Posts Tagged ‘war in Afghanistan’

Ubud encounters: Afghanistan for Afghans

October 21, 2013

Australian painter Ben Quilty and Indonesian writer Agustinus Wibowo told the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival in Bali how they each reached Afghanistan by different routes for different reasons. But following their stays, they both also reached the same conclusion: after a dozen years and thousands of casualties, it’s time for Afghanistan to solve its problems without foreign help.

Wibowo came to Afghanistan for the first time as a curious and footloose traveler. In Afghanistan as well as Pakistan, Wibowo said that since he came from Indonesia, people assumed he was Muslim. Telling them he was an ethic Chinese raised in the Buddhist tradition would either provoke suspicion or pointless debate, including attempts to convert him. “But I found the perfect answer,” Wibowo revealed. “When people asked if I was Muslim, I’d say, ‘Insy’allah’ [God willing].”

Later, Wibowo said he found an even better answer from Afghan imam. “He told me he was a member of the highest religion of all: humanity.”

Wibowo found a number of jobs in Afghanistan. For a time he was a photojournalist. “The first time I covered a bombing and I saw the bodies and blood, I couldn’t sleep for a week. But then it became routine.”

He noted that when foreign troops and aid workers first came to Afghanistan, they were welcomed. But by 2006, Afghans’ views had changed. “Billions of dollars are pumped into Afghanistan, but nothing has changed,” Wibowo said. He said there are “two worlds, Afghanis and expats,” noting,” Only 20 percent of the money poured into Afghanistan goes to locals.” The rest goes for foreigners’ salaries and benefits, along with materials from overseas. The ongoing frustration over foreign presence has led to a resurgence in support for the Taliban.

Wibowo, who has written three books about his travels in Central Asia and China, also warned, “We cannot impose first world concepts on fifth world countries.” He cited his experience as a consultant to a United Nations gender equity initiative where foreign feminists told local women in workshops that if their husbands got angry, they should question them about why they were angry. “The next day, the women came back with bruises.”

Ben Quilty went to Afghanistan in 2011 as the Australian War Memorial’s office al artist. Spending time with Australian troops, he found good people fighting a bad war. He bonded with many of the troops, and his works from Afghanistan remain on tour in Australia. He also found circumstances that fit today’s headlines.

“I went to Kabul to try to speak to the Australian embassy, and I couldn’t get in. I didn’t have the right passes. So I don’t know how Afghans are supposed to go get their papers fixed,” Quilty said, addressing Australia’s policy of turning away undocumented immigrants trying to land by ship.

“If we’re at war with a country and sending people there to try to make it safe, if that’s not a reason to take these people in, I don’t know what is.”

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at www.muhammadcohen.com; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.

Paul Wolfowitz shouldn’t be seen or heard

March 6, 2011

In the late 1980s, automaker Isuzu began a series of commercials featuring Joe Isuzu, a pitchman congenitally incapable of telling the truth. “I used my new Isuzu pickup truck to carry a 2,000 pound cheeseburger,” Joe Isuzu, played by actor David Leisure, declared. He claimed one Isuzu had “more seats than the Astrodome,” and that another was faster than a speeding bullet that he caught – in mid-sentence – between his teeth.

Paul Wolfowitz is the Joe Isuzu of US foreign policy. Whatever Wolfowitz says is untrue, simply wrong if not an outright lie. Therefore, it’s little short of astounding that CNN programs Fareed Zakaria GPS and Anderson Cooper 360 put Wolfowitz on the air as an expert on the situation in Libya. Perhaps CNN, a network I was proud to have worked for, no longer wants to be seen as a credible news organization.

In case you’ve forgotten, as Deputy Secretary of Defense, Wolfowitz wasn’t just a leading architect of the George W Bush administration’s ill-conceived invasion of Iraq. His mulish conviction, shared by his boss Donald Rumsfeld, that reality would conform to his beliefs, and utter dismissal of opinions differing from his own, transformed the Iraq misadventure into an unmitigated disaster. After failing to secure Afghanistan following the overthrow of its Taliban rulers because the Bush administration was stingy with reconstruction funding and troops, Wolfowitz helped ensure those errors were repeated in Iraq.

Wolfowitz forecast Iraqis would greet US troops with flowers as liberators; instead, more than 4,000 Americans have been killed by insurgents. He scoffed at suggestions it would require more than 100,000 troops to bring security to Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein; in reality, US troop strength in Iraq didn’t drop below 100,000 until 2009. Wolfowitz insisted that the war and the occupation would pay for itself; US direct costs for the war and its aftermath have so far exceeded $850 billion, and long term costs will surpass $2.5 trillion. The Center for Public Integrity flagged Wolfowitz for 85 Iraq-related lies through 2007, a higher total than his fellow Bush administration pillar of integrity Condoleezza Rice.

Like Rice, Wolfowitz adopts the air of an intellectual but he’s strictly a partisan hack, a shameless ideologue who’ll say anything to promote his side. After the 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202, Wolfowitz blamed the fall for the Suharto regime that Wolfowitz coddled as US Ambassador to Indonesia from 1986 to 1989 for allowing terrorists to gain ground. But last week he decried the Obama administration for not doing more to topple Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, as if anti-government protesters – unlike US-dependent autocrats – in Egypt are ripe for US influence. Rest assured, though, should any future Egyptian government take a harder line on Israel, Wolfowitz will be the first to criticize the Obama administration for failing to prop up Mubarak.

Moreover, 202 deaths from outlaw terrorists in Bali made it a mistake for the US not to intervene against an organic, homegrown movement that ousted Suharto. But an official death count in excess of 100,000, estimated true casualties of more than 500,000, plus huge falls in Iraqi living standards and US global prestige, didn’t make it wrong for the US to invade Iraq on false pretenses.

By the way, let’s not forget that in addition to his errors in the foreign policy field, Wolfowitz added personal dishonesty after failing up to the World Bank presidency. He secured excessive pay hikes for his girlfriend at the bank, then lied about it.

Yet Zakaria and Cooper put Wolfowitz on the air, as if he’s not a congenital liar and hasn’t been wrong about every major foreign policy question he’s faced as a public official. Rather than question him about his catalogue of failures that have cost thousands of lives and billions of dollars, they listened to him as if he knows something. When he urged the US to take military action in Libya to oust Moammar Gaddafi, no one reminded Wolfowitz that the invasion of Iraq has made it impossible for the US to intervene in the Middle East without being suspected of the worst possible motives and breeding greater anti-Americanism worldwide, even if, unlike the Iraq fiasco, it’s undertaken with the best intentions.

Perhaps less surprisingly, Wolfowitz has the gall to appear on mainstream television rather than hiding out in rightwing sinecures. Cooper and Zakaria are, like Wolfowitz, card carrying members of the elite that transcends ideology and common decency among its own and runs on self-congratulatory fellowship.

When Wolfowitz talks to them, he has no reason to fear that anyone will note his colossal errors in judgment and make him pay some price, even if it’s merely a small measure of humiliation, for his mistakes. The next person who puts Wolfowitz on the air needs to accept that responsibility and make Wolfowitz start to do the same.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie.


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