Monday, November 28, 2005

Little Mary Sunshine

Mary Laney thinks we need someone to write a cheerful, exuberant song about U.S. accomplishments in Afghanistan and Iraq.

We're over there, we Yanks, in Afghanistan, Iraq and Kuwait. We kicked the Taliban thugs out of Afghanistan, sent them packing, and worked with the populace that emerged from the rubble, allowed a government to form, citizens to vote, women to go outside, girls to go back to school, and all to return to work in hospitals, stores and banks.

In Iraq, we cornered the dictator's sadistic sons and sent them to their final judgment. We captured their father, the tyrant and mass-murdering Saddam Hussein, dragged him out of a rat-hole in the desert and are bringing him to justice before a jury of Iraqis. We've seen the populace of Iraq vote on a constitution -- even under threat of being beheaded by Islamofascists -- going to the polls some 70 percent strong. Schools are opening, stores are operating and soon the Iraqi people will vote again on a new government.

The Taliban thugs have not been kicked out -- or if they were, they are back. An article in today's WaPo reports on a surge of violence in Afghanistan; and it looks like insurgents from Iraq are providing help.

An onslaught of grisly and sophisticated attacks since parliamentary elections in September has left Afghan and international officials concerned that Taliban guerrillas are obtaining support from abroad to carry out strikes that increasingly mimic insurgent tactics in Iraq.

The recent attacks -- including at least nine suicide bombings -- have shown unusual levels of coordination, technological knowledge and blood lust, according to officials. Although military forces and facilities have been the most common targets, religious leaders, judges, police officers and foreign reconstruction workers have also fallen prey to the violence.

The success of the September vote, which was relatively peaceful despite Taliban threats of sabotage, initially raised hopes that the insurgency was losing strength. But after two of the bloodiest months since U.S. forces entered Kabul in 2001, officials now say the Taliban might have been using that time to marshal foreign support and plot new ways to undermine the Western-backed government.

Furthermore, the lives of women in Afghanistan are not substantially improved. After the Taliban government was deposed by the U.S. invasion, there were widely broadcast images of Afghan women appearing in public without their burkas. It's questionable how representative these images ever were of how most Afghan women lived; but they certainly do not give an accurate idea of what life is like for women in Afghanistan today.

A report available at the Afghan Women's Mission website reports that women's lives are little changed now from what they were when the Taliban were in power:

Media in the United States have greatly exaggerated any victories for women's rights, and downplayed the conditions of warlordism, oppression and poverty that still flourish. In a recent trip to Afghanistan, Co-Directors of the Afghan Women's Mission, Sonali Kolhatkar and James Ingalls found that the situation of women and girls was extremely dire and that little had changed since the fall of the Taliban.

An Amnesty International report points out that the traditional attitudes toward women fostered by Afghanistan's virulently patriarchal history and culture have been hard to break down, in part because of the extremely unstable and lawless conditions in that country following the U.S. invasion. That unstability has been greatly exacerbated by the Bush administration's attention-deficit-disordered decision to pull military, economic, and political resources from Afghanistan in favor of starting a new war in Iraq.

The challenge to repair almost three decades of breakdown of law and order is visible through ongoing insecurity throughout Afghanistan and particularly manifested in widespread violence against women. The unstable environment reinforces inequality and discrimination whilst the rule of law remains elusive. In comparison, traditional and customary practices and codes have shown a remarkable resilience in maintaining their role as conduits of social order, raising disturbing questions as to the male dominated society's understanding of violence perpetrated against women.

In fairness, the AI report also notes that growing numbers of Afghan women are coming together to report violence, stand up to it, and do something about it.

That said, Mary Laney's implication that Afghan women are now free because they can go outside is misleading and simplistic as a measure of whether and how much the lives of Afghan women have improved in the last four years.

In Iraq, it's true that Uday and Qusay are dead and their father is on trial for his crimes, but it's also true that conditions in Iraq now are just as bad, if not worse, than they were when Saddam Hussein was in power. In place of dictatorship, Iraqis now have a full-blown, colonial-style foreign occupation, and resistance to that occupation is put down with guns and bombs. In place of Hussein's reign of murder and terror, Iraqis are murdered and terrorized by nonstop, daily violence: suicide bombings, beheadings, kidnappings, shoot-'em-ups by nervous, trigger-happy Americans, foreign contractors killing civilians, and summary executions. The Iraqi police, which is supposed to be the hope for Iraq's future stability and security, has instead become just as brutal and corrupt as the military was under Saddam Hussein. Human rights abuses are endemic. Torture is routine -- including the same kinds of atrocities committed under Hussein.

In Laney's world, though, none of this counts. Maybe in her world, none of it is even happening. we get all the static, all the talking heads, and all the theories of what's happening over there. We hear politics instead of facts. We get editorials in place of reports. We have Congress tied up with some politicians making threats and insisting that we set a date to withdraw our troops or withdraw our troops immediately. We hear them making accusations that President Bush lied when he said Saddam had weapons of mass destruction -- even though former President Bill Clinton said the same thing when he was in office, as did others in his party who now seem to be suffering from an acute case of amnesia regarding the recent past.

Once again, for the 657th time, Mary, Bill Clinton's concern about Iraq having weapons of mass destruction when he was President does not translate into Bill Clinton having supported a preemptive invasion of Iraq, the overthrow of Iraq's government, and an imperial military occupation that is going on its third year. I know this is difficult to grasp, Mary, but two people can both be concerned about the same problem and still take different approaches to solving the problem.

The supreme ayatollah of Iran is urging a speedy pullout of foreign troops from Iraq.

Iraqi leaders from all three of Iraq's major ethnic groups -- Sunni, Shiite, and Kurdish -- called for a timetable for the withdrawal of all foreign troops at last week's Cairo Reconciliation Conference. Iraq's president, Jalal Talabani, called for a timetable for the withdrawal of all foreign troops. If Iraqis want the U.S. out of their country, why are we still there?

The noise is so loud about the war, yet we're not hearing what we need to hear. We're not hearing from the soldiers, the generals, the boots on the ground. Why is this?

I don't know. Maybe because the Pentagon doesn't want Americans to hear what many of those "boots on the ground" are thinking and feeling?

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