and live in Florida. End aside.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai said the release of prisoners is of no concern” to the U.S, and that the prison in which they were held is a Taliban-producing factory. I suspect that he is right, but I know that I really don’t know very much about it. Lindsey Graham thinks he does, however, and he is outraged, threatening to get Congress to cut off aid. I agree with the cutting off aid part, but more importantly, I don’t think we should be telling anybody how to run their country and we certainly shouldn’t be telling them who they should put in jail.

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