Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Winds At Dawn

In 1978, President Sardar Mohammad Daoud Khan, the founder of the modern republic of Afghanistan, and his family were assassinated and buried in an unmarked grave during a communist coup. Daoud, a progressive yet repressive leader hardly representative of democratic government, had wrested control of the country only five years earlier in a coup against his own cousin, King Mohammad Zahir Shah; ironically, it was Zahir who introduced democratic reforms during his reign, including free elections and universal suffrage. Sadly, the assassination of Daoud precipitated thirty years of conflict – beginning with the Soviet Union’s invasion the year after – that still endures. Yet, thanks to the U.S.-led overthrow of the Taliban government in 2001, the current democratically elected government under President Hamid Karzai is preparing to put to rest its past by reinterring the former president with a state funeral – a stark reminder of what was lost and what has been regained.

A world away, Venezuelans have seemingly embraced despotism – no less through democratic means. In a referendum vote, President Hugo Chavez secured a slim victory in removing term limits for all public officials, essentially paving the way for him and his political cronies to stay in power for decades and further their socialist agenda. Much like his friend Fidel Castro, the former “president” of Cuba, President Chavez is anything but, and should call himself what he is – a dictator. Only dictators seek to maintain their power for as long as possible, while presidents seek to lead until such time when it is time for them to step down. Castro and Chavez are to George Washington or Abraham Lincoln what an apple is to an orange – not alike at all, except for both being fruits.

There is the belief that such things do not, and cannot, occur in the United States. The U.S. was founded on democratic principles, and Americans have always elected their leaders. Yet, four out of 44 presidents have been assassinated, each time calling into question our self-touted civil character. Meanwhile, a myriad of crises – the Great Depression being the prime example, no less under the longest-serving U.S. president – have put the country on the brink of radical reform. With the largest economic stimulus in its history and calls for nationalization of major corporate entities, the prospect of a socialist agenda imperiously thrust upon Americans is at hand under the Obama Administration; however, unlike Darth Chavez, President Obama has, at most, only two terms in which to do it. All the while, we face daily threats that seek an inglorious end to our national sovereignty and outright existence.

Perhaps stemming from the Soviet-era occupation, a certain affinity for the Afghan people has always existed in the United States. After all, only John Rambo could go to Kabul. Seemingly, Afghanis have been waging battle against oppression and control of their country for decades, from the Soviets to the Taliban. They continue that fight still today alongside U.S.-led forces, understanding what is at stake for their future.

On the other front, the opposite seems true of Iraq. That is not a disparaging observation, simply a matter of perspective. The Iraqis have known only oppression and occupation over the same period as the Afghan people, with no understanding of freedom and self-government. There is a good reason for that fact:  Saddam Hussein ruthlessly stamped out such ideas by slaughtering the people who voiced them.

In the judgment of many, that was the problem from the beginning. Taking for granted our own circumstances, Americans inherently believe that everyone wants what we want. There is, of course, nothing wrong with that thinking. We thought what had occurred in Afghanistan – the overthrow of the Taliban and establishment of an elective government almost over night – could happen in Iraq. When Saddam Hussein was overthrown, we thought the Iraqis at the same time would embrace democratic ideals just as the Afghanis had upon the removal of the Taliban regime. It did not happen for one simple reason:  the socio-political culture and history of Iraq, and our misunderstanding of it. Think of it in terms of a fiery, caged animal versus a timid, abused one – we failed to realize that the Afghanis have been zealously fighting for it for decades while the Iraqis have not. Just because one breaks the bonds of oppression does not mean the enlightenment of freedom will replace it.

At the same time, the defeatist attitude that has crept into the fight against the enemies of democracy and freedom – particularly from those nations that have both – is unfathomable. Regrettably, the United States is not immune. Like the Iraqis, Americans, or at least half of the polled electorate, have no idea, have forgotten or just do not care for what it is we fight, lulled by media coverage and Washington rhetoric that stymies our efforts and portrays an unwinnable situation. The worst possible course is idly to abide the forces that seek to destroy our ideals, particularly when on the cusp of triumph over them. In the end, that thinking that will lead to our undoing and, ultimately, our own self-destruction; Igor Panarin, dean of the School for Future Diplomats in the Russian Foreign Ministry, predicted before a group at the Diplomatic Academy that the collapse will occur in 2010. The only question is will we act like a caged animal who fights back or an abused one who never gets the chance?  

©2009 Steve Sagarra

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