Transcript

A Talk with Jon Lee Anderson

30 June2008

jon-lee-andersonJon Lee Anderson

You can also listen to the interview [MP3 43.9MB].

(This is a verbatim transcription of the Jon lee Anderson audio interview)

Matt:

I'd like to welcome you all today to a very special La Trobe University podcast. We've got a slight interlude this week as we bring you a conversation between international author and New Yorker war and political correspondent Jon Lee Anderson, Associate Professor Nick Bisley of La Trobe University. This talk was held at the State Library of Victoria on 26th May 2008 and was chaired by Professor Dennis Altman. Jon Lee Anderson was in Australia through the co-operation of La Trobe University and the Sydney Writers' Festival.

Nick:

When reading Jon Lee's work one is struck by its distinctively international flavour and the internationalist outlook that it represents. When one looks into Jon Lee's background, he has decidedly internationalist origins. He is the child of a diplomat and an academic and has lived in or been to just about every country you'd care to name. So my first question, John would be to what extent do you feel like an American, given where you've lived and what you've covered, and the extent to which your perception of yourself as an American influences the way you approach your journalism?

Jon:

Yeah, I had a pretty unusual upbringing. Born in America, essentially left when I was two and raised in a lot of different countries. But condemned to be an American nonetheless. It's either been a bad thing to be or something you'd rather not admit. And that's pretty much the way it's been my whole life. And so I think I've probably felt something of a need to mediate between the world that I inhabit, the cultures that I have been familiar with and very conscious of how they see my country, and of course the United States is one of those countries where everyone does have an opinion, so I've been caught between the two objectifications by the rest of the world, of the United States and those of the United States of the rest of the world. Keenly aware of the tendency to objectify by both, and I think that's probably emerged originally as an intuitive response to the kind of role that I found myself fulfilling. But nonetheless I think a pretty conscious aspect of what I do as a sort of mediatory role.

Nick:

I was struck when 'The Fall of Baghdad' by the way in which, attitudes toward you as an American seem to shift and what strikes me is the shift in the book towards Americans, from the start where it's 'we don't mind Americans', 'tell George Bush to leave us alone', to during the bombing when the sense seems to be 'why is America doing this to us' to the point, right at the end, when you're physically at risk simply by being an American, regardless of whether you're a journalist or a member of the Armed forces. I wonder if this is in a way symptomatic not only of changes in attitudes within Iraq but reflective of the way in which the invasion was eating away at the social fabric of Iraq.

Jon:

Yeah, well you're being awfully elegant about what was in fact a much more precipitous environment, a "transmogrification". The Iraqis drew me unusually because of their… to my sensibility… unique warmth. They were uniquely - for a country in the grip of a man like Saddam Hussein - were warm and curious about the United States. This was a society that was difficult to know and difficult to quantify, they'd been under sanctions and had never really been explored by the rest of the world, nobody for a generation anyway could ever really say they knew Iraq. Although I had gone there and stayed there and attempted to penetrate it and begun to acquire a feeling for it, there was so much that lay under the surface, and I knew a good part of that was fear, simply fear, this was a country uniquely possessed by fear, it was an almost mute country. And the reason for that was Saddam, people were terrified that they might be found out for what they've said or been thinking.

You'd get the very easy rote response about what's going on, a little sermon about having come from the country of sanctions, but it never felt like anything very visceral. What's fascinating is that the minute that Baghdad began to be bombed and people became more vocal to me about their opinions, especially as the bombing progressed and it became clear that the city would fall, and it would fall to the United States and to the West, and people very quickly began to strip away, but judiciously they didn't do it willy-nilly, and they did it with a great deal of caution, until the last minute they could be killed for what they said. But nonetheless they began to strip away that outer veneer and to let me know that they harboured nothing against me. At times I saw this in a spontaneous fashion, there was a lot of smart bombing but also messy bombing and civilians were killed, and I found myself in a market place where thirty-five people had just been butchered by a bomb. And I was very conscious about being American, and I was pretty worried about being there that moment. And a young man walked up to me not far away from a severed human hand, I still remember, and he asked me where I was from and I said that I was from the US. And he said welcome, and he smiled and shook my hand. And he pointed to a burnt out car across the street and explained that a good friend of his had died there just then. There was an obvious distinction he made. It wasn't a political speech, it wasn't one of those classic 'we don't have anything against your people, it's your system', it was genuine and authentic.

