Wednesday, April 7, 2010

When Puppets Go Bad

I don't know what we expected. But the spectacle of Hamid Karzai melting down in public has to have some people wondering about all of the alleged blessings of empire. Clearly the problem of local leadership has to be a weak link, because what sort of person volunteers for lapdog duty? They have to know that it will forever label them as Quislings... traitors... collaborators. Of course, that's not the way we see it; any national leader who cooperates with our program must, by definition, be devoted to democracy, both in idea and practice... they must have the best interests of their people at heart... and they must be pure as the driven snow, free of corrupting influences of all sorts, even if corruption is a profoundly embedded part of the government of that country, its people, and its culture. They must, in other words, be Americans dressed up as locals – but even better, because they have to be “unifiers” and “persuaders” who can unite their people (and its military, of course) in a common cause – namely to support whatever agenda we brought with us when we invaded and occupied their country, and for as long as we deem it necessary. In theory, someday we'll go home and leave them to their own devices – but for the foreseeable future, they have to practice “democracy” our way – or at least pretend to. Or claim that they would, if only it weren't for certain “reactionary elements”. And so on.

But as I said, what kind of person would volunteer for this, apparently, winless-in-the-long-run duty? Why, the kind of person Karzai apparently is – namely a corrupt, venal, power-crazed nut case. And if only we could get him out of the way... er, persuade him to step down... we could replace him with someone else who would be... most likely, cut from the same cloth. As I've said before, we just don't do empire right. The Brits would have put up with no such highjinks; they would have appointed a governor from their own ranks and allowed only very limited and local powers to the natives. But they were under no constraint to preserve the illusion of democracy, whereas we are, and that is our real Achilles heel. If you're going to have an empire, be unabashed... take over, make it plain who's in charge, and kick major butt if anyone objects. But the way we do it is, we take over but then appoint a local war lord or some such whose job it then is to pretend he's “the people's choice” -- when, in fact, he couldn't care less, and neither could the people. We tend to forget that our notions of democracy are widely seen as a kind of weakness elsewhere in the world – you know, those places where the strong man still rules. They know full well that you can't just vote someone into office and then declare them the strong man; they have to earn the right,mostly through violence and intimidation – but note also, they are expected to be patriotic and defend the country, something our puppets are seldom if ever capable of.

So here's Karzai blaming the U.S. for his many troubles and woes – a not unreasonable position. I mean, we could have left him out in the sticks tending goats, or whatever he did before we invaded; clearly we elevated him far beyond his level of competence. And as far as graft, corruption, and cronyism are concerned – well, as I said, this is just another word for “the way things are done in most of the world” -- South Asia being no exception. And this is another instance of American hypocrisy, since we suffer from all of the same woes, but are more skilled at covering them up and calling them by different names.

It has been said that "absolute power corrupts absolutely". But this is actually not true. Absolute power renders the concept of corruption meaningless. Tyrants and dictators are expected to run things for their own benefit and that of family and friends. And no one questions this, unless they've had a taste of something else -- and even then, that taste may be illusory. So the least that can be said about Karzai is that he's running things (to the extent he's running anything) in a completely traditional way for that part of the world... which is what has us so upset, because we always insist on that extra layer of hypocrisy.

And then, to add insult to injury, Karzai threatens to join the other side – i.e. the Taliban. Our mortal enemies! The very reason we invaded in the first place! Well – let's face it, if you're Karzai, and believe that the U.S. cannot possibly win in Afghanistan, and know that your life expectancy is precisely five minutes after we leave... you'd better start hedging your bets right now. And the Taliban aren't such bad sorts, are they? He'd better hope they're more forgiving than the people who executed Quisling. But actually, they owe us a debt, and I expect they'll come back stronger than ever because of the way we've boosted their recruiting figures.

And here's the best line of all, from Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs: “On behalf of the American people, we're frustrated with (Karzai's) remarks.” Hey Robert! The “American people” don't give a damn – not about Karzai and not about Afghanistan. When are you and your boss going figure that out? But of course he had to put it that way, because what if he'd said, “On his own behalf, President Obama is frustrated with the remarks.” It wouldn't have had quite the cachet – not that it would have been any less acceptable to the Afghans.

What makes the whole thing completely farcical, of course, is that we wind up begging this Karzai character to clean up his act so that we can continue to credibly occupy his country and pursue a military campaign that his own people oppose. Ask the average Afghan if he cared one way or the other about 9/11... or about “terrorism”. Ask him if he's better off now than he was under the Taliban – and if he has more pride, more nationalistic feeling now than he did then. Ask him if he's in favor of democracy (after you tell him what that means, that is). Ask him how he feels about Karzai – our “ally”. And while you're at it, ask him how he feels about bombings and drone missile attacks... and the other war that we're waging on Afghanistan's only significant cash crop (heroin poppies). Ask him how he likes the invasion, the occupation, and the wretch we've installed as his “leader”. Then go ask yourself, for the thousandth time, why are we over there? Why? Why? Why?

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