Obama’s Afghan Escalation, Colonial Feminism, and the Realist Cassandra

The Left can be so full of shit. Check out today’s Democracy Now! for instance. The coverage is ostensibly about opposition to Obama’s escalation in Afghanistan. The guests however have their own axes to grind. We are told Afghanistan was ‘progressive’ Communist and Socialist, and the Soviets genuinely wanted Afghans to remain independent — and then the US intervened and ruined everything. We are told the Russians never meant to stay — it was only the insurgency that forced them to. We are then shown a documentary where images of Muslims in prayer are superimposed over tales of women’s oppression — who wouldn’t want the Marine Corps to carry out their feminist agenda if the alternative for Afghan women is so bleak?

Interestingly, the only sensible words in the program come from an NBC interview with Zbigniew Brzezinski. The former National Security Advisor to Jimmy Carter is often endowed with demonic powers by the Left, even though he hasn’t held any position of power in three decades, and few have read a word he has written beyond the title of one of his books — The Grand Chessboard — and a 1998 interview with the La Novel Observateur where he bragged about his supposed role in bringing down the Soviets. In fact, for nearly a decade, ZB has played a Realist Cassandra to the neocon chorus opposing the war against Iraq and repeatedly intervening to check the escalations against Iran.

This is not meant to be an endorsement of Brzezinski, but rather an indictment of the sections of the Left which have failed to shed their colonial messianism.

Author: Idrees Ahmad

I am a Lecturer in Digital Journalism at the University of Stirling and a former research fellow at the University of Denver’s Center for Middle East Studies. I am the author of The Road to Iraq: The Making of a Neoconservative War (Edinburgh University Press, 2014). I write for The Observer, The Nation, The Daily Beast, Los Angeles Review of Books, The Atlantic, The New Republic, Al Jazeera, Dissent, The National, VICE News, Huffington Post, In These Times, Le Monde Diplomatique, Die Tageszeitung (TAZ), Adbusters, Guernica, London Review of Books (Blog), The New Arab, Bella Caledonia, Asia Times, IPS News, Medium, Political Insight, The Drouth, Canadian Dimension, Tanqeed, Variant, etc. I have appeared as an on-air analyst on Al Jazeera, the BBC, TRT World, RAI TV, Radio Open Source with Christopher Lydon, Alternative Radio with David Barsamian and several Pacifica Radio channels.

2 thoughts on “Obama’s Afghan Escalation, Colonial Feminism, and the Realist Cassandra”

  1. Our “colonial messianism” is much more aptly termed our “American Exceptionalism” or maybe our “Western Exceptionalism”. We tend to see our relatively higher living standards, social safety nets and rule of law as fairly universally desirable, and wish these for suffering others… as a rule.

    I really wish you’d get over equating everyone who, rightly or wrongly, wants to help with the shitty head trips of the British Empire. Most of it from the left is about finding ways to actually help, now, instead of just bugging out and leaving anguished and impoverished people to suffer the aftermath of our fucking appalling invasions, capitalist interventionism and devastating things like sanctions.

    Yes, a lot of it is well-meaning cluelessness that would be apt to cause maybe even as much harm as good, but the old adage about getting the hell out and leaving people to their own devices is not even usually sound advice anymore either. Our governments have managed to disempower whole populations while wildly enhancing the prospects of maniacs to make those populations suffer hugely more. The PNAC types call this “destabilization”… while rubbing their hands together fiendishly.

    And we, the United States, for instance, have been using this device on Afghanistan since sometime in the 1970s. You seem unaware, or don’t care, that women in Afghanistan really were becoming more and more liberated before the UNITED STATES decided to lure the Soviets down there.

    Afghani women were at University, driving cars, running around in jeans, holding jobs… the works. Our cute little maneuverings, our [viz. “Team B”] INVENTION out of thin air of “al Qa’eda” to scare the Soviets, was what united mainstream Afghanistan with the religious maniacs against the Soviet invasion, and it was our continued aid that insured they prevailed.

    The Afghans, with the help of Tribal others, and with Arab others, together known as the mujahideen, fought like the greatest warriors in all history. They did fantastic and courageous things. They whupped the Soviets asses so badly it still makes me cheer just to think of it, it rocked so hard. It, though, very unfortunately, left a decimated country, privation and death everywhere. It also left a power void that was filled by a bunch of chest-thumping maniacs, who’d just dazzled the entire world with their victory against impossible odds, to take control of the country and set women back centuries, besides the rest of the really rotten stuff, IMPOSED on the population against their will by their fanatical “liberators”.

    Every indication has been that most of the people of Afghanistan want a secular society and for the religious and/or tribal sects to just go back to their own little slices of the area, as they had been before the Soviets arrived.

    They’re not going to do that! They are going to try to race back into a power vacuum they are fighting to recreate, even if they are not the identical fanatics as before.

    It seems to me you are pitching fits about people who could use being helped to understand better how to really help, holding old grudges, equating American Imperialism too closely with British Imperialism… and failing to recognize the true urges of some of us to use this filthy power we undeniably do have toward real, honestly real, humanitarian ends.

    Maybe, in a nutshell, I’m trying to tell you that some jackasses really, really, really want not to be jackasses and would welcome an education instead of reminders of how full of shit they are.

    As for Brzezinski, too many people have had to learn the hard way never to believe a word that comes out his mouth. He has no morals. He feigns them and/or feigns telling the real story when it serves something else… and that something else is NEVER the good of mankind.

  2. Dear M Idrees,

    This is probably my first comment here on PULSE. You guys are doing an awesome job here, keep up the good work.