Iraqis had an extraordinary ability to make that distinction between politics and the individual, politics and the people and society, and that made me feel very warm and embraced by them. That began to fall away within hours of the Americans physically arriving as flesh and blood soldiers in Iraq and rather than embracing these people with their organisation, regimenting them, organising them with a new security for the security they've stripped away had toppled, they imposed none. Other than a very arbitrary security. They might shoot you if you came at them at a road block. If you didn't understand their hand gestures you could be shot. And that happened a lot in the early days, but otherwise they did nothing. And the city was looted. First by happy looters, by people seizing an opportunity, and then finally on an industrial scale, including the very people they had come to defeat who had then melted away, and had looted armouries in front of them. Weapons they would within weeks begin using against the Americans.

It was in those hours that first the regime and then the people of Iraq understood that the Americans, for all their invincibility of their military power of which they had bought the capital and the former regime to its knees, were operating in an intelligence vacuum. They didn't know where anything was, that made them suddenly turn from being potential saviours to idiots. And killable idiots. And I say that choosing my words carefully. They lost their fear and then immediately their respect for them and began to do whatever they wanted. And it was in that period of time that Iraqi society fractured and the day following the toppling of Saddam's statue I began to get entirely different situations to what I had during the bombing, which was people coming up to me on the street and screaming at me with hostility for being an American, a westerner. And why are you doing this, why aren't you stopping this. They knew what was coming, they knew what was happening, they knew that the shift in perspective meant a new war was happening and they would be its victims. And that was a terrible thing to witness, but it was extraordinary to see it happening before my eyes and to at times go up to American officers carrying this growing sense of perception of hostility and it happened so fast. And to try and communicate it to them, and them not believing it, of course, until it was too late. I found myself unusually in a position, as I said at the beginning, to be a mediator right away, before I could even fully grasp it.

It started as pointing out places that were being looted that they should stop, hospitals and things, and I realise that they didn't realise what was going on in some cases. And in other cases it was out in Fallujah in the summer of 2003, realising they had no sense of history. They had no idea that 80 years before the Brits had faced a very similar situation there, and in fact in the same place, and I had a colonel talk to me about hearts and minds as if I had never heard the slogan, as if I had no knowledge of Vietnam. And it was obviously something that he only knew abstractly himself, as if he was reinventing the wheel, and I stopped him at one point and I asked him if he knew about what happened in Fallujah in 1920 which was when the Arab revolt essentially drove the Brits out of them Mesoppotamia. And he stopped for a moment said 'no, not really'. And I said 'what do you mean not really… you guys have all this time in Kuwait, didn't the Brits come, surely they had some people from their war college that gave you some kind of explanation like the military do about their campaign which would have been instructive. And he said 'well there wasn't really time. But I've ordered these books from amazon.com' and he pointed to a small pile of books on the floor. I think he was genuine, he was sincere, he knew that he lacked information, and he was trying to read it, he said, before he went to sleep at night just like anyone else who was overworked, except he was already on the job and it was already too late.

