Ky. voices: Robert Olson says mideast wars haven't promoted democracy

May 19, 2012 

It is now clear that the decade-long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, rather than establishing democracy and eradicating terrorism, have instead created authoritarian regimes.

President Barack Obama's nocturnal visit to Kabul on May 1st made this evident. The fact that his visit occurred at night speaks volumes about the U.S. failure in Afghanistan, with or without the proposed significant number of U.S. personnel — CIA, special ops, black ops, assassination squads, drones — that will be allowed to remain in Afghanistan even after the projected withdrawal of combat troops at the end of 2014. (That withdrawal could come as late as 2024, as stipulated in the Strategic Partner Agreement Obama signed with Hamid Karzai's government, which the Afghan parliament was not asked to approve.)

The proposed SPA is strikingly similar to the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) between the U.S. and Iraq in 2008 but which the al-Maliki government refused to sign. The full or even partial implementation of the SPA will likely have the same fate.

The reasons for the failure of the SOFA and the likely failure of the SPA are clear. Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's State of the Law government no longer wanted U.S. combat troops in Iraq to hinder his ability to consolidate power over his Sunni Arab and Kurdish (Sunni) opposition in the north.

Continued U.S. combat presence would also impede al-Maliki from consolidating his Shi'a-led government and dominating the drilling, selling and marketing of Iraq's abundant oil and gas resources. Oil production in the Shi'a-dominated portion of Iraq is expected to reach 4 million barrels a day by 2015.

From May 2003 to the end of 2009, the U.S. spent $19 billion and the Iraq government $16.5 billion on training, equipment, weapons systems and pay for Iraq's armed forces. By May 2012 the results of these expenditures, and the billions spent from the end of 2009 to May 2012, are clear. The al-Maliki government is almost as authoritarian as the regime of Saddam Hussein.

It is obvious that the same fate awaits Afghanistan, which has been dominated and ruled by the Pustun peoples from its creation in 1885. The Pustun comprise about 12 million of Afghanistan's 30 million population. The other two major population groups are Tajiks, an estimated 8 million people and Uzbeks, about 3 million. But the Pustun in Afghanistan are supported by the 28 million Pustun in Pakistan.

Both the Pustun in Afghanistan and in Pakistan are in turn supported by the Pakistan government which thinks that its ability to project its geopolitical power into Central Asia and remain a viable globally geostrategic country depends on it.

But dominance of Afghanistan by Pustun and Taliban (who are largely Pustun) will be delayed if the Karzai-Obama SPA is fully implemented. Thirty-three years of war, including a decade against the U.S.S.R. and a decade against the U.S., has hardened the nationalism of the Pustun and the militancy of the Taliban.

It is unlikely that Pustun and Taliban leaders, whether in Afghanistan or Pakistan, will permit a strong role for the Tajiks or the Uzbeks in Kabul. Rather the Tajiks and Uzbeks will assume positions more like the marginalized Sunni Arabs in Iraq or, like the Kurds, will try to achieve an independent state.

It also seems likely that Afghanistan, like Iraq, will follow the authoritarian route taken by the Shi'a-led, U.S.-tolerated regime in Iraq. Also, like Iraq, it is likely that Afghanistan — fueled by the billions of dollars the U.S. has already spent on building the Afghan army, and the $4 billion a year recommended in the SPA — will further facilitate the establishment of an authoritarian regime in Afghanistan.

Let us hope that it will not be one that facilitates or condones terrorism.

Robert Olson of Lexington is a Middle East analyst and author of numerous books about the region.

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