Democracy cannot be dispensed out the end of a gun barrel.
In April 1975 I was a nineteen-year old U.S. Marine stationed on the island of Guam. We received information that the fall of Vietnam was imminent as communist forces had surrounded Saigon and the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) had quit. We were immediately put on twelve-hour shifts and assigned to renovate an abandoned hotel to accommodate expected refugees.
We took control of the Hotel Okura, an abandoned commercial property overgrown with jungle and musty with mildew (I found an article informing that the hotel today is a high-rise named Lotte and that the original Okura with its two wings still stands). We spent 48 hours straight renovating the place and just in time to receive the first guests, the Vice-President of South Vietnam, his family and entourage. Within a few days the hotel was over capacity and we constructed tents next to it for the overflow. We were ordered to put concertina wire around the site, and the purpose of that was not to keep the Vietnamese in but to keep the Guamanians out. Guamanians are great people, but the population in general did not want their island used as a receiving point for refugees and anti-Vietnamese sentiment ran high.
Within a short period of time, there were over 100,000 Vietnamese refugees on Guam. We had all watched the news reports on television of the desperate attempts by thousands of Vietnamese to be evacuated before the communists got to them because they knew the fate that awaited them if they remained.
Fast forward to Kabul, Afghanistan, September 2004. I'm a retired cop doing contract work for the Department of State (DoS) as a police advisor. Having done eighteen months in Kosovo in the same capacity, I volunteered for service in Afghanistan as an advisor to the Ministry of Interior. My first assignment was with the general in charge of narcotics, Mohammad Daud Daud. Knowing that the DEA had a presence in Kabul, I questioned why I was being assigned to narcotics. The answer was simple: I had worked Metro Narcotics more than twenty years earlier in my police career, and I was the only advisor in my contingent of fifteen cops with a tour in narcotics on his CV. The assignment was nothing more than window dressing and was the justification of a position. When the USG is paying you 100K to do a job, you accept the task.
I met Daud and liked him immediately. He was fluent in English, obviously intelligent (a college-educated engineer), had a sense of humor and had served under Ahmad Shah Massoud as a general in the fight against the Taliban. My first day he asked if I would like to see the latest seizure of hashish his troops had made. I said sure. I was expecting him to show me a couple of paper sacks with some dope seized as evidence or, perhaps, if it was a big haul, a duffle bag full. Instead, he walked me outside and showed me a flatbed trailer with one ton of hashish piled on top of it. The largest seizure of hash I had made in narcotics had been several bricks in a cloth sack, which maybe amounted to one or two pounds.
As weeks passed, I learned that Daud and his men went on search and destroy missions of opiates in the various provinces. I asked for permission from my contingent to accompany him on these operations and was denied. One month prior to my arrival, the contingent HQ had been destroyed by a car bomb and the unit had been forced to move to the compound of a local warlord (the corporation that hired me to work for DoS had openly bragged that they were occupying a house in Kabul where Osama bin Laden had once lived, but the only security on the street was a couple of guys with rifles. There were no roadblocks or obstacles in place. How hard is it to bribe two low paid guards and pay some religious fanatic a sum of cash with promises of 72 virgins awaiting if he'll simply drive an explosive-laden car to the house and trigger the detonator? It gives you an idea of how seriously corporate shitbirds in Ft. Worth took the situation and it cost a retired cop from New York his life).
While I was in narcotics my colleagues were working on the expansion of the Afghan National Police from a force of 15,000 to 35,000 officers. A police training guru with a PhD in pedagogy was hired for the position. He was from a California police department that was a little smaller than LCPD and an extremely nice guy. Shortly after he arrived, I was pulled from narcotics and placed in charge of policy development to assist in the effort to increase the manpower in the national police. Over breakfast one morning I asked the training guru what his plan was to get the ball rolling on the expansion of Afghan police personnel. He told me that he would first give the cadets a written exam to see where they stood academically, and proceed from there. I told him that eighty percent of police recruits could not read or write (there was no entrance exam for the position). He told me that was no problem, he would have interpreters translate the test. We were talking about classes that averaged approximately one hundred Afghan recruits who would need assistance answering multiple choice questions.
I asked where he would find that many interpreters. Interpreters were far and few between, the ones we had sported a proficiency level in English of roughly 60-70%, and the only personnel I knew of in the ANP with good English skills were colonels and generals, and they sure as hell were not going to translate for a bunch of police recruits. The best interpreters were at the embassy but there was no way they would be surrendered for use in a police academy. The guru said he'd figure it out.
My point here is not to belittle the guru. He was an intelligent man given an impossible task. His situation was a microcosm of the entire effort in Afghanistan, and often the subject of discussion among those of us who had been in police work for many years and risen to the ranks of administration: Why are we here? It was obvious that the effort to nation-build a country that was 500 years behind the rest of the planet was a waste of time, money and resources. What was our government thinking?
Everyone knows that after 9/11 the USA invaded Afghanistan to get Osama bin Laden. Unfortunately, he got away. But special forces were able to assist the Northern Alliance in regaining control of the country and remove the Taliban from power (one of my interpreters told me that when the Taliban took Kabul in the late 1990s he was arrested by them and beaten because he did not have a beard. He was put in prison and forced to stay there and endure more beatings until his growth of facial hair was sufficient, a period of a few months). Why we went from invading force to an occupying one is a question that will be asked for decades.
Have our politicians learned nothing in the last 46 years? Did we not learn from the 20 year Soviet occupation of Afghanistan? The British had the same experience in the middle of the 19th century. Nobody, from Alexander the Great until now, has ever conquered that country. They've been at war for thousands of years! When they don't have an invading force to fight, they fight each other. A young boy learns to field strip an AK-47 before he learns his ABCs.
Democracy cannot be dispensed out the end of a gun barrel. No matter how great and wonderful we believe our country to be, and it is evident that statement is true in that so many people in the world want to live here, the illusion that we can force our way of life on others is farcical. A desire to be free from tyranny is what our forefathers carried in their hearts, and they had the strength of conviction to see it through. No matter how many billions of dollars (and American lives) we throw into a cause, if the people in the country we have invaded are against us or indifferent, no amount of effort or goodwill can bring success in the long run. We've been there twenty years and nearly 2,500 American service personnel have lost their lives (and nearly 4,000 contractors) and what do we have to show for it?
I left Afghanistan in January 2005, thoroughly convinced (and remain so today) that it was a lost cause and the U.S.A. had no long-term business there. The manner in which we have departed, leaving behind thousands who helped us and the coalition but now face death at the hands of the Taliban, is disgraceful.
Mohammad Daud Daud, who told me once that he knew the Taliban would not rest until they killed him, was murdered in May 2011 by a Taliban suicide bomber dressed as an Afghan policeman.