Decisions have consequences.
I wonder when there will be a Global Truth & Reconciliation Commission to deal with the ruinous decision of the United States to partner with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf nations to cultivate, employ, exploit and/or unleash jihadism and religious sectarianism to destroy unfriendly or unhelpful secular/socialist regimes in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Syria.
Butcher’s bill so far: maybe 300,000 dead in Afpak & Iraq, another 200,000 dead in Syria. Using a conservative wounded to killed ratio of 3:1, at least 1.5 million lives shortened or physically shattered. Add another 8 million or so refugees for whom the social and economic fabric of their lives has been torn apart.
Judging by first impressions—that the United States will seek to contain and manage IS as an asset in its effort to unseat Assad in Syria, just as it used the IS threat to shoulder Maliki out of power in Iraq—America is unable to shake its jihadi addiction as it seeks to wield influence in the Middle East without putting “boots on the ground”.
Instead of demanding that Turkey attack IS on its vulnerable northern flank, or Saudi Arabia devote its sizable ground and air forces to the task of hunting IS down, it looks like the US is contenting itself with limited objectives, making limited demands on its regional allies (who are allowed to limit themselves to lip service concerning the horrors of the jihadi menace), and trying to put limits on IS’ threat to allies and assets without trying to organize any meaningful effort to restore the security and order it helped destroy in the Middle East.
My prediction: a “jihadi archipelago” in the Sunni regions of Iraq and Syria, maybe not the IS caliphate, maybe something post-IS, sustained by the cupidity, opportunism, and cowardice of the United States, Saudi Arabia, and their proxies and allies.
Hope I’m wrong, as they say, but until I am I’m going to continue to re-up this post concerning the prophecy of the president of the Soviet-backed Republic of Afghanistan, Muhammad Najibullah.
The way things are headed, Najibullah is less likely to be remembered as the Butcher of Afghanistan, and more likely to be remembered as the granddaddy of the anti-jihadist struggle, a struggle in which the United States was a hopelessly equivocal, dishonest, reckless, and incapable practitioner.
Excerpted from a longer piece I wrote in September 2009.
When the Taliban entered Kabul in 1996, they dragged Muhammad Najibullah from UNICEF compound where he had taken refuge three years before when a deal to extract him from Kabul collapsed, tortured him for hours with the special ingenuity that Afghani warlords apparently can always bring to bear on such situations, and hung his castrated corpse from a lamppost.
Najibullah is routinely reviled as a despot and a torturer.
Like Saddam Hussein in Iraq, Najibullah stood for secularist, socialist, and pro-Soviet policies that suppressed Islamic fundamentalism with extreme violence and a certain degree of success. Like Hussein, Najibullah was destroyed by the United States, with rather grisly consequences for his nation.
Najibullah was well-educated, and perfected his English during his years of confinement in Kabul. A career UNICEF official, Alan Brady, came to Kabul just before the city fell to the Taliban, and wrote an eerie, evocative account in the Virginia Quarterly Review of a call he paid on the fallen dictator in 1995 shortly before his death.
During the two years I was working in Afghanistan, I had become fascinated by the story of Najibullah. Here was a man of great intellect, educated as a doctor and pediatrician to “do no harm.” He was at the same time a political activist who received training in the Soviet Union. In 1981, he returned to Afghanistan to head the KHAD, a Secret Police organization notorious for torture and executions. Five years later, he emerged as president of his country during times of vicious conflict. Undoubtedly, there was blood on his hands.
Yet many people described him as enlightened. My colleagues who had worked with the Najibullah government from 1986 to 1992 spoke highly of his leadership and support for the country’s social development, especially public health and education. It was an anomaly, throughout the 1980s, that the West was empowering mujahideen groups who were burning down schools, banning girls from being educated, trying to cut women off from basic opportunities or even health care, and preaching ideologies of xenophobic hatred. The CIA and others did all of this in the interest of bringing down a government that, in the areas of social development at least, stood for secular and progressive Western values. The fight against Communism made for many strange bedfellows for more than four decades, perhaps nowhere more so than in Afghanistan.
For a long time, I had harbored a curiosity about Najibullah and what changes might have occurred in him as he sat in that UN house in Kabul with nothing to do except read and reflect. Did such reflection give him second thoughts about the life he had lived and the things he had done? …
To say that this man was pleased and charmed by our arrival would be a grave understatement…Before I knew it, each time he spoke, he would start with the words, “dear Alan.” Over many cups of tea, sitting together on the couch, sharing chocolates from the newly opened box on the table before us, he spoke honestly and freely about what he had been going through, and then his complaints about the UN and how it had betrayed him.
At last I got up the courage to ask the questions that were on my mind. It is not an easy subject to broach, this question of his role as head of KHAD and the blood he must have had on his hands…
I could see the look in his eye change as my question sank in… Like the flexing of a relaxed muscle, the power and charisma at the core of this man reappeared in sharp relief, and with a loud shout of “NO!” his fist came down with an explosive sound on the table before us, sending teacups flying upward.
“Dear Alan,” he was saying. “Do not be naïve about what you are facing. They will bring a destruction you cannot imagine.”
His message to me, at our New Year meeting in 1995, was one of no regrets for whatever he had done to stand against the Islamists. He was absolutely clear about that; he would do it again.
In the quiet of that evening, he laid out for us what the lines of conflict would be, in a world where Communism was finished. “After the fall of the Berlin Wall,” he said, “I wrote to Bush. I explained all of this, I told him that the Reds are finished, and the enemy of the United States is no longer the Reds, it is the Greens. I offered to work together with him.”
The “green” that Najibullah was referring to was the green flag of the Islamists, and the Bush he wrote to was the first President Bush—George H.W. He never received an answer.