- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 29, 2002

President George W. Bush's miraclelike quest to build a stable and democratic Afghanistan from the ramshackle pillars of indigenous lifelong warlords and political figures schooled in autocracy, AK-47s and treachery smacks of folly that is, wisdom retired at half pay. The omens emergent in the aftermath of the Mr. Bush's admirable destruction of Taliban and al Qaeda as serious military concerns are uniformly bleak.

We are in danger of losing the peace after winning the war. The deus ex machina from this impending tragedy is a long-term United Nations Security Council protectorate in Afghanistan reinforced by multinational United Nations peacekeeping troops.

The common people of Afghanistan have been poorly served by their rulers for centuries. Never have they heard of government by the consent of the governed through free and fair elections to justify a jihad. Neither have they heard that thrilling refrain from ethnic warlords or kings, who jockeyed for supremacy for generations until King Zahir Shah was overthrown in 1973. And the king's successors were still worse democrats and statesmen. What has kept Afghanistan in the political Dark Ages a nonstate state has not been miserly foreign aid, but staunch opposition by its benumbing number of self-anointed leaders to institutions of self-government and a culture of individual and equal rights. None has ever been consecrated for preaching resistance to tyranny is obedience to God. That explains the throbbing Afghan jubilance at the arrival of United States soldiers heralding the emancipation of the Afghan people from Taliban and al Qaeda. Not one voiced concern over oppression by the United States. But countless fretted over restoring the witches brew of indigenous warlords and petty, ethnic-driven politicians who had plundered and persecuted from 1992-1996. Afghanistan's populace disrelishes confrontation with a choice like that of the French in 1815 between Napoleon at his megalomaniacal apogee and Bourbon King Louis XVIII. Whether wittingly or not, however, that is precisely the type of choice that President Bush is generating.

Interim Afghan President, Pushtun Hamid Karzai, enjoys microscopic popular support. He has never been elected to any political position. He was a compromise candidate among a cabal of self-selected grandees, whose power bases were ethnic fear and terror, not majority will and the rule of law. Accordingly, Mr. Karzai's ornamental trappings of a national government have proven impotent to thwart the return of rampant ethnic and regional warlordism. Local theft, plunder, and ethnic persecution are now everyday fixtures of Afghan misery.

Unstarry-eyed facts, however, are like irksome flies to starry-eyed believers. Thus, much official fanfare greeted last week's appointment by the United Nations of a 21-member Afghan commission (including a politically correct two women), tasked to select a staggering 2,000 cacophonous voices from Afghanistan's virtually infinite tribes, ethnic groups and religious factions. The 2,000 feudal barons will convene as a traditional "loya jirga," whose annals are as vacant of democratic ideas and popular government as the Sahara desert is of water. The loya jirga is scheduled to meet in five months, under the scepter of former King Shah, (who has been luxuriating in a "Babylonian exile" since 1973 in the comforts of Rome, Italy). The 2,000 honorifics will maneuver and machinate to choose a leader and ministers of a second transitional government, who will rule two or three years while fashioning a new constitution and enshrining genuine democratic elections. Rumor has it that a long-term lease of the Roman Coliseum is under exploration to host the appointing mob while it strives for consensus.

This fanciful script seems a risible hybrid of Shakespeare and Lewis Carroll. Remember Glendower's boast of summoning ghosts from the vasty deep, and Hotspur's scepticism that they would arrive at the call?

Simultaneously with the appointment of the 21-member commission, violence erupted between troops loyal to the interim defense minister Gen. Muhammad Fahim, and myrmidons of his Uzbeck deputy, Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum, in the northern province of Kunduz. Meanwhile, clashes between warlords presiding in Kandahar and Herat are escalating. No warlord salutes interim President Karzai as a superior. That is why he is clamoring for a nationwide United Nations peacekeeping presence (not limited to Kabul), and a jump in troop levels from a few thousand to tens of thousands. And despite the urgency of wooing popular enthusiasm in Afghanistan, President Karzai decamped to the United States this week running victory laps to celebrate the billions pledged in foreign aid, but destined to futility as long as lawlessness and political fragility prevail there under his administration. Isn't this reminiscent of Caesar's scoffing at Calpurnia's warning to desist from the Roman Senate following thunder, lightening, and first cousin portents dispatched from heaven and Earth?

In sum, what President Bush is supporting to govern the Afghan people is a democratic hoax, as certain to disappoint and to exasperate as a munificent bequest in a pauper's will, to borrow from Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson. Our brave soldiers are continuing to fight in Afghanistan for more, and Afghan commoners deserve more. It is not too late for Mr. Bush to segue to a United Nations Security Council protectorate.

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