“Dizzy With Success.” That was the phrase used by Stalin to describe the "few excesses" that had taken place in the "historic drive to collectivization," i.e., the Bolshevik war on the rural poor that had led to massive famine and the deaths and uprooting of millions of people. The campaign had left such a swathe of ruin that some of those who saw its effects went mad, or turned dissident, or subsided into horrified, soul-drained silence.
"Dizzy With Success" would be also be an apt description for the epochal ruin that has been visited on the people of Afghanistan in nine years of military occupation by the United States and its European allies. Or as Nick Turse puts it in a searing new article at TomDispatch, "How Much 'Success' Can Afghanistan Stand?"
With the arrival of General David Petraeus as Afghan War commander, there has been ever more talk about the meaning of “success” in Afghanistan. At the end of July, USA Today ran an article titled, “In Afghanistan, Success Measured a Step at a Time.” ... A mid-August editorial in the Washington Post was titled: “Making the Case for Success in Afghanistan.” And earlier this month, an Associated Press article appeared under the headline, “Petraeus Talks Up Success in Afghan War.”
As Turse astutely notes, all this talk of "success" centers on what the term might or might not mean for the bipartisan Potomac poobahs who take turns running America's militarist empire. But the "meaning" of the American occupation for ordinary Afghans is a topic of little note among the talking heads who steer the national "discourse" ... except of course for the occasional propaganda excursion pointing out the inestimable benefits the empire has bestowed upon the poor benighted denizens of Bactria -- and how infinitely worse it will be for them should Washington shirk its paternal obligations.
But the reality, of course, is that the lives of ordinary Afghans has, by almost every measure, been sent hurtling backwards and spiraling downwards at the hands of the Americans and the client state they have installed.
Between 2001 and 2009, according to the Afghan government, the country has received $36 billion in grants and loans from donor nations, with the United States disbursing some $23 billion of it. U.S. taxpayers have anted up another $338 billion to fund the war and occupation. Yet from poverty indexes to risk-of-rape assessments, from childhood mortality figures to drug-use stats, just about every available measure of Afghan wellbeing paints a grim picture of a country in a persistent state of humanitarian crisis, often involving reconstruction and military failures on an epic scale. Pick a measurement affecting ordinary Afghans and the record since November 2001 when Kabul fell to Allied forces is likely to show stagnation or setbacks and, almost invariably, suffering....
In October 2001, the BBC reported that more than seven million people were "at risk of malnutrition or food shortages across Afghanistan.” In an email, McDonough updated that estimate: “The most recent data on food insecurity comes from the last National Risk and Vulnerability Assessment (NRVA), which was conducted in 2007/2008 and released in late October 2009. It found that about 7.4 million people are food-insecure, roughly 31 percent of the estimated population. ... Food insecurity indicators, McDonough pointed out, are heading in the wrong direction. “The NRVA of 2007/08 showed that the food security had deteriorated in 25 out of the 34 provinces compared to the 2005 NRVA.
In other words, after a near-decade of American occupation -- and hundreds of billions of dollars ostensibly poured into the country in the form of "aid" that mysteriously ends up almost entirely back in American pockets -- there are more hungry people in Afghanistan than before the invasion, with the situation worsening all the time.
But of course the Terror War is "all about the children," isn't it? Liberating them, protecting them, building them a brighter future.
In 2000, according to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), mortality for children under five years of age stood at 257 per 1,000. In 2008, the last year for which data was available, that number had not budged. It had, in fact, only slightly improved since 1990, when after almost a decade of Soviet occupation and brutal warfare, the numbers stood at 260 per 1,000. The figures were similar for infant mortality -- 168 per 1,000 in 1990, 165 per 1,000 in 2008.
In 2002, according to the U.N., about 50% of Afghan children were chronically malnourished. The most recent comprehensive national survey, done two years into the U.S. occupation, found (according to the World Food Program’s McDonough) about 60% of children under five chronically malnourished ...
OK, so the kids aren't doing so good -- but how about the women, eh? We know that the "good war" in Afghanistan has freed millions of women from the yoke of repression, right? Turse:
Life for women in Afghanistan has not been the bed of roses promised by Bush nor typified by the basic rights proffered by Obama, as Jones noted:
“Consider the creeping Talibanization of Afghan life under the Karzai government. Restrictions on women's freedom of movement, access to work and rights within the family have steadily tightened as the result of a confluence of factors, including the neglect of legal and judicial reform and the obligations of international human rights conventions; legislation typified by the infamous Shia Personal Status Law (SPSL), gazetted in 2009 by President Karzai himself despite women's protests and international furor; intimidation; and violence."
