“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Monday, May 26, 2003


LI has hammered home a theme for a long time on this site. The theme is that talk about U.S. foreign policy has to take into account, firstly, what kind of country the U.S. is. Usually such discussions go on and on about democracy. Well, democracy is important, but it is subordinate to one great constant in U.S. history: the vast indifference of Americans to the rest of the world.

There are subgroups who are very involved with one or another country. The Irish in the last century were ardent about Ireland, the Germans before WWII were ardent about Germany, and the Jews, now, are ardent about Israel. But these are exceptions to the rule. Americans like to think of themselves as generous donors -- but that stopped long ago, by general consent. The Marshall plan was fifty years ago; the last really big flow of foreign aid petered out around the end of the Vietnam war. Both of those generous moments were connected to domestic politics: the Marshall Plan is inconceivable without the Roosevelt's New Deal, which preceded it and established the idea of government spending for big projects; and the foreign aid of the Vietnam era was connected just as intimately to the Great Society.

Those eras are deader than Uncle Sam's generosity to the poor.

This is the essential paralogism of Bush's foreign policy. It aims at establishing American imperial hegemony; but it only funds American military contractors. Contra leftists and rightists, that isn't the same thing. Nor has Bush shown any inclination to spend his political capital by trying to really effect a "Marshall plan" for Afghanistan; Afghanistan is the last thing on his agenda. It's been crossed out.

Meanwhile, the plan for Iraq depends, crucially, on taking money from Iraq and recirculating it back to Iraq. It depends, in other words, on magic. Voodoo economics is rational compared to the American dream of both exploiting and enriching Iraq. It's a pyramid scheme for retards.

What this means, in terms of security, is that the U.S., after much bombing, is reverting to the pre-9/11 situation with regard to such places as Afghanistan; and is going to be tied down, in such places as Iraq, until we decide to blink and go away.

Afghanistan is one of the more interesting studies in how an empire is not built. After the war was canceled on tv (since it was, supposedly, won), it was lost to American vision in the subsequent blackout. Nobody protested. We went elsewhere; the Afghanis, naturally, stayed. There's a very lengthy piece about the aftermath in Afghanistan in the Guardian this Sunday by Peter Oborn. Here's a middle graf that gets into the magical intersection of money and amnesia:

"We interviewed the interim President on the day Baghdad fell. Karzai is tall, good-looking and articulate. He dresses in immaculately pressed shalwar kameez and waistcoat - sheer Afghan chic. The awesome task of creating a modern, democratic Afghan state - and in the process turning 3,000 years of historical development on its head - devolves on him. He is a friend of the West, and that is what makes his criticisms, when they come, so much more devastating. I ask him whether the $5 billion pledged to Afghanistan at the Tokyo donors' conference of 2002 was enough to rebuild his country. 'Definitely not,' says Karzai. 'We believe Afghanistan needs $15-20bn to reach the stage we were in 1979.'

He complains, too, that the money has gone to the wrong places. Rather than make over funds to Karzai's central government, Western donors have preferred to act through outside agencies. 'Last year,' says Karzai, 'we had no control over how this money was spent.' He warns that this lack of trust 'does weaken the presence of the central government in the provinces of Afghanistan'. It is hard to disagree. Even the niggardly World Bank accepts that Afghan reconstruction requires $10bn rather than the $5bn made available at Tokyo, while US Senator Joseph Biden argues that $20bn would be nearer the mark. Earlier this year the aid organization Care International produced a devastating study which contrasted Afghanistan to other post-conflict zones. In a table of aid per person donated by the West, Bosnia came up top, receiving $326 per head. Kosovans received an average $288 while citizens of East Timor got $195 each. Afghans are scheduled to receive just $42 per head over the next five years. This is despite the fact that Afghanistan is almost, as Karzai says, 'the poorest country in the world' and in a far worse state than either Bosnia or Kosovo."

There is something truly curious about the current American situation. Has any empire of comparable military superiority wasted its time more thoroughly than the U.S. has, in the last year? The firefight about connecting Al qaeda to Saddam is typical. Whether you think there is a connection or not -- and we don't think there is -- it is not an important connection, as everybody on both sides knows.

We know quite a bit now about how A-Q operated. We know they moved East after Sudan. We know that Malaysia was a much more important meeting ground for the redoubtable A-Q than Iraq. And yet, I'd guess that not one American in one thousand knows that Malaysia even figures in A-Q's timeline.

Anyway, what Oborn doesn't say is that one of the unexpected results of collapsing the Taliban has been a bumper crop of poppies. The hills are alive with them. And if you want to fund guerrilla activity, nothing is finer than a bumper crop of poppies, or of coca leaf. We figure that money will be reinvigorate A-Q next year, much more than the reaction to the occupation of Iraq.

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