Nick:

As some who works as an academic, one of the great challenges is to get people to listen, and one of the great frustrations, particularly in the field of International Relations is that people don't hear what you have. Leading up to the 2003 Invasion, specialists in the Middle East, saying, if you invade Iraq, 'here's what's going to happen'. In fact, Cheney, when he was minister of defence in 1990 when asked why they weren't going to march to Baghdad listed essentially the problems we've got now – ethnic tensions, we're going to be there for ten years, it's going to cost too much – it strikes me as remarkable that, in the lead up to the war, the number of Iraqis that you spoke to who made reference specifically to the 1920 uprising or more generally made the point that running Iraq is very difficult. There's this story which does the rounds, and there are various versions of it, but in essence the Americans say to Saddam in 1989, 'it's time to go' and he turns to them and says 'you can get rid of me, but if you want to replace me you'll need five of me'. In Iraq and beyond, people who knew what they were talking about had plenty of advice about how to run Iraqi society, yet none of it happened – why do you think that was?

Jon:

Well there's now a growing canon of literature about this question on our bookshelves. It seems difficult to believe and fathom but it actually happened. The neo-conservatives around Bush, they thought they could use Iraq to remake the Middle East. It was just a year and a half ago I listened to a friend of theirs tell me privately how he foresaw a fifty year war. It was something they weren't quite saying as explicitly to the public at large, Iraq was meant to be the initial corner stone of, and I think there was a genuine disdain for the policy works of state.

And we now have chapter and verse how people that were warning, people who had a body of academic or more local knowledge behind them, were warning them about the way they were proposing to change Iraq were shouldered aside, both from the military and the State Department and others. They were simply shouldered aside in favour of 'it's going to happen, we're going to do it, we'll do it with a small lean force' and they had people like Achmed Challed Chalabi at their heels a very, very charismatic and able Arab exile, a supremely rich man who had not actually been in Iraq since 1957, incredibly was very probably the most influential outsider in the Whitehouse in that period.

I remember going to see Paul Bremer who was Bush's personal representative, sort of viceroy, I went to see him and it was a crucial time, about a year after the invasion, and I went to see him. It was about two weeks before the first massive suicide bomb at the UN followed by so many others. And I had a very contentious interview with him, unexpectedly contentious. I was carrying a lot of these disquieted voices, these warnings I had been hearing. Firstly before the war itself, then in the weeks after the invasion, before it became an open insurgency. Dozens of people who came to me and others, asking for help, asking for intercession, telling me what was going on that was sort of unseen… but that this was all going to go very badly, very quickly, why weren't they listening, and I carried a lot of this, I distilled it. And I carried it to a conversation with Paul Bremer. I also had to be diplomatic. But I remember asking him in 'diplomatese' saying 'you're here caught behind big new suicide blast walls in the newly renamed 'Green Zone' formerly Saddam's palace grounds. I'm out there. When you go out, you go out there with Black Water contractors, mercenaries we used to call them, Black Hawk helicopters, convoys, highly armed men. And you have these very mediated encounters with Iraqis. I'm moving around on the street, it's getting very dangerous, it's getting very hostile. Don't you see this cognitive dissonance, this gulf that is emerging? But I said it in a way that was not at all sarcastic, very respectful. I wanted to genuinely hear his response. I wanted him to drop the ambassadorial guise and talk to me sincerely. I wanted to know what he knew and what he was worried about. The reaction I got was extraordinary and devastating. He rounded on me testily. He said 'I don't know what Iraqis you're seeing, I don't know who you're talking to, I'm out there every day' and he arrogantly gave me a sort of five minute disquisition on the people he was seeing, what they were telling him, which was that they're happier, they're loved, they're thankful for being liberated. And that was very symptomatic of the people living in the Green Zone, who were running this thing for the first year or so. There was just no getting through to them. It was frightening, and well, we've seen the result.

Nick:

You've mentioned Blackwater, this conflict has brought to public attention a trend which is much greater, and which is seen elsewhere in the world, which is the massive influence in private military corporations, as they're known in the trade, mercenaries as they used to be known. I wonder if you might comment on not only how pervasive they are but how they might be changing to conduct of conflict. What is most puzzling about it, apart from it taking neoliberalism to its logical conclusion, is that it poses interesting questions about the ethics of conflict and the conduct of warfare. States agree to treaties, and they can look you in the eye and say 'yes, we're adhering to these treaties' when the bad stuff has been sub-contracted to these guys.

