From Vietnam to Afghanistan: US leaves deserts behind and calls it peace

Interview with Professor Dr jur. et phil. Dr Alfred de Zayas

Retired UN Independent Expert on the Promotion of a Democratic and Equitable International Order Alfred-Maurice de Zayas has sat down with Sputnik to discuss the hasty evacuation from Kabul, the consequences of the nearly 20-year occupation of Afghanistan, and how the international community can help the Afghan people tackle a humanitarian crisis. Current Concerns has added two questions to the interview.

Sputnik: Do you think the US withdrawal and the Taliban’s victory will really bring an end to the 20-year war? What are the odds of Afghanistan being dragged into a new violent civil war now?
Alfred de Zayas: A pandora’s box was opened when President George W. Bush falsely made Afghanistan responsible for 9/11, although the alleged perpetrators (if indeed they were) were not Afghans but Saudi Arabians under Osama bin Laden. Twenty years of devastating bombardment of Afghanistan, destruction of infrastructures, killing of tens of thousands of civilians, pollution through depleted uranium weapons, destruction of ecosystems, and infrastructures do leave a legacy of trauma and hatred.
  The US should never have gone into Afghanistan in the first place, as we should not have gone into Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Grenada, Nicaragua, Libya, or Syria. The US thoroughly destabilised Afghanistan and it is not impossible that the conflict will now degenerate into a civil war – a continuing tragedy for the long-suffering Afghan people.
  Can there be peace? Tacitus described a similar situation to describe how Roman legions made a desert everywhere – and then call it peace, solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant [they make a desert and call it peace] (Agricola). We think that we wash our hands of the mess we caused and leave, but the crimes may come back to haunt us.

What are the major consequences of the 20-year occupation of Afghanistan by the US?
A spike in worldwide terrorism was a direct result of the US aggression in Afghanistan. As an American living abroad, I consider that my personal safety has been affected. I look at cause and effect. I ask myself, why do people hate the United States? The answer lies in America’s supposed “mission” to export American-style “democracy” to all corners of the world. Except that when we say “democracy” we mean capitalism. We Americans claim we want to bring happiness and human rights to all peoples of the globe. But did anyone ask us to be so altruistic?
  The US and the media conglomerates concocted the narrative that al-Qaeda and the Taliban are the “bad guys” and must be hunted down like rabid dogs. We are the world’s sheriff that must eradicate lawlessness.
  In the process, we ourselves commit gross violations of human rights, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. Maybe the International Criminal Court will conduct an honest investigation into US and NATO Crimes, but this is only ex post facto justice. Any moderately intelligent observer looks for root causes of problems. The root of Afghanistan’s misery can be found in British imperialism in the 19th and 20th centuries and in US neo- colonialism in the 21st century.
  The US was never really interested in “nation-building” – just in geopolitics, bearing in mind that Afghanistan borders Iran and Pakistan. The US wants to control the region and only wants client governments, not independent nations.

Current Concerns: Some would think that you have sympathies for the Taliban and Islamists.
I have denounced the crimes of the Taliban many times and demanded that they not go unpunished. I hope that the International Criminal Court in The Hague will continue its investigation into the crimes of the Taliban – but also of the US and NATO.
  I reject all terrorist actions of the Taliban, just as I condemn the state terrorism of the Pentagon. But one does not have to generalise and sweep everything in. Certainly not all Taliban are terrorists. As an American, I ask about the causes of conflicts. Certainly, we Americans have contributed to it, we provoke not only the Islamists – we provoke ordinary people, of Muslim faith, when we interfere in their internal affairs. We provoke the Palestinians when we deny them the right to self-determination, when we defend Israel’s crimes against the Palestinians. We provoke all humanity when we presume to have a “mission” to export “democracy”. Will we Americans sometime understand that people of different cultures have their own ideas, as recognised in the UN Charter and the UNESCO Constitution?

What are the main reasons behind Washington’s “Saigon moment” in Afghanistan, as well as the US intelligence community’s failure to predict the swift seizure of Kabul by the Taliban and immediate collapse of the Ghani government?
US intelligence has failed again and again, but the mainstream media gives us a different narrative and anesthetises the American public into accepting “fake news” and obviously inadequate Pentagon excuses.
  I am not at all surprised at the amateurishness of the US withdrawal. We in the US tend to believe our “pundits” in the CIA, Heritage Foundation, and other elite “think tanks”. As Julius Caesar well knew – we believe our own propaganda – we tend to believe what we want to believe. Quae volumus, ea credimus libenter ["We gladly believe what we want to believe"] (de Bello civile).
  What amazes me is not that we are witnessing this debacle – but that we do not learn from prior debacles. Of course, the devastation of Afghanistan was a catastrophe for the Afghan people – but a bonanza for the American military-industrial- financial complex.
  America needs perpetual war to feed the insatiable military machine, which demands trillion-dollar budgets. It would be better to devote our tax dollars to conflict-prevention, health preparedness, education, etc.

