Last week marked the second anniversary of the post-9/11 opening salvo against "the evil ones," characterized by Bush administration backers as an effort to bring peace and democracy to the "backward" peoples of planet Earth with a special concern for oppressed Muslim women.
Though the foreign policy focus is currently on Iraq, I decided to check in on "Operation Enduring Freedom." So I called the folks at the Afghan Women's Mission.
Here's what the organization's co-director Jim Ingalls, a staff scientist at the California Institute of Technology, had to say after scrutinizing our $1.2 billion "reconstruction" package for Afghanistan.
"While the Bush administration brags about its liberation of Afghanistan and the financial aid it is sending, the $1.2 billion aid package is more about public relations, impressing the world community (and) catapulting U.S.-backed interim President Hamid Karzai into the permanent presidency in next year's election," Ingalls said.
Anne Brodsky, author of the book "Will All Our Strength: The Revolutionary Association of the Women in Afghanistan," just returned from a one-month stay in the war-torn country.
"Crime is on the rise and criminal warlords are terrorizing people countrywide. Voices in favor of freedom, democracy and human rights...are being kept underground through threats, arrest and violence. Harassment, intimidation, kidnapping, and rape make many girls and women fearful to leave their homes," she reports.
And Sonali Kolhatkar, co-director of the Afghan Women's Mission, offers this assessment: "The status of the first target in the 'war on terror' is nothing for the Bush administration to write home about. To date, none of the warlords has ever been held accountable for terrorizing the Afghan population.
"The lessons learned have not been how to best stabilize a country, but rather on how best to create havoc through purposeful negligence and criminal government actors - with the prime losers being ordinary war-weary civilians," Kolhatkar said.
Purposeful negligence? Kolhatkar pointed to U.S. policy-maker's opposition to expanding the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), which has allowed the various warlords time and opportunity to consolidate power as they did in the 1990s.
Keep in mind that between 1992 and 1996 some 40,000 to 50,000 civilians were killed largely at hands of our current allies in the "war on terror" - the Northern Alliance. How's that for good PR - align with terrorists to fight the war on terror.
In Kabul, ISAF has been allowed to operate under the auspices of the United Nations, helping to secure the region with 5,000 international security officers as established under U.N. Security Council Resolution 1386 on Dec. 20, 2001.
Despite President Karzai's request that ISAF be expanded throughout all of Afghanistan, U.S. planners said no, arguing that it would interfere with U.S. military operations.
This isn't Bush-bashing. It's policy-bashing - and for good reason. It's high time we consider alternatives. But what are the alternatives? How about expanding ISAF for starters?
There are 18 countries participating in the ISAF, including all of the major European nations, as well as New Zealand and even Turkey.
Occasionally, a disgruntled reader of this column will write me to say: "All you do is criticize but what do you suggest we do. We can't do nothing," they say, as if alternatives to the Bush approach amounts to holding hands at some love-in, singing "We Shall Overcome."
What should we do? Never mind some silly new foreign policy PR team. We need to get with the ISAF program and push for an amendment to U.N. Resolution 1386 to expand the international peacekeeping force. And not just in Afghanistan, but in Iraq and Israel/Palestine, too. That would be a true "coalition of the willing."
Sean Gonsalves is a Cape Cod Times staff writer and a syndicated columnist.
Copyright © 2003 Cape Cod Times.