What Good Intentions Wrought

Sarah Chayes on Bill Moyers Diary
Sarah Chayes on Bill Moyers Diary

There is that old cliche that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Few of the worst deeds in history have been carried out with intentions that were purely evil. The perceived goodness of intentions being subjective, nothing is usually more dangerous than destructive force armed with moral certitude. In The Irony of American History, theologian Reinhold Neibhur wrote:

“Our moral perils are not those of concsious malice or the explicit lust for power. They are the perils which can be understood only if we realize the ironic tendency of virtues to turn into vices when too complacently relied on; and of power to become vexatious if the wisdom which directs it is trusted too confidently.”

As Tom Hayden had recently pointed out one of Pentagon’s leading backers in its war on Afghanistan has been the Feminist Majority. Having signed an earlier FM petition against the Taliban, Hayden belatedly came to see the ironies of their position:

But I had no idea then that I was joining The Feminist Majority in a coalition with the Pentagon to invade and occupy Afghanistan. Given the respect I have for Ellie Smeal and Kathy Spillar, among others, it’s still hard to believe that they think Afghan women can be liberated by an invading, bombing, imprisoning American army. It’s hard to believe that Predators, drones, Special Forces, detention camps and foreign occupiers are solutions to Taliban fundamentalism….In northern areas under Western occupation, the UN report found that in 39 percent of rapes “that perpetrators were directly linked to power brokers who are, effectively, above the law and enjoy immunity from arrest as well as immunity from social condemnation.”

So it didn’t come entirely as a surprise today to find out that alongside familiar neocon names such as Fred and Kimberley Kagan, one of the people advising the new commander of US forces in Afghanistan is none other than feminist humanitarian Sarah Chayes, formerly of NPR. We can surmise what advice McChrystal might be receiving since about leaving Afghanistan, Chayes had this to say: ‘I don’t think that we can afford to leave this region alone to fester’.

Likewise I notice that in his otherwise excellent piece, Chalmers Johnson also references Paul Fitzgerald and Elizabeth Gould whose book is full of similar warm feeling for the noble savages who would be so grateful to their Western benefactors if it weren’t for those scheming Pakistanis. (In an interview with Huffington Post, they said all Afghans are happy with the occupation except those in the Pashtun areas. Which is like saying all Iraqis are happy with the occupation except in the Arab areas).

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.

6 thoughts on “What Good Intentions Wrought”

  1. I remember her Moyers appearance very well, having been impressed by it to begin with, and then having to go back to it when you screamed about her colonialist attitude, and I’m 99.99% certain Chayes said our military SHOULD BE merely guarding the Afghanis from the Taliban. World of difference, dude.

    And I ended up agreeing that her terminology did sound a bit on the colonialist side, but taken in context with her proposals and intent, even if the case could be made that we could never achieve her goals with our thuggish military and corporate greed around to screw it up, the thrust of her concerns and ideas, it’s still damn unfair of you to drizzle sarcasm like “noble savages” in a post that includes your inaccurate account of her position.

    Plus, you continue to outright sexistly completely disregard the safety and rights of the Afghani women when you go on like this. That has been demonstrated to be a clear and present danger in Taliban-controlled areas. So while a very seriously do not condone drone attacks and military offensives decimating what infrastructure and civilian populations fall in their path, just bugging out is now worse than the original invasion… for at LEAST half the population.

    Seems to me you are so outraged and self-righteous with this often dead wrong and always at least mostly beside the point shtick about our racism that you’ve thrown accuracy and objectivity and workable ideas completely out the window.

    Get more sleep.

    Take a meditation class.

    Get out into the world.


    You’re becoming dangerous with this stuff.

  2. I’m 99.99% certain Chayes said our military SHOULD BE merely guarding the Afghanis from the Taliban. World of difference, dude.

    The only SHOULD BE that applies to any military is that they should be at home.

    And I ended up agreeing that her terminology did sound a bit on the colonialist side, but taken in context with her proposals and intent

    You mean ‘good’ intent? See what Neibhur said above. The Soviets also killed and maimed hundreds of thousands with the best of intentions. Unlike you, I grew up around Afghani women, and I know that they would like nothing more than to be spared the unsolicited good intentions of western do-gooders.

  3. Something fundamental here. The position of Afghan women is not the business of western armies. However far back in the history of imperialism you care to go, there were always ‘educative’ or ‘civilisational’ excuses. And would you say that the position of Afghan women is better now after the educative input of British, then Russian, then American and NATO forces? I mean, the lesson has been going on for a very long time.

  4. In Emile Habibi’s excellent novel “Saeed the Pessoptimist” Zionist militia inform the dispossessed Saeed that he should be happy; they’ve come to rescue him from feudalism.

  5. …like nothing more than to be spared the unsolicited good intentions of western do-gooders.

    Can’t fault you on that one, that’s for sure….

    Maybe the good way to proceed is to give all the women guns, and ammo, teach them how to use them, and bug out. Maybe THIS time the tyrants who would rush into the void would be female… and we could all sit back and see how we like them apples! I bet even Chayes is about ready to stump for this sort of solution… or soon… for all the good it will do….

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