Ivan Eland Director of the Center on Peace and Liberty


Afghanistan: "It’s going to get worse"

Download audio file  20 July 2011, 17:45

Interview with Ivan Eland, the Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Peace and Liberty. I’d like to ask you a few questions today regarding the transfer of power to the Afghani forces in Afghanistan. The Bamyan Province has been handed over to Afghan control.

Interview with Ivan Eland, the Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Peace and Liberty.

I’d like to ask you a few questions today regarding the transfer of power to the Afghani forces in Afghanistan. The Bamyan Province has been handed over to Afghan control. Some of the experts are saying that they might as well have just handed the territory to the Taliban, since, in many experts’ opinion, the Afghan security forces are not ready to provide full security in the country. What’s your opinion on the readiness of the Afghan troops?

Of course, the Afghan forces after almost ten years of training still have a problem with corruption, education, lack of training, discipline and that sort of thing. So they are not very effective fighting force. And I think this is not their choice. I mean this is the best case scenario, so I am not surprised they are turning over the provinces. But I think it’s going to get worse as we go on.

Do you think the Taliban will take over, gain more power, as NATO and US forces withdraw from the country?

Definitely, I think the Afghan security forces are not ready to be on their own and that’s after almost ten years of training by the US, there are problems with corruption, discipline and education. And, of course, they have been infiltrated to some extent by the Taliban themselves. I think the key question is not whether the U.S. can clear provinces, even having problems such as Khandahar and the Helmand Province in the south – because, yes, the US has simply outgunned the Talban with the best military in the world – the problem is who we will turn it over to. And that is the problem, and it is going to be a problem until the US withdraws and even after the US withdraws it’s going to be a problem even worse. So, I think that the real problem in Afghanistan, is that after ten years we don’t have anybody to turn it over to.

Do you think that Obama’s plan to withdraw forces was premature?

You know, we had ten years or thereabouts and they are not winning it, and the military never said they could win it. They were just trying to change the battelfield equation, so that the Taliban would negotiate. Of course, that hasn’t worked. It didn’t work in Vietnam. And the problem is that the Taliban, like the North Vietnamese and the Vietcong, were fighting for their own country and in their own country. And so is the Taliban, therefore the time horizon that they have, they are willing to wait a lot longer to get rid of the United States. And of course, the Afghans could then go on fighting for decades, such as the Vietnamese were fighting for decades. So I think the strategy, if you are a guerilla is to just out-wait the opponent, and if you are not losing or winning, because eventually your opponent is going to go away, and I think announcing it is probably foolish. But, nevertheless, I think Obama’s policy of getting out is the right one, because I don’t think they’re going to win that if they announce it or not. it’s time to leave.

Commanders there, on the ground, are saying it’s too early, and any advances that were made are just going to, basically, go out of the window. Would you agree with that statement?

I think, well, I don’t think it’s too early, because military people will always tell you, “Oh, we’ve got to stay, because we have all this invested.” But of course if its perishable, as it is, because the Afghan security forces are not very good, despite, one: more Americans got killed, more Afghans get killed, and we reach the same result, which is what happened in Vietnam, and I think what you need to do is cut your losses and get out of there. And, you know, “They lose credibility arguments” and that sort of thing just as they did in Vietnam – but US credibility would have been higher if they had gotten out earlier in Vietnam than staying around. And I think the US, if they ride the sinking ship down, it’s going to experience the same thing that happened in Vietnam. So, I think we have to concentrate on what’s important – and that’s fighting terrorism, not doing nation building in Afghanistan.

I was going to ask you if you thought that, in your opinion: Has the US won in any way in Afghanistan? You keep mentioning Vietnam. I think that kind of answers that question. In your opinion, what advances have been made in Afghanistan, if any?

There have been advances, I think, in rural education and some infrastructure. But the problem is that it’s very perishable and I think that’s always been a problem, you can pour racks of money into a country but if it’s not sustainable after you leave. Then worse. It’s a waste of time, at best it’s a waste of time, worse you’ve created a lot of infrastructure to help the future Taliban government, which is probably not going to be that kind to the United States. I doubt that it’s going to come out very well for the US.

I ask most of the experts I speak with this question, if we are talking about Afghanistan, and nobody has been able to give me a definitive answer: Why is the US in Afghanistan?

That’s probably because there is not a big definitive answer to give. Originally of course they had wanted to overthrow the Taliban government, because they had harbored al-Qaeda. But of course, once doing that, you know, the United States probably should have left. And just said, “Listen, we don’t care who rules Afghanistan, but if anybody harbors al-Qaeda and attacks the US we’re going to be back with a vengeance.” But the US chose to try a new model, rebuild the Afghan nation, and build a democracy, which the country is culturally contrary to. And also they are trying to build a centralized government when in recent history Afghanistan is very decentralized. So, we undertook this nation-building program and we are not really fighting al-Qaeda, which is what we were supposed to be doing. Al-Qaeda is in Pakistan and we are doing drone attacks. But that has nothing to do with Afghanistan.

You mentioned Vietnam several times. Would you characterize Afghanistan as being the US’s second Vietnam?

Yes, it could certainly be, because, I think, the fact is we are moving that way, the Taliban is not negotiating, we also said we are going to pull out. And therefore, it’s down to; either the Taliban will have a voice in post-US government or the Taliban will take over. And I think that’s what people on the ground, like human rights workers etc, are expecting. Contrary to the optimistic and praising, I should say cautiously optimistic, things we are hearing from the military. The military has to be “cautiously optimistic”  because, if they don’t, morale of the soldiers goes down and also I think the public opinion will sink even further in the US about this war – and it’s pretty low already. So, they have no choice but to keep up an optimistic view. But I think people on the ground, international observers and even American aid workers and human rights workers are sort of expecting the Taliban to increase its influence as the US withdraws.