Jon:

I think it's really key, and it's scandalous what's happened. Another adjunct to this and a frightening aspect of this is that there's a new generation of journalists who are younger than myself who have been dropped into this new era post 9/11, without the means to judge what's really been going on around them. I mean Iraq has been so overwhelming for a lot of people, it's taken time for people to stand back when something's happened and say 'oh yeah, you don't do that, do you?'. You know Abu-Ghraib for instance. There's a sense one gets about what comes out about the behaviour, it's that that you don't really do this, but it was only later, after everything, that the people involved themselves have been able to stand back and realise what they were doing was heinous. But that's symptomatic also of the new generation of journalists who have been introduced to wars, our wars, while being embedded by the Pentagon with American military forces. It's not an evil thing in itself, there is in fact incredibly little censorship of journalists who are, as they say, embedded with the forces. But there's a tendency to identify with your own culture first of all. Especially when you're in a hostile terrain or a battlefield, so you tend to get that aspect effect of Stockholm Syndrome, it's a very clever thing for the military to do. You definitely diffuse a lot of opposition and the potential candour of a media which would otherwise be more antagonistic of you if it didn't have your filter of you being in that hostile terrain.

I come from an earlier generation, that generation that came after Vietnam, where if anything, I've had to overcome my sense of antagonism towards governments, my own governments and military forces, so I have embedded, but I've done so dragging my heels. I prefer to be out there in the terrain knowing what I know rather than getting the filter. I say that because I think that's why it's only dawning now, the question you asked is a very good one and yet the statistics are illuminating. For instance we always hear that there's 150,000 soldiers in Iraq. There's as many military contractors again. Not all of them are actual soldiers or actual Blackwater guys out there blowing away people at roadblocks. Some of them are poorly paid skilled labourers or kitchen workers from the Philippines or Nepal. Which is also kind of scandalous, they're inside the Green Zone.

I remember that the Gurkas lost the contract for internal security of this vast area to a group of Peruvians who for the most part are like the Gurkas and like these others, former soldiers or soldiers now sort of moonlighting for a year. But for a ridiculously low amount of money. And they're now working as always via a company, usually an American or a British company that is a PMC, a private military contractor. A Haliburton or one of those many other companies that are making a fortune of this, it's like indentured servitude. They're charging a thousand pounds or a thousand dollars a day in the case of the Peruvians they're paying forty dollars a day. That's what they're actually earning. Which is probably maybe twenty more than what they'd earn at home.

So it's really kind of a perversion of globalisation at its most raw, in Iraq, that's what you're seeing. And war has been privatised to a large extent there and also in Afghanistan. Just before the Blackwater scandal broke, I mean I was aware of how badly behaved they were and had been for a long time, but even I sort of began to take it as part of the scenery because so much of it was bad, so much of it was noteworthy. And it turned out, after that one incident where they massacred a bunch of people at a roundabout, that they were finally booted out. That was just one of many incidents that had occurred, and of course I had seen some myself. Not actual incidents of shooting, but smashing people's vehicles and driving on. I was aware from Iraqis that I talked to just how much they hated them. What an ultimately self-defeating thing this is, because of course if you invade a country and then you bring in other people to police it or fight on your behalf the locals judge you by their actions, and that's what's happened.

