Just in case you weren’t sure, Nir Rosen is one of the finest war reporters in the world. His new book, Aftermath: Following the Bloodshed of America’s Wars in the Muslim World, highlights Washington’s idea that guns and a few loaves of bread don’t bring love:
Supporters of General Stanley McChrystal, the former US commander in Afghanistan, liked to say “he gets it,” as if there was a magic counterinsurgency (COIN) formula they’d discovered in 2009. But Afghans have a memory. They remember, for example, that the American-backed mujahideen killed thousands of Afghan teachers and bombed schools in the name of their anti-Soviet jihad in the 1980s. The Taliban atrocities had not arisen in a vacuum. Similarly, past American actions have consequences. Opinions were already formed. The Taliban were gaining power thanks to American actions and alliances. Warlords were empowered by the Americans. No justice was sought for victims. The government and police were corrupt. The president stole the elections. The message was that there was no justice, and a pervasive sense of lawlessness and impunity had set in.
Afghans who had been humiliated or victimized by the Americans and their allies were unlikely to become smitten by them merely because of some development aid they received. And the aid was relatively small compared with other international projects, like Bosnia, Haiti, Rwanda, and East Timor. The Americans thought that by building roads they could win over opinion. But roads are just as useful for insurgents as they are for occupiers. The Americans had failed to convince Afghans that they should like them or want them to stay, and they certainly had not been convinced that President Hamid Karzai’s government has legitimacy. You can’t win hearts and minds with aid work when you are an occupying force.
The Taliban was the most obscurantist, backward, traditional, and despised government on earth. The fact that the Taliban was making a comeback was a testimony to the regime that the U.S. set up there, and to the atrocities that have been committed in Afghanistan by occupation troops and their Afghan allies. It was sheer arrogance to think that adding another 30,000 or 50,000 troops would change the situation so much that the occupation would become an attractive alternative.