Her observations are echoed in a recent report by Medica Mondiale, a German non-governmental organization that advocates for the rights of women and girls in war and crisis zones around the world. As its blunt briefing began, “Nine years after 11 September and the start of the operation ‘Enduring Freedom,’ which justified its commitment not only with the hunt for terrorists, but also with the fight for women’s rights, the situation of women and girls in Afghanistan still is catastrophic.” Medica Mondiale reported that 80% of all Afghan marriages are still “concluded under compulsion.” ...
A June report by Sudabah Afzali of the Institute for War & Peace Reporting noted that, according to officials in Herat Province, “cases of suicide amongst women... have increased by 50 per cent over the last year.” Sayed Naim Alemi, the director of the regional hospital in Herat, noted that 85 cases of attempted suicide recorded in the previous six months had involved women setting themselves on fire or ingesting poison. In 57 of the cases, the women had died.
A study conducted by former Afghan Deputy Health Minister Faizullah Kakar and released in August gave a sense of the breadth of the problem. Using Afghan Health Ministry records and hospital reports, Kakar found that an estimated 2,300 women or girls were attempting suicide each year. Domestic violence, bitter hardships, and mental illness were the leading factors in their decisions. “This is a several-fold increase on three decades ago,” said Kakar. In addition, he found that about 1.8 million Afghan women and girls between the ages of 15 and 40 are suffering from “severe depression.”
Most of these statistics on the deteriorating situation of Afghan relate to the darkest periods of Taliban rule; that is, the life of women in Afghanistan is steadily become worse than it was even under the obscurantist clerics of the Taliban. We noted this here last month, when highlighting an important article by Bretigne Shaffer:
But yes, there is violence against women in Afghanistan -- great violence. But this has only increased, not decreased, as the American military presence drags on, as Shaffer notes (see original for links):
Says Ann Jones, journalist and author of Kabul in Winter, "For most Afghan women, life has stayed the same. And for a great number, life has gotten much worse."
Sonali Kolhatkar, co-director of the Afghan Women’s Mission, says "the attacks against women both external and within the family have gone up. Domestic violence has increased. (The current) judiciary is imprisoning more women than ever before in Afghanistan. And they are imprisoning them for running away from their homes, for refusing to marry the man that their family picked for them, for even being a victim of rape."
Anand Gopal, Afghanistan correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, says "The situation for women in the Pashtun area is actually worse than it was during the Taliban time. ...(U)nder the Taliban, women were kept in burqas and in their homes, away from education. Today, the same situation persists. They’re kept in burqas, in homes, away from education, but on top of that they are also living in a war zone."
Note again Kolhatkar's remark: the Afghan government installed and maintained in power by the United States is now "imprisoning more women than ever before in Afghanistan." This is a stunning fact, a glaring example of the relentless degradation that the American war has brought to Afghanistan. Yet this fact is universally ignored by the American media, the American power structure -- and the American people, the latter of whom seem incurably, and disastrously, wed to the myth of the nation's inherent, ineradicable goodness, which imbues its every action and policy abroad.
Oh sure, sometimes "mistakes" are made, sometimes there are "a few excesses," and yes, sometimes, we "fight the wrong war at the wrong time" and can be a bit ham-handed, even "incompetent" in our military operations, but gosh darn it, our intentions are always good (because we are good and cannot be otherwise), and however much we might "blunder" from time to time, we do make things better for those we are trying -- selflessly, altruistically -- to help. It is hard, perhaps impossible to overestimate how deeply ingrained this belief is in the overwhelming majority of Americans. They simply will not give it up, no matter how much evidence of atrocity, ruin and degeneration caused by American policy is laid before them. So there is little hope of any kind of massive public pressure to change America's destructive imperialism ever being brought to bear on the elites who reap so much power and profit from the never-ending carnage.