Many of the atrocities that did occur and still occur, probably a little bit less now, on an almost daily basis as a result of having so many people with guns in this foreign country, were being carried out by these people. A really frightening people in some cases. Real mercenaries from Serbia, from South Africa, from Australia, from England. And you'd see them with their shaved heads and their illegal weapons and their eagerness to kill people. Guarding convoys, you didn't know whose convoys they were but if they could outgun you on the airport road then they would, and they would shoot at you to stop you. And a lot of this was going on in Iraq. In Afghanistan last Spring, I spent a month with a DynCorp group of para-military contractors. Mostly southern Americans. Former policemen, former prison guards all former soldiers for the most part. Who are physically carrying out the drug eradication policy, just as they are in Colombia. Now that's two countries with an entire policy that has been handed over to a private corporation, to the tune of several billion dollars, and it has virtually no oversight from anyone. But it has, you could call it, almost covert relationships between two various active forces of the US military, and they work in tandem. So I think years from now we'll look back assuming there's no kind of final scandal and some kind of line is drawn and we will see that the death rate was actually different to the tally we're being given. Because in addition to those American soldiers we now know to be about 5000 there will be these others. That the people that they kill of the local community will add up to such and such a tally and that they will in fact, these companies and mercenaries, have taken a huge lion's share of the tax payers' money that was poured into these with again very little oversight.

Nick:

I saw figures that indicate that the largest source of cash remittances to the Fijian economy comes from private military contractors in Iraq. One of the more intriguing elements of globalization.

One must wonder as to just what the psychological state of ordinary Iraqi's must be. These are people who've been under the Ba'athist regime for over forty years and certainly under Sadaam since the late 1970s. As you've pointed out, Sadaam's was a tyrannical regime which almost knew no equal, they've had the Iran-Iraq war, sanctions and now this, a badly bungled invasion and occupation, followed by what's really a civil war or something akin to it. What's your impression of the psychological state of a normal Iraqi, not your Baathist or loyalist, just the ordinary people?

Jon:

Well I was fascinated by the Sunnis, which of course were the demographic minority in Iraq and were favoured and privileged because of course Saddam was a Sunni and the Sunni tribes over the Shi'ite tribes were favoured, and that has a lot to do with history and geography and so on. But of course the minute he was toppled the Shi'ites almost by osmosis by the weight of their numbers became the ascended community, and we still have that feature.

As it turned out, under Saddam, you rarely knew whom you were talking to, that was interesting. If you were talking to an official you are very likely talking to a Sunni. But many people changed their names. I knew a number of Iraqis who were Shia but had taken a Sunni name in order to survive more easily under Saddam. And I found out their real identities after he was gone. And I had formed relationships with a number of Sunnis and I maintained those until it was impossible really to have much contact with Sunnis, which was something that happened in all this time. As their communities were overtaken by Al Qaeda in Iraq, and a slew of other insurgent and terrorist groups with whom the Baathists in the end and once underground did deals with in order to fight the Americans.

But what was fascinating was to chart their sense of themselves and their country. And initially when they were finally able to and felt the need to explain their place in society, I realised that by and large I was talking with people that... it was a bit like that Austrian man's kids let out from the basement, you know, they were victims too, but they were forced to participate in their own debasement. They were the handmaidens to their own repression. It's really a subject for any number of psychiatrists to deal with, any collective guilt or suppression of that guilt particularly I felt by the Sunni Iraqis was something that was remarkable.

In the early days of the looting of Baghdad the various contours, the inner contours of the society, began to emerge. It was largely according to the Sunni, Shia looters, and it was, it mostly emerged from initially the poor neighbourhood, it was Shia. And the response to these Shia looters can only be described as genocidal. And it explained a lot about what had happened before. Their attitude was these people all need to be… you need to go in and wipe these people out. These people are looters, they are always looters. They have always been looters, this is why Saddam dealt with them with a strong hand. You see what they do. And within that chaos that emerged, then Sunni agents began operating opportunistically. Acts of sabotage, then the first attack on American soldiers and so forth and in that period I remember having conversations with very educated Sunnis who told me po-facedly that this wasn't an insurgency, that these were not Iraqis doing this. That these were Americans killing their own soldiers. That the CIA had a nefarious plan in order to justify staying on in Iraq. To steal Iraq's oil, were killing its own people, a kind of "Gulf of Tonkin" notion of America taken into an extraordinary degree. And this is something as I watched it take over people became quite unbudgeable about this.

