Afghanistan“We believe that our government is weak, stupid, overbearing, dishonest, and inefficient, and also believe it to be the best in the world and would like to offer it to others.” This insight of Professor Michael Kammen came to mind as I drove around the teeming, dusty streets of Kabul last week.

The United States has an enormous military, political and economic presence in Afghanistan, which will increase before it decreases, trying to bring to the Afghan people the kind of government against which Americans have been screaming in so-called town hall meetings recently. Many Afghanis are dying and risking their lives to achieve even a semblance of the kind of government many Americans seem to distrust at best and hate at worst.

Perhaps it is because this ancient culture is tired and wishes a halt to everyone using it as a modern-day version of the OK Corral for the U.S. Army and the Taliban.

Unlike Iraq, however, we didn’t send our Army there because we wanted to; we did so because our most recent day of infamy, 9/11, originated there. And, partly because we chose not to finish the job in 2002, we are now back to pick up where we left off seven years ago.

As a member of a small international group observing the second presidential election in this very old country’s history, these reflections are rendered not to stimulate debate about American policy in Afghanistan but to reflect on 21st century democracy and what it means through a different set of eyes and, strangely enough, to ponder whether the Afghan people, even in their desperate life-and-death struggle, might have a lesson for us.

A small army of media, non-governmental organizations, and members of the international community blanketed last week’s election focusing on the same questions that dominate U.S. elections: winners and losers; voter turnout; rumors of manipulation and fraud; and, in this case, numbers of dead and wounded. Within 48 hours, most of this army was at the airport, headed for the next war zone or arena of excitement.

The skeptics concluded that the turnout was low, especially in the hostile south and east, too many women stayed away out of fear, and as many as 50 or more were killed on election day. For the smaller group of us who saw the glass half full, however, it was an inspiring experience. Despite ancient cultural and religious traditions of misogyny, a surprising number of candidates of provincial councils were women, and women voted in appreciable numbers in the safer regions. Unlike the only previous national presidential election in 2004, this election was managed by the Afghan government and included an independent election commission. The candidates spoke to issues of great public concern and avoided attacks and acrimony much more, it must be said, than in American elections. No one called any of the candidates “socialists” or “communists.”

( read the full article at The Denver Post)

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8 Responses to “In Afghanistan, the true meaning of democracy”

  1. MJR Montoya Says:

    I agree that our mediation of the democratic process does not adequately mark the growth of democracy around the world. Even in our own country, millions of people participated in the democratic process for the first time, marked well beyond our visiting the voting booth. Our interest in that process, unfortunately, is marred by the desire for personal acknowledgment. As narrators and reporters of large-scale phenomena, we have focused our efforts on special interest stories. As advocates of our political agendas, we focus our attention on becoming persons of interest. As a result, the principals most relevant to our increasingly fragile political landscape are not the central feature of our social discourse. Sen. Hart’s article draws our attention to this reality. Sometimes those who shout the loudest have the least to say. We have seen this in regard to our failed attempt to produce a serious discussion about healthcare in this country, and it constantly plagues our ability to fight terrorism as a ideological threat. This is not a popular position to have, because taken to its logical conclusion, it’s less important to catch Osama Bin Laden than to combat the circumstances that produced his hatred. It is less important to match wits between famous interlocutors than to measure our responses in relation to the underlying principal. In chess, the king is not any one player. It is the idea itself. We must train ourselves to relearn the game.

  2. Kristie Mansfield Says:

    Mr. Hart, you overlooked the real reason we are in pipelineistan, its the IMF, world bank and NATO and our Hessian Army making it safe to extract the resources out from underneath the poorest people on earth.
    If this was about democracy, our money and lives would be better spent improving our own.

  3. Gary Hart Says:

    I did not “overlook” it, Ms. Mansfield, I simply don’t, without further evidence, accept it. If building a pipeline through Afghanistan were at the bottom of this bloodshed, the Chinese would have gotten there first.
    We went there in 2002, as I wrote, to get bin Laden. Then, some people decided Iraq looked more interesting. If you are looking for conspiratorial policies, I’d stick closer to the Persian Gulf.

  4. Gary Hart Says:

    I did not “overlook” the pipeline allegation, Ms. Mansfield. I simply have not seen sufficient evidence to prove it. Further, if the bloodshed in Afghanistan was about a pipeline, we should have expected the Chinese to be there first. If one wishes to search for conspiracy policy, I’d recommend staying closer to the Persian Gulf.

  5. John Manley Says:

    I was a member of the same observation team, and agree with Senator Hart’s comments. My thoughts were published at

    Recently, in a special election held in my home province of Ontario, 25% of registered voters bothered to show up to vote. This without threats of violence. The people of Afghanistan have shown real courage even as they struggle with the difficult circumstances that confront them. They deserve our respect and our help.

  6. Tom Says:

    What about the poppy crop grown in the region. Yes, we complain about our government. It is nothing if our government is the best in the world if it is not the best that it can be. If every child in your child’s class was getting and “F” would you be satisfied if your child was getting a “D” if you knew that your child was capable of getting an “A”?

  7. Gary Hart Says:

    My thanks to my colleague John Manley for his comment on Afghanistan as well as for his service to his nation (Canada)

  8. Paul Weissmann Says:

    Senator Hart. You state that we are in Afghanistan “partly because we chose not to finish the job in 2002.” What is that “job?” Getting Bin Laden and “defeating” al-Queda? If that is the “job,” there are likely better ways to achieve the end than simply deploying more troops — we need to be smarter than that and not fight it like it’s yesterday’s war. If “finishing the job” is getting a legitimate government in place and giving them the tools to create stability and not be a global threat, than I’m not sure we will have any better luck than the Soviets had in the 1980’s. Legitimacy in a government cannot come from outside that countries borders, but must be worked internally. That is hard to achieve with troops from another nation there.

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