And power and profit is definitely the name of this not-so-great game. As we noted here a few weeks ago:
[Frida] Berrigan notes the naked profit motive underlying Obama's grand strategy of "Afghanistanization" -- i.e., building up the military and security forces of the American-implanted Afghan government. As in Iraq, the aim is not so much "nation building" as "market building": setting up yet another conduit to pass American taxpayer money directly to weapons dealers:
"What’s Hot?" is the title of Vice Adm. Jeffrey Wieranga’s blog entry for Jan. 4, 2010. Wieranga is the director of the Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency, which is charged with overseeing weapons exports, and such pillow talk is evidently more than acceptable – at least when it’s about weapons sales. In fact, Wieranga could barely restrain himself that day, adding: "Afghanistan is really HOT!" Admittedly, on that day the temperature in Kabul was just above freezing, but not at the Pentagon, where arms sales to Afghanistan evidently create a lot of heat.
As Wieranga went on to write, the Obama administration’s new 2010/2011 budget allocates $6 billion in weaponry for Afghan Security Forces. The Afghans will actually get those weapons for free, but U.S. weapons makers will make real money delivering them at taxpayers’ expense and, as the vice admiral pointed out, that "means there is a staggering amount of acquisition work to do."
You ain't just whistlin' Dixie, Vice Admiral. There will be "acquisition work" out the wazoo as the war goes on -- and for decades afterward. But of course, these "free" arms sales are just like the samplings that pushers pass around outside the high school gates. Because once the mark is hooked, once the native military and security forces are thoroughly entrenched, they will need constant replenishment with more weapons, new technologies, and more lucrative "training" from American sources, both public and private. This in turn will leave the client state saddled with crippling public debt -- necessitating the usual "shock therapy" of "economic reform," i.e., shredding "inefficient" social programs -- like, education, sanitation, health care, etc. -- and turning the material wealth and natural resources of the country over to a few select private investors, foreign and domestic.
Meanwhile, the ruin of human lives goes on and on, as Turse details:
Rampant depression, among both men and women, has led to self-medication. While opium-poppy cultivation on an almost unimaginable scale in the planet’s leading narco-state has garnered headlines since 2001, little attention has been paid to drug use by ordinary Afghans, even though it has been on a steep upward trajectory. ...
"Three decades of war-related trauma, unlimited availability of cheap narcotics, and limited access to treatment have created a major, and growing, addiction problem in Afghanistan," says Antonio Maria Costa, the Executive Director of UNDOC. Since 2005, the number of Afghan opium users nationwide has jumped by 53%, while heroin users have skyrocketed by 140%. According to UNODC’s survey, Drug Use in Afghanistan, approximately one million Afghans between the ages of 15 and 64 are addicted to drugs. That adds up to about 8% of the population and twice the global average.
There is much more in Turse's grim catalogue, so you should read the whole thing, if you can stomach it. But I want to point out one more startling fact he has unearthed: After nine years of America's benign and benevolent care, Afghanistan is now, officially, the worst place on earth to live.
In the near-decade since Kabul fell in November 2001, a sizeable majority of Afghans have continued to live in poverty and privation. Measuring such misery may be impossible, but the United Nations has tried to find a comprehensive way to do so nonetheless. Using a Human Poverty Index which “focuses on the proportion of people below certain threshold[s] in regard to a long and healthy life, having access to education, and a decent standard of living,” the U.N. found that, comparatively speaking, it doesn’t get worse than life in Afghanistan. The nation ranks dead last in its listing, number 135 out of 135 countries. This is what “success” means today in Afghanistan.
The two major military escalations launched by the Peace Laureate have only worsened the security situation, which has lead, inexorably, inevitably, to more and more degradation of life in Afghanistan. But in this, the Great Continuer is only following in the footsteps of his predecessors. Not just his shout-out buddy George W. Bush -- whose Terror War policies he has faithfully replicated and expanded -- but a whole string of temporary imperial managers, going back to Jimmy Carter: the pious, peace-loving Democrat who actually launched the rise of an armed, extremist international "jihad" movement in order to hamstring the Soviets. American presidents poured tens of billions of dollars into arming and funding fringe groups of rabid extremists, training them in terrorist tactics and diligently expanding their organizations.
As we noted here a few weeks ago, quoting an article in Foreign Policy by Mohammad Qayoumi, Afghanistan was not always a land mired in tribalism and obscurantism. Half a century ago, much of the country was striving toward its own form of modernity, where men and women freely mixed, pursued their educations, practiced their professions, even went to the movies, danced to rock-and-roll. It was not a perfect state by any remote stretch of the imagination -- yet compared to the utter hell-hole that we have made out of it over the past few decades, the Afghanistan that Qayoumi once knew was a paradise lost.
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This story was published in the Baltimore Chronicle on September 16, 2010.