A month or two into 2003 as the insurgency took off and as the society was destroyed and as the mass graves began to be opened all over the country and it was clear that it had taken place on a massive scale and in some cases close to towns and cities… I never met one Iraqi who admitted to anything in the past. There was an absolute collective denial of any guilt or any complicity whatsoever in this country. And what was so distressing about it was that the United States and its allies who had come to help and be the handmaidens to this country's transition into something else… if they were complicit of this problem, of this denial, of this collective guilt of an inability to engage with reality of past and present, they simply weren't dealing with it. They pretend this wasn't happening. And to me it was the key ingredient of everything that has taken place in Iraq.

And the behaviour of the Americans allowed the Iraqis and the accident of the post invasion occupation and allowed these Iraqis who had been complicit with these mass murders, who had been the accomplices to the vast suppression of their fellow citizens in some cases to deny any guilt whatsoever. They were little innocent lambs of God now being victimised by the blood sucking, oil stealing Zionist controlled hapless Americans and their evil British allies. What was so fascinating about this is that was essentially Saddam's discourse at times. And what was surprising was that even after he was gone it stuck. And not only stuck, it extended beyond Iraq and became the prevailing perception throughout much of the Muslim world and the Middle East. Fuelling in turn more people who eagerly came to that country to kill and to fight jihads. To kill Americans if possible and then as we've seen to kill as many of the Shia as possible who were of course ascended thanks to the evil American and Zion conspiracy. As for those mass graves…

Nick:

Scholars of the Middle East often write about this, the conspiratorial mind-set. And it's across the Middle East, the conspiracies about the Zionists, the Americans. I remember when I was teaching in London, I had a member of the Saudi royal family in my class, not the cause for a lot of optimism for the future of Saudi Arabia it has to be said, but we were talking about Cuba and we were having a discussion about why Castro managed to last so long and he pops up his hand and he says 'it's easy, the Americans are propping him up. The Americans are so powerful they could rid of him like that, but they don't, they are keeping him in power.'

Jon:

That's so very Middle Eastern, it really is. There was this notion of course that the Americans had kept Saddam in power as well, that he was really a CIA agent. In other words everything was ultimately the Americans' fault. There was nothing, they were always victims. So it's interesting, if you can see yourself as a victim and guiltless it permits you to do almost anything. In a sense that's kind of what happened in Iraq.

Nick:

A final question before Dennis throws things open to those of you good enough to come. A quick question about Afghanistan, which seems to be even more intractable than it was. In a piece you wrote late last year there's a wonderful phrase from a Canadian UN official, which says, 'the trend in Afghanistan is not monolithically positive.' Which has to be one of my favourite euphemisms – is it still not "monolithically positive"?

Jon:

It's still not "monolithically positive". By the way the minute that article came out I got some emails from Kabul telling me that that quote had gone up on office doors throughout sort of UN, US worlds, behind their interestingly kind of new proliferation of suicide blast walls in Kabul. It's not monolithically positive. How can it be? Here is a place that, unlike Iraq, was putty in the world's hands. It carried some of that Robin Hood glow of liberation, the Taliban were not a nice or enlightened regime. It was a devastated society. Something akin to Germany and Japan where if you had a Marshal Plan you could. And no natural resources to speak of.

