If you read the US Kabul Embassy press releases, as I do, you get an unintended picture of a mission in torment. "The US Embassy condemns, in the strongest possible terms," reads a recent release, "the suicide bombing that took place this morning near the Kabul International Airport, killing at least 10 people and injuring several others..." This proves, the embassy said, that the enemy has "no respect for human life."
The embassy statement sends assurances that "The United States will continue to stand resolutely with our partners as they defend themselves against terrorism and build a more peaceful future."
I wasn't privy to Soviet embassy statements from Kabul during the Soviet Union's decade-long endeavor to bend Afghanistan to its will. But if there were any, I am sure they would have condemned the lack of respect for human life shown by these same Afghan terrorists who were then on America's payroll killing Russians. And I am sure that the Soviets, too, proclaimed their resolution to stand by their Afghan partners to defend against terrorism and build a more peaceful future in a society reflecting Soviet values.
I wonder if former ambassador Ryan Crocker, who was locked in a safe room when the American Embassy itself was under attack just a year ago, thought of his 19th century British counterparts, Sir William Macnaghten, and Sir Pierre Cavagnari, envoys murdered in Kabul in 1841 and 1879. They, too, envisioned a more peaceful future for Afghanistan, reflecting their nation's interests.
After Cavagnari's brutal death, Britain sent out new instructions. "The British no longer wanted to dismember or annex Afghanistan, they wanted to hand it over," writes David Loyn in his book "In Afghanistan, Two Hundred years of British, Russian and American Occupation."
Now it is the United States that just wants to hand it over.
As did the Russians, America, too, came to Kabul with elaborate plans to re-make Afghan society in its image. But then, as it had with other foreign powers in the past, the difficulties of bending Afghans to someone else's agenda proved to be more difficult than at first perceived. In time, plans for counterinsurgency to win over the Afghan people became "Afghanistan good enough." The lofty ideals for an American occupation were downsized to the more simple longterm goals of keeping Kabul from falling to the Taliban and retaining a residual force in the country to keep an eye on Pakistan and its nukes.
Our Afghan allies have become less and less reliable as the years have gone by, not more as we hoped.
The Cavagnari mission was destroyed by rebellious Afghan troops who fell upon the British while their emir stood by. Today, roughly one-third of NATO losses in Afghanistan have come from Afghan soldiers and policemen whom we are training to combat terrorism and to build a more peaceful life for Afghanistan.
When I visited Afghanistan in 2003, Afghans did not feel like an occupied people. They were so war-weary that there was a brief moment when they could have accepted foreigners changing their lives. By 2010, however, the resentments of a people under occupation were obvious.