“Our mission in Afghanistan was never to build a democracy, but to prevent terrorist attacks on American soil,” declared US President Joe Biden on August 16, amid the chaos generated by the US exit from Afghanistan. He was publicly challenged by the architect of that war, George W. Bush, calling the withdrawal “a mistake.”
The opposition of both positions shows to what extent the masks of the defense of democracy and human rights that were covered by the interference of the great powers have fallen in recent years.
“We will export democracy”
Author Christine Sylvester discusses in her book Masquerades of War the way in which wars put on masks that serve, among other things, to legitimize violence that would not otherwise be acceptable. It thus refers to the layers of discourse with which the elites that promote wars cover the reality of the horror that they suppose for those who suffer them. The invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, after the attacks of September 11, exemplified the process of building that war masquerade.
I lived through this process closely between 2001 and 2003, when I was teaching Spanish at the University of Kansas, a small progressive oasis in a conservative context. The attack against the Twin Towers, which plunged the country into a state of shock, was immediately followed by a state of alert speech that closed ranks around the president and which, through a strong propaganda campaign, spread to the media of communication, universities and centers of all the country.
The faculty received emails from the dean inviting us to publicly support the US troops, and those who dared to launch messages, more or less timid, against the war, suffered layoffs or boycotts. All that military operation, which was considered essential for self-defense in the face of an unprecedented attack, was covered with a discourse of construction and expansion of democracy.
A vision of the world in two axes was reinforced in which the United States fought nothing less than to safeguard “the good” in capital letters, not only for its own citizens but for the rest of the world, in need of a good policeman who would impart justice against the forces of evil.
“We don’t owe you anything”
Twenty years later, Biden’s speech unceremoniously renounces that democratizing claim, that idea of democracy or the good in capital letters, and puts the sole accent on the American desire to fight a war that does not bring him anything. He emphasizes that he owes nothing to the Afghans, who “have not known how to use the freedom we have given them,” in a sincere and ruthless speech.
It leaves millions of people to their fate, including women, who have been a take-and-put argument in the companies of the great powers and who to leave at the mercy of the Taliban power means condemning them to death. most absolute submission or to death. The duty to protect or the responsibility towards the suffering generated by your country in the longest war in its history no longer occupies the margins of the discourse.
Afghanistan is not an isolated case, but rather exemplifies a growing drift in the geopolitics deployed in the Middle East region, which has become a great barometer of impunity in which the fate of civilians does not occupy even discursive considerations for the powers. occupants.
Neither for the international ones, with Russia playing an increasing leadership with its scorched earth policies, nor for the regional ones (Iran and Saudi Arabia, but also Israel or Turkey), nor for the dictatorships themselves that subject their populations openly and without the need to comply with minimum human rights guidelines, not even in the face of the gallery (Assad in Syria or Sisi in Egypt).
The fall of the masks that were dressed in search of liberation and the interference, occupations and alliances with which the US and other powers seek to advance their interests is seen with more clarity if possible if we look at Israel and Palestine. The layer of discourse seeking a just solution, which clashed with the fait accompli in support of the occupation on the ground, has given way in recent years to measures much more representative of true American intentions, as demonstrated by the unilateral declaration of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
The trend is palpable also on the part of the European powers, in a context of border closures, increased impunity and weakening of the mechanisms for the protection of the most vulnerable people. This is demonstrated by the decision of the Danish Government to withdraw the residence permit of refugees from Syria, returning them to a country where dissidents murdered “on an industrial scale“and in which they face almost certain death.
The measure supposes a change in the conceptions of “security” and “stability” linked to a abandonment of responsibility of a country that in 1951 was the first to sign the United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, which establishes the rights of refugees and the obligations of states to protect them.
Faced with the previous democratizing claim, and also facing the “we owe you nothing” to which the great powers tend today, it is urgent, as Sylvester emphasizes, to promote approaches to wars focused on understanding and attending to their effects on their protagonists. It is urgent to hear the requests of those who live and suffer them in the first person, of those who resist giving us great examples of courage and humanity, such as the Afghan women who today yell at us that they are still there.