The international community or the US for its own imperial self interests, if that what motivates it, could have gone in with relatively few billions of dollars, rebuilt it and left it glowing like a little jewel box and left again and said 'you see, all we wanted to do is make amends for our part in the woeful destruction in this country and having neglected it and having the Taliban to fester and Al Qaeda take over the country. And now we leave.' But no, and now it's seven years on and you go to Kabul and the only buildings that have been built are two buildings, vast buildings reinforced , specially bomb proof buildings which are the US embassy, it cost half a billion dollars. They've got swimming pools, they've got everything in there, it's a little universe. And a kind of little wonky wonderful glass skyscraper, a kind of closest thing Kabul has to a skyscraper, built out of really crappy coloured glass with all of the dimensions just a little bit wrong, Afghan built. In fact built by a man who is on the CIA's register, I gather, as Central Asia's greatest drug trafficker. Who was the Defence Minister of the liberated Afghanistan until very recently, and I gather is a billionaire, helped loot his own country after we helped him perpetuate himself in power. Anyway he's a builder in new Iraq, he also funds these wonderful bukashi games on Friday afternoons, you can see them. He hands out great wads of cash to the winners of each bukashi race, and is apparently a fantastic narcotrafficanti as well. So he built this skyscraper, and it's the most wonderful building in the country because Afghans, poor Afghans come into it and they now have access in passing to satellite television so they see the images of the outside world. They've seen the Mirage of Dubai coming alive before their eyes. This is a country that's unleavened bread. They've seen nothing shiny or modern ever. And they see this mirrored glass skyscraper and they come in and they look at it in awe. They feel ennobled by the experience. They feel proud of this building.

The international community just doesn't get it. I went from that building to the American embassy and had a conversation with the outgoing American Ambassador, I didn't put this in that piece, and I took the liberty to point this out to him. I said you know, I've seen this, it's quite fascinating. All you guys have done in five years is build this building. It's protecting you. To leave this I have to go through a warren of suicide blast walls, out into the streets which by the way you have not paved. I've been past any number of government ministries in this city that are undistinguishable from a cattle shed. Why? Because you haven't fixed them, you haven't painted them, you haven't fixed the roofs. But you've built yourself this and meanwhile Marshall Fahim has built his little narco-tower over there and that's the one symbol of the Afghans that they can say they feel proud of, this could be their future. And there is a big cognitive dissonance going on here. And as usual, just as I did during the Bremer period in Iraq I got a more well intentioned less neo-conservative, less ideologically flavoured discourse but nonetheless a discourse about everything we're doing. The wells we've dug, the schoolgirls' schools we've painted. Well what good is it to lime wash a building in the middle of somewhere hostile and call it a girls' school, if the minute you put a teacher there and girls there, the Taliban are going to come and slit their throats? If you can't provide security, if you can't make the people feel proud and show them a kind of a future, if you can't, what good does it do to go around and say that democracy is important and we care about young democracy if you don't show that they have any reason to feel proud of it? If you can't even paint their ministries to make their ministry of water resources or women's affairs look like something worth being proud of, then what's the point?

Yes, the trend is not monolithically positive at all and you've got a situation where, and to just end on this, the US was distracted by Iraq. It did not do that mini little Marshal Plan it could have done. It gave time for the people to become frustrated and for the Taliban to resurge which is what we've seen. It looked the other way as the country's illegal economy reasserted itself initially under the aegis of the very warlords that we were financing initially to remove the Taliban and then it moved to the Taliban as well. And because we didn't have enough troops to fight in Afghanistan when it was clear it was going to fall apart again we went to our NATO allies, begging bowl in hand, and said will you please go and send a few troops out to Afghanistan. And so each of them, thirty three countries I think it is, negotiated their presence in the country. Their numbers, and exactly what they did. So you actually have a situation in a war zone where a country like Germany says 'we will go, but we will only go to this province, and we will not patrol at night.' Or the Dutch, 'we will go here but we have a seven step program, we don't agree with your version of things and your formula for counter insurgency and we think we should really begin with women sewing co-operatives and only in the last resort should we actually use our guns to kill the enemy. And meanwhile you go province to province and you have this kind of rainbow coalition of unwilling and mutually deaf partners all of them subverted by this sort of cowboy gang of American special forces guys who go in and do whatever they want then go off again. And the Taliban growing and growing and growing in strength. It's a really extraordinary disaster, and I really hope it can be turned around for the sake of the Afghans. The international community has shown itself to be shameful, truly shameful in Afghanistan.

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