As my hands fumble for the next words, my eyes are blurring, filled with the sorrow of times past. Of a better time, a better America, where people knew their place. When we understood that some people are born different from other people, and the different ones would do well to stay on their side of the tracks. All of which was backed up by science. And some Jesus. Back then, if you and your beau got in a family way, well, there was going to be a wedding.
They were called shotgun weddings, because generally there was some sort of expression of the 2nd Amendment (Hallelujah!) involved wherein the young man and father-to-be would be introduced to his baby momma’s daddy. And somewhere would emerge daddy’s favorite shotgun (Thank you, Jesus!), whereby said daddy would exercise his right to coerce his daughter and her sperm donor to be joined in holy matrimony so as to avoid the embarrassment of folks knowing that the young people had the s-e-x before marriage. (Amen!)
Since we live in an age where we let all kinds of crazy shit happen: black voters, women drivers, and folks apparently unashamed to have their babies out of wedlock, one would assume that American foreign policy would have also evolved. That in a time where we don’t believe the world is flat or that the sun revolves around the earth that maybe we’d have gotten a little less colonial in our attitudes. That since we now know that selling people like cattle is bad, we’d be pretty ok with letting brown people decide their political fate.
Except that in a world where we’re more worried about Muslims than the banks, more afraid of immigrants than crippling student debt, and more concerned with building colleges made of rainbows that crap kittens rather than spaces where we grapple with ideas that contradict our own, we still go full gunboat when it comes to our diplomacy. Except that instead of TR’s battleships, we come bearing checkbooks. Checkbooks we’re more than happy to close if the diplomatic discourse runs counter to American goals.
In a post-colonial world, the pen will always be mightier than the sword. Because a country that can’t settle its internal differences in a way that makes the White House happy, well, then, maybe it’s time to re-think the next tranche of foreign aid. Aid your country needs to keep its lights on (such as they are), pay your government workers, and keep your army rolling, even if it only ever moves in reverse.
I have to emphasize to you that if you do not have an agreement, if you do not move to a unity government, the United States will not be able to support Afghanistan. — John Kerry, getting his gunboat on
Which is the situation Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah found themselves in over a year ago, when Secretary of State John Kerry made it clear that there was either going to be a National Unity Government (NUG), or the money would stop. When you and your foreign donor colleagues have the financial ability to bring a country to a screeching halt, that there’s a relationship we might call a touch “exploitative.” The only thing missing from Kerry’s offer was a velour tracksuit.
What happened last fall wasn’t democracy in action. It was at best a marriage of convenience and at worst another case of US diplomatic extortion. Which I know isn’t really a thing, but that’s what it looked like from the cheap seats. And now that it’s 2015, the president and his CEO get along so well they can’t even do joint photo ops.
— Antony Blinken (@ABlinken) December 14, 2015
And while I’m sure love bloomed from more than one buckshot driven nuptials, what’s happened with the NUG has been anything but happily ever after. The country’s still mired in corruption, the government’s nearly incapable of getting anything done thanks to a lack of support and consensus, and there’s an argument to be made that the security situation is worse than ever.
All of which has made people more than a little nostalgic for one Hamid Karzai. Who has done nothing but exacerbate the current political situation, issuing statements in public and doing his best behind closed doors to shore up his own position in a post-American Afghanistan. Because even though he ceded his seat at the Arg thanks to constitutional mandates, His Hamidness wouldn’t turn down the offer to run an interim government. That is, if the NUG disintegrates to the point where that has to be the reality.
But while the Americans set this in motion and Karzai’s making sure it comes apart at the seams, much of the blame for the Afghan situation rests with Islamabad. Pakistan’s support for the Taliban and its continued inability to reign in the Boys from Balochistan plays too large a role in the current state of affairs to give them a pass. Which is what the Americans continue to do, despite rumblings that the relationship may shift to something less beneficial to Pakistani leadership.
I was one of those cheering on those brave enough to go to the polls in 2014. And we were right to do so. Afghanistan’s first democratic transfer of power was imminent, and we all wanted to see some part of the Great American Intervention yield long-term benefits for the Afghans. But, like most shotgun weddings, we got the honeymoon first.
Now, we’re left with a union no one wants, and the only thing Ghani and Abdullah probably agree on is that the current arrangement won’t last long. The chances of the NUG surviving intact until the 2019 elections are about as likely as a Duggar family whiskey, and the real loser won’t be the US. It will be the Afghan people, left with a government that can’t govern, thanks to American shotgun diplomacy.
Also published on Medium.