Hollywood script writers have done way better than American policy planners and generals put together. The movies accomplish impossible missions, while the American administration not only leave their tasks unfinished, they create a huge lot of mess, leave behind their allies in the lurch, and the believers in American superpower status in deep trouble.
But when it comes to cost, neither the Hollywood nor the USA worries about it, whether in terms of dollars or in terms of misery of the people whose human rights etc., etc., etc. had beckoned American intervention in the first place. The US of A enters with a bang and exits with a whimper.
It is by now accepted as the style statement of the super power. But their naivety is beyond imagination. Apologists say they have stitched a face-saving exit by the treaty with Taliban; actually, it was something much more precious they got away with, considering the predilection of the Taliban. Americans have been sleeping with Pakistan for ages and still they have not figured out whether it is their trusted “keep” or a two-timing ally, their spy or a double agent.
To provide a historical context, Independence Day- a film made in 90s, is chillingly smug and self-assured in its basic assumption of the idea of a unipolar world of which America is the unquestioned leader. The experience that I was able to bring back from the viewing was an overwhelming sense of gratitude, that Americans were members of the human race and a reinforced belief that under the global leadership of America, we shall overcome even the more advanced extra-terrestrial monsters.
A satellite engineer detects a 3000-mile-wide mothership approaching the earth with none to friendly intention. Before an appropriate response could be mounted it has caused significant devastation and now America is threatened. Let that sink in - "America is threatened." It is decided that the lives of "more innocent American civilians' should not be risked". The President - a former fighter pilot dons his G-suit, helmet and gloves teams up with scientists and others who have reverse engineered the technology of the aliens to combat their design. After that it is all over. The Africans emerge, then some seeming Arabs, a timely reminder that it is America’s burden to save these hapless creatures as well. Which war is unwinnable which difficulty insuperable if America is in forefront of the enterprise? Which cause, which treaty, which world order can be questioned if the Americans sponsor these? The President of America appropriately declares July 4 - The American Independence Day - as a day of commemoration for the entire planet which is just as well perhaps because America takes a decision and expects the world to ratify it.
Cut back to reality. James Reston, one of the most influential political commentators of his time in an interview with Paul Niven Of the National Educational Television described the American foray into Vietnam thus "(I was) worried whether we could really exercise our power all across the' Pacific Ocean... the big easy walking American kids...! saw the same kids walking in the elephant grass. They had gone to a strategy of searching the enemy and destroying him on his terms, in his country." This same millenary mission took them to the Desert Storm "we went…we didn't ask why-our country called and we felt proud".
It is the privilege of the homo Americanus to feel proud in whatever they do. Whether they rain napalm bombs on innocent civilian population or spread chemical defoliants in Vietnam or sow land mines like some malevolent tubers. To these immemorial events, we must now add some of its more recent humanitarian acts in the interest of saving democracy from non-existent WMDs.
During the Iraq War, a squad of Blackwater mercenaries killed 17 civilians at Nisour Square, a traffic intersection in Baghdad. But it pales into insignificance before the much more heinous and culpable Haditha carnage. In 2005, a squad of U.S. Marines shot down 24 unarmed civilians ranging from age 3 to 76, one of them was in a wheelchair, some still in their pyjamas in their bedrooms reviving brutalities memories of the My Lai massacre. No one, however, came to grief and even the squad leader, Staff Sergeant Frank D. Wuterich, was acquitted in a court martial. It needed telling in some detail because America keeps a very detailed account of all transgressions against Human rights all over the world.
But think what they might even the American might is worsted sometimes and they were forced to retreat from Vietnam, with as much good grace as they could, in a sticky situation. (They have overhauled this record in Afghanistan. In Vietnam there was a decent interval in the change of regime, Taliban did not even show them this courtesy).
To Hollywood now falls the task of redeeming their self-esteem which was denied them in history. Regular sorties are made in films like Lost In Action to rescue American soldiers who were taken prisoners of war by the mean and "yellow Asians." The likes of Sylvester Stallone finish the task of "destroying the enemy on his own terms in his own country", piecemeal. Unmindful of the historicity or the morality of the issues involved in Iraq, Afghanistan etc., the simplistic movies use conflict simply as a backdrop, as in Iron Man, or merely as a pretext for display of individual heroism in Lone Survivor. As an American film critic observed movies are becoming a way to create public memory.
In reality, America also manipulates public memory. Taliban was once poison? It was the epicentre of global terrorism. America travelled 12,000 kms and hunted them for decades to make their homeland - and the world - safe from terrorism. In the end they departed in a spirit of bonhomie, making the gift of a fully fitted out modern military state. What happened in these twenty years? How did Taliban become good?
Look at mainland China. It was not recognised by it, till 1979. As an entity it stood in the same category of political evil as Russia. Thanks to its ally Pakistan, America saw great possibilities in China. Its appalling record in human rights, organ harvesting, political executions, detention of the dissidents, and other unedifying activities suddenly ceased to matter. A well-crafted narrative made engagement not only acceptable but the Chinese isolation for so long look like a bit of a 'mistake. Mr. Clinton who had squarely denounced George Bush for "coddling" to the Chinese leadership in the end decided “Let us go and make our visit.”
The Chinese charmed the world by unrolling its Oriental pageantry at its best, something even Hollywood could be proud of, to make this event truly historic. This was a different kind of footage shot "live", but it exploited to the full the possibilities of what Umberto Eco calls "event as mise en scene and life a scene setting.' Mr. Clinton and Xiang clashed over human rights, as scripted, at Tiananmen Square- the symbolism need not be lost - for the benefit of the audience back home. Clinton was fielded all the right questions at the Beijing University, and the host spared no effort to make "the democracy in Chinese village", that President Clinton saw appear credible to the rest of the world. This time round, in the interest of democracy global peace etc., America stooped to conquer the enemy, to capitulate to the enemy "in his own country on his own terms". China became wholly good. (The process of revising the memory has been undertaken timidly.)
So are there any lessons to be learnt from Afghanistan, other than what Kissinger’s, which was not taken seriously. It is dangerous to be America’s enemy but to be its friend is fatal. To me there appear to be two: one, beware of the American bearing the gift of democracy. Two, the moral capital of America is its dollar and if expenses in dollars mount, then saving dollars becomes a moral imperative greater than ushering in democracy.
General Smedley Brown once said, “The trouble with America is that when the dollar only earns 6 percent over here, then it gets restless and goes overseas to get 100 percent. Then the flag follows the dollar and the soldiers follow the flag.” The reverse is also true. If costs in dollars of a noble mission start mounting the American flag folds up, retreats and the American soldiers follow their flag.
India Today magazine once referred to Manoje Nath, a 1973-batch IPS officer, as being fiercely independent, honest, and upright. Besides his numerous official reports on various issues exposing corruption in the bureaucracy in Bihar, Nath is also a writer extraordinaire expressing his thoughts on subjects ranging from science fiction to the effects of globalization. His sense of humor was evident through his extremely popular series named "Gulliver in Pataliputra" and "Modest Proposals" that were published in the local newspapers.