It’s becoming a familiar theme. An election is held somewhere in the developing world that is hotly contested. The opposition cries foul and demands a recount. Allegations fly as both camps dig in their heels and make their pleas before the international community. Protestors might take to the streets and arrests are made. Yet there is almost something of disputed election fatigue out there after watching the mock elections held in Afghanistan, Iran, and Gabon. Ukraine, whose polls are being held in January, may be the next in line.
We need to disabuse ourselves of several untruths being told about our war efforts in Afghanistan. One is that we are fighting for democracy. Democracy is fine for Norway and Denmark but it is bad in war-torn places that are undeveloped because it becomes a patronage system for kickbacks being handed out to corrupt insiders. What we want is a competent government that can secure its own boundaries and streets. There are plenty of undemocratic governments that do this better than democracies—in fact, most do. Before you write me quoting Winston Churchill’s famous line about democracies, I would just say it was not until Nuri al-Maliki started acting like an all-powerful strongman—or "Saddam without the mustache," as some of his detractors have described him—that the country started resembling a normalized state.
Second, let’s disabuse ourselves of this notion that the corrupt election of Hamid Karzai is somehow why we are rethinking our misadventure there. This is a bogus sentiment. I agree that Karzai is as corrupt as they come, but most of us knew that beforehand so our recent post-election indignation has a Captain Renault sniff to it. The former Iraqi government under Iyad Allawi, in which over $1 billion for the defense ministry somehow went missing, was way more corrupt than Karzai’s government, yet I don’t remember calls from Washington calling for an immediate pullout as a result of such outright fraud. I think we are holding Karzai up to a higher standard because he gives off the impression that he is this regal, above-the-fray leader of his people, when in fact he’s just a backroom dealer who will do anything to keep his current gig.
Who shot Major Hasan? It sounds like the title of a bad Simpsons episode, were the storyline not so tragic. But what unfolded last week at Fort Hood followed a predictable cable-news-friendly narrative. An “evil” gunman goes on a rampage and would have done more damage were it not for a “heroic” woman who subdued him. This is not to discount the bravery of those who fired back, especially given how chaotic a scene it must have been. But why does America feel the need to always find “heroes” in every tragic event that befalls this nation?
I’m not saying these are not genuine heroes, I just question a narrative that oftentimes turns out to be false. It turns out Sgt. Kimberly Munley was not the lone shooter who shot down Nidal Malik Hasan. Sgt Mark Todd was also there and played an important role but the storyline is better if it is just one woman who takes down the marauding villain.
It's unbelievable, really. The US military is holding up Iraq as a model for Afghanistan. They'll tell you it took a few years to get right but by golly, Iraq is at peace with itself, with a large armed forces, a democratically elected government, and commerce flourishing. Let's replicate that "success" in Afghanistan.
Iraq is remarkably more peaceful than it was in 2006. Baghdad is safer than many U.S. cities (but, given the sad state of our inner cities, is that a good barometer?). And the government has reclaimed its monopoly on the use of force, important for any government trying to claim legitimacy.
Lionel Beehner is a term member and former senior writer at the Council on Foreign Relations. He is a member of USA Today's Board of Contributors and frequent contributor to the New York Times Sunday Travel section. His writing has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Christian Science Monitor, Guardian Online, International Herald Tribune, Baltimore Sun, New York Daily News, Newsday, New Republic, New York Magazine, Slate, Seed, Foreign Policy, and Foreign Affairs Magazine. He teaches op-ed writing at Mediabistro, and is writing a book about U.S. foreign policy and non-state actors.