There is a new fashion, after Iraq and Afghanistan, for saying we should let civil wars burn themselves out. But that’s not an optionby Marc Weller / March 26, 2015 / Leave a comment
Published in April 2015 issue of Prospect Magazine
Billions have been spent on state-building exercises over the past decades, but war-affected countries everywhere remain ablaze or in a state of chaos. The tide of human misery appears to be rising, not receding.
Last year, the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, came close to being taken over by Islamic State (IS), a pop-up radical religious movement of extraordinary brutality and amazing reach. Syria has remained firmly in the grip of a desperate civil war that becomes ever more complex and difficult to address with each day that passes. Regime change in Libya, achieved with the support of western air power, has resulted in the disintegration of the state. The hesitant progress made in Yemen towards averting another black hole in the region, after Somalia, has been upset by the storming of its capital, Sana’a, by the Houthi movement, a dissident Shia group supported by Iran. The Central African Republic and Congo seem forever mired in a morass of casual violence and killing.
Most disheartening of all for those who hoped that the flaming torch of democracy would ignite positive change around the globe has been the experience in Afghanistan. This is an instance where failure cannot be blamed on ineffective international bureaucrats at United Nations headquarters or supposedly corruptible and inexperienced peacekeepers drawn from far-flung places. Instead, the entire venture was planned and firmly controlled from beginning to end by Nato and participating governments. Following the military campaign to oust the Taliban, it involved a massive effort to try to bring stability to the country under Nato leadership, starting in Kabul and, since 2003, “aiming to enable the Afghan government to exercise its authority throughout the country.” Nato points out that 51 states—over a quarter of all states in the world—contributed to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission for more than a decade.
The end of the “combat phase” for foreign forces at the close of 2014 coincided with an appraisal of the impact of stabilisation and reform efforts in Afghanistan. Those most invested in the operation, the military and civilian officers who planned it and went on to implement it with great courage and determination, have returned home as the greatest critics of western intervention in favour of democratic change.