    Ann wanted to hear my input on this issue. So lets put it this way…

    First lets talk about Zbigniew Brzezinski. As I understand it, you want “the left” to make some sort of tactical alliance with “realists” like Brzezinski, to create institutional pressure to halt the US invasion of Iraq and end unbridled support for the Zionist Entity. Now, I’ve already expressed my misgivings about this previously, in a discussion with you on the People’s Geography blog. But lets not go into that right now.

    Lets look at it another way. Most of “the left” is either isolated Ivory-tower dreamers, or else its composed of people who are actually involved in organizing labor and agrarian/peasant movements on the ground. Take the second category of leftists. How are they supposed to form some sort of alliance with Brzezinski and other realists in Washington? Do these people even care about us?

    Do you really have some sort of contact with these realists in Washington? Do you think they’d be interested in what you have to say, as an academic? Do you think they’d actually benefit from allying with you in the public sphere? Do you really think your support for them would be instrumental?

    I don’t think so. I think we can achieve a lot more by practical work on the ground, in solidarity with the Iraqi resistance, the Palestinian resistance and others. And I know you do this work, and I salute you for it. That is the way to go.

    As a labor activist from Pakistan, what do you want me to tell an ordinary laborer? That US imperialism is not primarily an aggressive militaristic force, and that there is a bunch of “realists” like Brzezinski in Washington, who want to control the Third World through means other than naked aggression? How far does this get us?

    I really don’t understand what you mean by your criticism of “the Left” for its stance on people like Brzezinski.

    I find it hard to support a man who ruined both Afghanistan and Pakistan in his stupid crusade against communism. I don’t care if he thinks the Iraq war was a bad idea. What has he done to stop it? Has he done anything more significant than the millions of people worldwide who marched against the war? Why should we support him and not those people?

    Moving on, lets address your points about Afghanistan and what you describe as the “colonial messianic” approach of the Left.

    My understanding is that there is a certain discourse in the developed world (primarily in the US and Europe) which is put forward to legitimize or justify the imperialist invasion and occupation of Afghanistan.

    Many cheerleaders for NATO imperialism in Afghanistan have used feminist ideas to create support for an invasion and occupation of Afghanistan by NATO. You are quite correct in referring to this discourse as “colonial feminism”.

    You are also quite right in attempting to fight it. As as a student in Europe, I often have to get into similar debates with people at various forums and conferences, trying to convince them that the NATO forces are not in Afghanistan to liberate the oppressed women and liberate them from the veil and all that. No, they are there to maintain an occupation which serves their geo-strategic interests. Whether these interests are real or perceived is another debate, which I will not get into here.

    The fact is that this colonial feminist discourse is little different from the old European imperialist concept of the White Man’s Burden. I’m sure you agree so far.

    Now, what I don’t understand though, is how you want to place reponsibility for this discourse on the Left. When you say “the left”, I assume you refer to the radical socialist left.

    I’m sure you’re familiar with the anti-colonial struggle in Angola. Cuba, a socialist state sent troops to help the MPLA in Angola. South Africa also sent its troops and mercenaries, to help the pro-imperialist side. Are you going to condemn the Cubans in this case? No, it was an example of fraternal assistance between two socialist movements.

    Now, as for Afghanistan, it underwent a revolution in 1978, known as the Saur Revolution, under the leadership of the PDPA (People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan). It was this revolution which triggered off the Afghan “jihad”, and not the Soviet intervention. I personally don’t agree with the idea of the Soviets sending troops to help the Afghan revolution, since these troops were perceived as invaders by many ordinary Afghans (at least when the conflict heated up).

    But none of this changes the essentially progressive nature of the Afghan regime of that time. First, they came to power much before the Soviet intervention, as opposed to Hamid Karzai’s government, which was basically installed by NATO after an invasion. Second, the actions of the PDPA regime are markedly different from those of Karzai’s regime. The PDPA distributed land among landless peasants, which was the initial reason for the outbreak of the “jihad”…carried out by a bunch of pissed-off and ultra-religious feudal lords. The PDPA took genuine steps to educate the Afghan populace, provide healthcare, and yes, to liberate women in a genuine sense. They were a locally-based movement, and not a foreign implant. They were not a Vichy-style government. Karzai’s government, however, is totally beholden to NATO for its existence.

    The CIA saw its chance to suck the USSR into a war, and began to support the Mujahideen, as admitted by Zbigniew Brzezinski. I don’t see why we should unnecessarily praise the ultra-reactionary mujahideen, whose primary issue with the PDPA government was that it built schools and hospitals for women.

    As for the current resistance against NATO in Afghanistan, the Left supports it as a national-liberation struggle, regardless of whoever leads it (and that includes the Taliban).

    Our position is the most consistent one. We were opposed to US imperialism and NATO back in the 70s and 80s. We’re opposed to US imperialism and NATO even now.

    It’s as simple as that.

    I am proud to defend the legacy of the PDPA and the Saur Revolution, despite their many mistakes, and the disastrous Soviet intervention. I don’t see why we should blame “the left” for the colonial-feminist discourse of liberal war-hawks in Europe and the US today. We’re not supporting NATO’s aggression, whether or not they claim to be liberating the women of Afghanistan.

    The NATO occupation is doomed, and the Afghan people will see to it that NATO pays the price for this aggression.

    Anyhow, keep up the good work on PULSE, and know that you have my utmost respect and gratitude for all the work you’re doing.

    In Solidarity,
    Crimson East

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