What’s your take on the current humanitarian situation in Afghanistan? What measures should be taken by the international community to prevent further crises in the country and ensure the Afghan people’s free self-determination, democratic state-building, and human rights protection?
I have enormous empathy for the suffering of the Afghan population. Today more than ever they need international solidarity, the assistance of UN agencies such as the Food and Agriculture Organisation, the World Health Organisation, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the High Commissioner for Refugees, the United Nations Development Programme, the United Nations Environmental Programme.
  The Afghan people are already suffering a “humanitarian crisis” – but until now only few seemed to care, because the “good guys” – meaning the US and NATO – were there defending democracy and human rights. Now that the “good guys” have been kicked out, we realise that the radical Islamists have taken over. The mainstream media now will disseminate a stream of reports from compliant non-governmental organisations who will duly denounce the Afghan authorities for all sorts of violations of civil and political rights.
  However, what the Afghan people need today are fundamentals – the right to food, water, shelter, health, employment. This will cost billions of dollars. Those countries who participated in the merciless bombardment of Afghanistan have a legal and a moral duty to make reparations to the Afghan people. Will they? Probably not.

Do you think the US, UK, and their NATO allies have left Afghanistan for good or can we expect them to come back in the future?
Geopolitically the US and NATO want to control not only the Middle East, but most of Asia as well, including Afghanistan. As things stand, the US, UK, and NATO are not as wealthy and powerful as they once were, and their populations have different priorities than their “elites”. Even though the defeat of colonialism and neo-colonialism in Southeast Asia is complete, old habits die hard. And yet, France, which was defeated at Dien Bien Phu in 1954, and the US in 1975 – never returned to Vietnam.
  It would be good for the world and the Afghan people if the US, UK, and NATO would “grow up” and accept realities. As the Spanish Dominican Francisco de Vitoria already wrote in 1530 at the University of Salamanca, every nation has a right to choose its own form of government, even if it is not the best. What the international community owes the Afghan people is a genuine commitment to peace and the right to development of all nations and peoples. The UN Secretary General has a big task in his hands – and António Guterres can do it – if the US, UK, and NATO let him.

Current Concerns: Don’t you think your attitude towards American foreign policy sounds unpatriotic?
Not at all. A patriot is precisely the one who wants to ensure that his country follows justice and the rule of law. A patriot promotes the rule of law by demanding honest actions from his government and accountability from his politician.
  Charles de Gaulle defined patriotism as follows: “Le patriotisme, c’est lorsque l’amour du peuple auquel vous appartenez passe en premier. Le nationalisme, c’est lorsque la haine des autres peuples l’emporte sur tout le reste.” I fully agree with this.
  The patriot loves his country and its citizens. The nationalist hates the others. I consider myself a patriot. Here are my own thoughts on this:
  Patriotism means different things to different people. For me it entails citizen solidarity in promoting justice at home and resisting official lies, apologetics, euphemisms, crime and tyranny. Patriotism requires a commitment to truth and readiness to counter “fake news” and skewed political “narratives” Internationally, patriotism means averting harm from one’s country by pro-actively seeking dialogue and understanding so as to contribute to peace and justice – pax et iustitia. Some adolescents and young soldiers often think that patriotism can be boiled down to the formula “my country right or wrong”, and thus unwittingly risk becoming cannon fodder, victims of war-mongers and war-profiteers, who do not risk their own skins and let others die for their profits. Patriotism cannot and does not require knee-jerk “my country right or wrong”, a formula that can only be described as an irresponsible cop-out, which only invites governments to abuse our trust, waste tax dollars in foreign interventions, breach our privacy through illegal surveillance, and commit any number of geopolitical crimes. A true patriot says “not in my name” and demands accountability from government so that our countries are indeed on the path to peace and justice.
  Horace’s noble-sounding maxim “dulce et decorum est pro patria mori” (it is sweet and appropriate to die for one’s country) must be recast in constructive terms: It is sweet to live for one’s country! Indeed, that is what Cicero meant with caritas patriae. Who qualifies as a patriot? For me, every citizen who takes democracy seriously and demands transparency and accountability from the authorities. Among patriots in the 21st century, I count whistleblowers who uncover criminal activities by both government and the private sector. They are gatekeepers of the social order. Surely Edward Snowden is a patriot, as he risked life and career because of his conscience. We can learn more in his riveting book “Permanent Record”. We all owe him a debt of gratitude. By contrast, who is not a patriot? Every opportunist who advances his/her career at the expense of the common good, anyone who manipulates public opinion through sensationalism, evidence-free allegations, sabre-rattling and ends up dragging the country and its young soldiers into criminal wars. The security of every American has been seriously compromised by these very hawks, sometimes hailed by the media as “patriots”.  •

Source: First publication of the Sputnik section:  of 17 August 2021


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