BearingPoint Afghans

Sometime around 2004 or 2005, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) contracted BearingPoint (now part of Deloitte Consulting) to recruit and mentor approximately 80 young Afghan college graduates into Afghanistan’s central bank (DAB) and Finance Ministry. These young Afghans worked in DAB and the Finance Ministry for two years while being trained and mentored by BearingPoint experts. Following these two years they were offered regular jobs in these two institutions. While some moved on to higher paying jobs elsewhere most of them stayed with DAB and the MOF. Over the years that followed they rose within these institutions, and in DAB headed many of the departments including the position of Second Deputy Governor. Working with and watching the progress of these young Afghans was one of the most enjoyable and gratifying assignments in my career with the International Monetary Fund. They were smart, honest, and dedicated to improving life in their country (including their own). They were, and I hope still are, the hope for a better future for Afghanistan.

The elected Afghan government under which these BearingPoint Afghans worked has now been toppled by the Taliban, a group that harshly ruled Afghanistan from 1996 until displaced by an American-British invasion in November 2001.  Back in 1996: “Gaining control over most of the country, the Taliban impose their rule, forbidding most women from working, banning girls from education, and carrying out punishments including beatings, amputations and public executions. Only three countries officially recognize the Taliban regime: Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.”  “Afghanistan conflict timeline”

The Taliban in 1996 claimed to impose Sharia Law on Afghanistan. “Sharia” translates to ‘the way’ in Arabic and refers to a wide-ranging body of moral and ethical principles drawn from the Quran and from the sayings and practices of the Prophet Muhammad. The principles vary according to the interpretation of various scholars who established schools of thought followed by Muslims who use them to guide their day-to-day lives. Many Muslim-majority countries base their laws on their interpretation of the principles of Islamic law but, despite this, no two have identical laws.”  “Taliban and Sharia Law in Afghanistan”

The Taliban imposed a very severe version of Sharia that has not been embraced by very many Muslims. It was particularly restrictive on the activities and rights of women. Twenty years later Afghanistan is a different place, and the Taliban sounds like a different organization.

“KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The Taliban vowed Tuesday to respect women’s rights, forgive those who fought them and ensure Afghanistan does not become a haven for terrorists as part of a publicity blitz aimed at reassuring world powers and a fearful population.

“Following a lightning offensive across Afghanistan that saw many cities fall to the insurgents without a fight, the Taliban have sought to portray themselves as more moderate than when they imposed a strict form of Islamic rule in the late 1990s. But many Afghans remain skeptical — and thousands have raced to the airport, desperate to flee the country.

“Older generations remember the Taliban’s previous rule, when they largely confined women to their homes, banned television and music, and held public executions. A U.S.-led invasion drove them from power months after the 9/11 attacks, which al-Qaida had orchestrated from Afghanistan while being sheltered by the Taliban.”  “Afghanistan Taliban Kabul”

So, what should American policy be toward the forthcoming Taliban or Taliban lead government? What does the Taliban pledge to “respect women’s rights consistent with their version of Sharia Law actually mean? We should deploy every diplomatic tool possible to encourage/pressure the new government to live up to its promises. Former President Karzai, current CEO Abdullah Abdullah and others are currently in discussions with the Taliban leadership over terms for an inclusive government.

The alternative of nonrecognition, once there is a government to recognize, is to encourage and even support civil war. Or, God forbid, to send our troops back (there is not much chance that our NATO allies would be conned a second time into join us there again). And how did that work out for us last time? Our over used weapon of economic sanctions harms the public we should be trying to help. Our inhuman sanctions on Cuba and Venezuela are imposing horrible pain on the their citizens with little impact on their governments. “Evidence-costs and benefits of economic sanctions”

In a recent Washington Post oped Nikki Haley argued that we should not recognize the Taliban government no matter what. “Nikki Haley-America must not recognize Taliban” I respected Ms. Haley when she was Governor of South Carolina but I eventually got over her when she embarrassed us while Ambassador to the UN. “The future of Israel and Palestine” Her unqualified attack on the Taliban firmly ties her to those who were responsible for our Afghan disaster in the first place. The new Afghan government may turn out to be as bad as the previous Taliban government, but we should do everything possible to prevent that.

