How George Bush Recreated the Taliban
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No Good Men Among the Living by Anand Gopal
America, The Taliban, and the War Through Afghan Eyes
At the end of Anand Gopal's No Good Men Among the Living, Heela (an Afghan widow) is wondering what will happen next, and if she will survive it. Next is Afghanistan after the U.S. troop withdrawal, which should be complete (except for "technical advisors") by the end of 2014.
Heela is a survivor, as are many of the people depicted by Mr. Gopal, who spent years as a reporter in Afghanistan. Heela did fine under the USSR-sponsored communists, living a modern life in Kabul. She was college educated; her husband worked for the government; she could walk around Kabul without a face covering. When CIA-backed warlords tore into Kabul after the collapse of the USSR, she survived. Eventually survival meant going to live in her husband's remote village. There she spent her life at home indoors, as all village women did.
Safety was restored for most Afghans when the Taliban defeated, or coopted in some cases, the warlords (who had been abandoned by the CIA). Little changed immediately for Heela, for village life was already more strict with women than the Taliban typically was. She had children and a husband to care for.
But after 9/11, with the Taliban gone, warlords arose again (some old, some new), and the Afghan economy came to be based on enemy creation. For a year there were no Taliban. Taliban leaders tried to join the Karzai government, but the U.S. insisted they were enemies, insisted on imprisonment or death. The leaders mainly fled to Pakistan. For the warlords to make money, they started calling any enemy they had Taliban. They were paid by the U.S. to turn in the names and to help capture and kill. Watching Americans and warlords kill innocents, lots of innocents, many people decided they needed protection and re-constituted the Taliban.
Heela and her husband were very anti-Taliban, very pro-Karzai, but eventually a local warlord killed Heela's husband and almost killed her oldest son. Her husband had complained when the warlord started collecting fees from people who had not voted in an election (one in which Heela worked to get women to vote).
Heela did not become a Taliban supporter, but given that her husband was murdered for criticizing a local flunky of George W. Bush, she might easily have become one. The Taliban, of course, had their own brand of brutality that sometimes was at cross-purposes with their plan to regain the confidence of the Afghan people.
It all comes down to the character of George W. Bush, his advisors, and the military-industrial complex (all a part of the corporate security state). As a particular type of Christian, Bush believed in vengeance, not reconciliation. An industrialist, Bush had no problem with Americans and allies profiting from war. An elitist from an aristocratic family, Bush did not care about the suffering of innocents. As a guy in love with winning, he insisted on unconditional surrender. A sadist, he had no problems with torture.
Heela's is the only deeply covered story about a woman in the book, but there are many stories about men. Boys orphaned by the communists or warlords or the Taliban, joining militias because that was the only way to survive. Uneducated men clever and vicious enough to become warlords themselves. A lot of the people portrayed end up dead by bullets or explosions, by U.S. missiles or misinformed U.S. Special Forces or Taliban or warlords or just being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Anand Gopal is a great writer. His characters come alive in the book. He does not hit readers over the head with a political critique. The book is anecdotal. It is not filled with statistics of exactly who killed (or tortured) who and why.
But it is clear: the new Taliban is George Bush's Taliban. The Taliban were never Al-Qaeda. The Taliban leadership not only offered to give up Osama Bin Laden [see page 13], but later offered to surrender to the U.S. or to the Karzai government, provide they would not be persecuted. But George W. Bush followed the bad example established by Franklin Delano Roosevelt: surrender had to be unconditional.
By criminalizing the Taliban and then financing warlords, President Bush and crew (and later President Obama and crew) wasted trillions of U.S. taxpayer dollars reconstituting the Taliban. Or perhaps they don't consider any profitable dollar given to defense contractors wasted. In any case the same thing that happened in China under Chiang Kai-shek and that is happening now in Syria with ISIS happened in Afghanistan. Much of the money and weaponry that the U.S. gave to warlords ended up in Taliban hands.
Despite all that, there are many good actors in Gopal's book. There were the Afghan communists, who were champions of women's rights. There were people bravely trying to establish women's rights and democracy under the Karzai regime. There are those who are sick of the fighting, and try to minimize it. There are also men who have done both bad and good, who feel caught in a trap.
The future looks frightening, but perhaps when U.S. money is gone, people will have little incentive to fight each other. It should be up to the Afghans to decide their future, with ballots, or with bullets, or however. Outside interference has been a disaster. Let them tend their almond and apricot trees, and their opium, and tend to healing their wounds.
This is the must-read non-fiction book of 2014.
Buy No Good Men Among the Living from Amazon.com
Buy No Good Men Among the Living from Four-eyed Frog Books in Gualala, CA
Buy from publisher: Metropolitan Books
A slightly different version of this article was published by Mendoday: No Good Men Among the Living book review
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