Western Double Standards in Terrorism Cases

Download audio file  1 August 2011, 19:54

When we talk about al-Qaeda, we are talking about, excuse me, Islamic terrorists and high-light religion in this aspect. But when it comes to someone who is of the Christian faith that’s downplayed. I think it’s a sort of double standard that we focus on religion in the case of al-Qaeda but not in the case of somebody like Breivik in Norway. — Ivan Eland, Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Peace and Liberty at the Independent Institute in the US.

Interview with Ivan Eland, Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Peace and Liberty at the Independent Institute in the US.

Recently you wrote an article on double standards in the West towards terrorism cases. Can you fill our listeners in on exactly what you mean?

Think of the Norway case, the way western media was talking about it. First it was the New York Times – I think it’s the leader in the western media – that called him a Christian extremist. Then they started calling him an anti-immigrant or anti-Islamic extremist, dropping the ‘Christian’ part out of it. This was a change but most of the media have called him an anti-immigrant terrorist. And, of course, when we talk about al-Qaeda, we are talking about, excuse me, Islamic terrorists and high-lighten religion in one aspect. But when it comes to someone who is of the Christian faith that’s downplayed. I really think that we should downplay religion in both Islamic and Christian cases, because a vast majority of people from these religions are not radical and do not commit terrorist acts. But I think it’s a sort of double standard that we focus on religion in the case of al-Qaeda but not in the case of somebody like Breivik in Norway.

Why can’t the world community agree on a concrete definition of a terrorist and terrorism?

A lot of this has problems in the western community. Surprisingly, it would seem that a simple definition would be ‘killing civilians to instill fear in civilians to get them to change the policy of their government’. And that’s a very simple, straightforward-working definition that many in the west, in the academic circles, can’t adopt because the fire bombings of Japan and Germany and atomic bombings of Japan and Germany would then be called terror bombings. But, of course, they are not regarded as terrorist acts. Government actions, not only of the US, but many other governments over the centuries have committed much more crimes against innocent civilians than smaller groups. It’s not an excuse to smaller groups like al-Qaeda or other Islamic or non-Islamic terrorist groups but it’s certainly adds perspective. And I think one of the reasons why western governments can’t agree on a definition is that it might implicate their own government for having used terrorist acts before.

You liken Hiroshima and Nagasaki to terrorist acts?

I think they were terrorist acts. But the problem is that we don’t consider that governments do terrorist. We only consider what little groups do nowadays. And certainly little groups can commit big crimes on occasion but usually they don’t. We see hundreds of thousands of people killed in fire bombings, in atomic bombings during World War II. Other governments have done the same to other people. So, governments kill on a mass scale – and this, not to mention the US government, but there have been many other instances of government killing on a mass scale. And government can kill on a mass scale – they have more resources than little groups. But, of course, the origin of the terms “terrorism” comes from governmental terrorism, but it’s now only used to describe ragtag groups, which actually don’t kill that many people. I mean since 9/11 17 Americans have been killed in terrorism and 13 of those were killed in one incident, in the massacre by a Killeen psychiatrist. And they certainly mentioned the fact that he was Islamic at the time, whether it had anything to do with it or not. I guess it did, to some extent, because he was tracked to other groups. As we see in the Oslo case, it’s not confined to people of Islamic faith.

Back to the Oslo case, Breivik was driven by Islamophobia. What’s your take on 9/11, on the western media promoting this point of view?

I think they have and I think the mainstream media does it indirectly by focusing on terminology like, as I’ve mentioned, al-Qaeda as an Islamic group. But if somebody else does that in something like abortion clinics or in this massacre in Oslo, they tend to focus on medicine or anti-immigrant terrorism, not Christian terrorism. They don’t call it Christian terrorism. We have a double standard there and I think we focus on that despite that mainstream media does it indirectly. But, of course, some commentators put more blame when they say Islam is a violent religion. Islam is not more a violent religion than any other religion. There are some violent passages in the Quran and there are some violent passages in the Old Testimony as well as in the New Testimony.  Think religion has evolved over the centuries – both mainstream Christianity and mainstream Islam are very benign religions as far as terrorism or extremism goes. I think there are a number of people around this guy thinking that he’s a Christian crusader going back to the crusade. And al-Qaeda, they are the reverse – they were crusading on the Muslim side. I think that the conflict between Christianity and Islam is probably a clash of civilizations. But I think it’s really been prompted because it is a clash of civilizations that we can get along, but the extremists tend to focus on that. Breivik’s manifesto seems to be mirroring some of the al-Qaeda message in reverse – a reverse crusading or whatever. So, I think extremists have more in common with each other than they do differences in religion.

Some of the tactics of right-wing groups and some of the right-wing media is trying to provoke reactions from Muslims and from the Islamic community. Do you agree with that?

Yes, I think it’s definitely true. I suppose that’s what the Soviet Union wanted, some sort of an enemy. So, they need Islam, they’ve converted Islam into a new threat. And, of course, the reason that al-Qaeda the US has very little to do with religion, the religious side of the problem, rather it is mainly a revenge or a protest against US occupation of Muslim lands. I have no doubt about that. And these phenomena have hit other countries that occupy Islamic land as well, like for instance Israel in Palestine. I think it’s really more of an anti-meddling or anti-occupation rather than a religious theme.

So, you say that for some people its profitable or they need an enemy, and if they can provoke a reaction then they have what they want?

Yes, and I think there is a lot of racism involved in it as well. They don’t like immigrants, particularly Islamic immigrants who come from North Africa. They have a darker skin color than a normal European, or at least a Western European. And so there has been a lot of racism. I think it’s associated with anti-immigration and right-wing parties in Europe play on that


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