The U.S. has suspended currency shipments purchased by Afghanistan’s central bank. Afghan assets (foreign exchange reserves, etc.) deposited abroad have been frozen including “its” access to reserves at the IMF. These may appear to be rejections of a new government, but they are not. There is no new government yet and those holding Afghan assets must keep them safe until their new owners are clearly and properly identified. The situation is much like the bank in which you have deposited money, freezing your deposits when you die until the new lawful owner is determined. There is an unavoidable, awkward period of uncertainty. It is not too late to reverse our mistake in closing our Embassy and running out while at the same time accusing the Afghan Army of behaving the same way.

It is also not true that nothing was accomplished these past 20 years. Our military leaders may have failed in their task of building a reliable Afghan Army, but many others, myself included, did not waste our time by helping Afghans build better institutions (see the story of the BearingPoint Afghans I started this article with above). See the discussion of this issue by Jonathan Rauch: “The  Afghanistan war was a partial success”

No one knows what the Afghan government will look like or which way it will go, but we all (except for the war mongers) have an interest in promoting its success, especially the hopeful, new generation of Afghans. “Can US work with Taliban”    “What do Taliban’s really want?”

And we must resist the siren calls of those who think that we can and should impose our vision and institutions on the rest of the world. We must keep our Army home to defend our homeland rather than messing with other people’s business. Our defense industries have profited enough.

The Future of Israel and Palestine

At an otherwise friendly dinner conversation at the home of Israeli friends, our host explained that Israel having taken over the West Bank and Gaza Strip (WBGS) in the 6 day war in 1967, i.e. having won the war fair and square, so to speak, the Palestinians and the rest of the world should accept that reality and move on. He was articulating the one state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian problem. The WBGS now belongs to and is part of Israel (though Israel did withdraw later from and gave up Gaza).

The Zionist movement’s goal of establishing a Jewish homeland, a Jewish nation, seemed fulfilled with the U.N.’s recognition of the new state of Israel in 1048. The commitment of its Jewish residents to building a democratic state required achieving and maintaining a Jewish majority in the population. Absorbing the West Bank into Israel presents some obvious challenges. If you are not familiar with the history of Israel, I urge you to read my summary of it: “View from the West Bank–A History of the Conflict”

One state for Israel and the West Bank would have a majority of Palestinians. The Jews around the world willing to move to Israel (the earlier strategy for obtaining a Jewish majority) have pretty much already done so and birth rates among the Palestinians are higher than among the Jews. Thus a consolidated, democratic, and Jewish state would require second-class citizenship for its Palestinian residence. A British journalist living in Nazareth, Israel explains this in more detail: “With-more-palestinians-than-jews-israel-waging-war-of-attrition”

Former President Jimmy Carter described this potential outcome in his 2006 book, “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid,” where he wrote: “The bottom line is this: Peace will come to Israel and the Middle East only when the Israeli government is willing to comply with international law, with the Roadmap for Peace, with official American policy, with the wishes of a majority of its own citizens — and honor its own previous commitments — by accepting its legal borders.” This reality is recognized by many Israeli and even endorsed by some: “Israeli minister-endorses-apartheid.”

An apartheid regime for Israel would be an affront to liberal democratic values not easily swallowed by the Jewish diaspora. In fact, it would not be acceptable at all. That argues for continued effort to agree on a two state solution. In the following article Ronald Lauder, President of the World Jewish Congress, makes the case for the two state solution that the U.S. and U.N have worked for until now (or perhaps until last year) as the only morally and practically acceptable solution to this problem: “Israel’s Self-Inflicted Wounds”.

What we are seeing now, however, is something much uglier. The third option to two states, or one apartheid state, is one state that has ethnically cleansed the unwanted Palestinians in order to preserve Jewish control in a democratic state. The increasingly corrupt regime of Bibi Netanyahu seems to be moving in this direction and uncritical U.S. support of whatever his government does is putting the U.S. at odds with the rest of the world. For a similar review, see: “The-strange-catharsis-of-hopelessness-in-Israel”

U.S. tacit support of continued construction of illegal Israeli settlements on Palestinian land was resoundingly rejected by the U.N. When President Trump moved the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem “The United Nations General Assembly voted… 128-9, with 35 abstentions, on a non-binding resolution condemning President Trump’s new policy recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel…. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley told an emergency meeting of the General Assembly [that] ‘the United States will remember this day in which it was singled out for attack in the General Assembly for the very right of exercising our right as a sovereign nation.’” This is the language of a bully, not a world leader, and I was appalled and embarrassed for my country. “UN-votes-to-reject-US-decision-on-Jerusalem-despite-threats”

