Opinion | Two ideas defeated in Kabul

CONFLICT. The Taliban seized power in Afghanistan / EFE

Moisés Naím @moisesnaim.

Por Moises Naim | In Afghanistan, not only was the most expensive and technologically advanced Army on the planet defeated. Two ideas that, until now, had had great influence in the Western world were also defeated. One is that democracy can be exported and that the US military is the best in the world.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, one of the most permanent and popular policies in rich and democratic countries has been to promote democracy in nations that do not have it or where it is precarious and dysfunctional. Regrettably, diplomatic efforts, money, technology and military interventions have not yielded satisfactory results.

Transitions from dictatorships to democracies have been more successful when brave and talented local political leaders play a leading role and have the people take over the streets and squares and paralyze the country. And when there are splits within the dictatorship and the military refuse to massacre and repress their compatriots.

At best, foreign support for democratic transitions has had secondary impacts. In other cases, foreign intervention, instead of accelerating transitions to democracy, slows them down or even derails them. The export of democracy is not just an abstract idea, a moral obligation, or a political promise. It has also become a big business that moves huge amounts of money. It is estimated that the United States, the European Union, Canada, Australia, the Scandinavian countries and others dedicate about $ 10 billion a year to support programs that seek to strengthen democracy in countries where it is still incipient or where it does not work well.

This immense amount of money is only a fraction of what the US has devoted to Afghanistan. In the past 20 years, and in that country alone, the US Government spent $ 145 billion on “reconstruction” activities, which does not include, among others, the costs of the war. A Brown University study found that between 2001 and 2021 the US government spent a total of $ 2.2 trillion on Afghanistan. The case of Afghanistan illustrates in a very painful way how two decades of multinational military intervention, global political support, hundreds of thousands of deaths and unimaginable amounts of money were not enough to consolidate democracy.

Another idea that, in the light of what happened in Afghanistan, will be difficult to defend, is that the United States has the most competent and powerful armed forces in the world. It is, without a doubt, the most technologically sophisticated Army on the planet. And the most expensive. But not the most successful.

Seeing a Taliban in sandals, turban and machine gun and comparing him to a marine with a bulletproof vest, communication equipment, night vision goggles, special explosives, multiple weapons and support from drones, helicopter gunships, planes and satellites could not be more revealing. Equipping the Taliban must have cost a few hundred dollars. Arming the marine costs $ 17,500 not counting the costs of air, cyber and logistics support. That the Taliban in sandals and without much assistive technology was the one who defeated the well-equipped and super-trained Marine is a result that will be studied for a long time in the military schools of the world.

It is interesting to note that these two ideas defeated in Kabul share excess money as a factor that instead of helping to achieve the desired goal distorted the effort and ultimately contributed to their defeat.

It is very important that the correct lessons are drawn from these defeats. It would be a mistake to conclude that the countries that are the bulwark of world democracy must cease their efforts to protect and fortify the weak democracies that proliferate today. The important thing is to understand which are the areas where foreign aid can be most useful and what form that aid should take. It is obvious that the way democracy promotion has been implemented is not working.

The same is true for the American military. Of course, they must have the best available technology and that their troops must have the best training and equipment. But does that cost $ 740 billion? Should US military spending exceed the sum of all the military spending of the 11 countries that spend the most on their Armed Forces? Aren’t these virtually unlimited budgets a source of strategic errors? Would the war in Afghanistan have lasted two decades if the military had had more budget constraints? My answer to all these questions? No.

Originally published in El País de España


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