More worrying are increasing signs that Netanyahu’s government is indeed pursuing the ethnic cleansing option. In addition to stealing Palestinian land in the West Bank for Israeli expansion, Israel has increasingly isolated and stifled the Palestinian economy. “Israel-Jewish-nation-state-bill”

Israel has occupied the West Bank for fifty years. Some of its treatment of its wards would be seen as human rights violations if committed by any other country. “Alabama-Israel-apartheid.” Recent Israeli laws are escalating such abusive treatment, allowing “the minister of interior to revoke the residency rights of any Palestinian in Jerusalem on grounds of a “breach of loyalty” to Israel.” “Israel-passes-law-strip-residency-Jerusalem’s-Palestinians”

Last December you may have watched the video of 17 year old Ahed Tamimi attacking two Israeli soldiers who had just shot her 15-year-old cousin Mohammed Tamimi in the head at close range with a rubber-coated steel bullet. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8YFen2KdqbU. The Israeli soldiers get points for staying cool. Ahed is now servicing eight months in prison after agreeing to a plea bargain. More recently (March 30, 2018) Israeli soldiers shot and killed 16 Palestinians on the Gaza Israeli border and wounded hundreds. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-43593594 “Both UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and EU diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini have called for an independent investigation. On Saturday, the United States blocked a draft UN Security Council statement urging restraint and calling for an investigation of the violence.” Such blind obedience to Netanyahu’s government does not service the U.S. or Israel well (not to mention the Palestinians). Israel rejected the call. “Israel-rejects-calls-independent-probe-Gaza-violence.”

To ours and Israel’s shame, ethnic cleansing seems to be winning out. During my many visits to Israel and the West Bank and Gaza I marveled at the open debate among Israelis of these issues and praised their free press. I wrote the following from Jerusalem 12 years ago and again praised the importance of a free journalism. “Jerusalem-in-august-2006″. I am now waiting for today’s tweet attacks from Mr. Fake News, and wondering if we are in danger of letting it slip away.

As a bonus, I recommend the following video discussion of these issues at the New America: “Ultimate-deal-or-ultimate-demise”

 

 

 

American Exceptionalism—where has it gone?

Americans are among the most generous people in the world.  World Giving Index – published by the Charities Aid foundation – averages the percent of the population giving money to charities, the percent who have volunteered time for an organization in the past month, and the percent who have helped a stranger in the past month. Americans are sixth, tied with Switzerland with a score of 55%. Australia and New Zealand are first and second with 57% followed by Ireland and Canada with 56%. Germany is 19th with 44% and France is 93rd with a score of 27%.

I have always been proud that visitors to the United States have generally found Americans to be friendly, helpful, and good-hearted. I realize that this is a bit hard to imagine these days with the negativism thrown from the right and the left at each other, but we still manage the occasional smile in the grocery store as we wait at the checkout line. However, views of America abroad have been declining for some years and have plummeted this year. http://www.pewglobal.org/2017/06/26/u-s-image-suffers-as-publics-around-world-question-trumps-leadership/

The reasons for this decline that leap out to me reflect the propensity of our government to throw its weight around. We have been at war almost continuously since 9/11 (Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Nigeria, and who knows where else). The U.S. has 662 overseas bases in 38 foreign countries and military personnel in 130 countries. Most American soldiers are fine young men but no one likes foreign soldiers on their streets for very long, even went they are well behaved most of the time.

I was discussing with a Pakistani friend the “special” qualities of the American government and American people that make us exceptional https://works.bepress.com/warren_coats/35/. He suggested that a growing number of people around the world see the United States as exceptional in the sense that it doesn’t think it needs to follow the rules it sets out for everyone else. We are seen as bullies. Ouch.

The most recent and embarrassing example of this was President Trump’s announcement that the United States recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and would move the U.S. Embassy there. As background, on May 14, 1948 the British agreed when Israel declared its independence from the British mandate that ruled Palestine. The State of Israel was immediately recognized by the United States. After several rejections by the UN Security Council, Israel’s UN membership application was accepted by the General Assembly on May 11, 1949 in Resolution 273, which, among other things, defined the new country’s boundaries. Between June 5 to 10, 1967 Israel attacked and captured surrounding territories in Egypt, Jordan and Syria in what became known as the Six-Day War. Except the Gaza Strip and the West Bank most of the captured territory was returned as part of a peace agreement. Israel ended its occupation of the Gaza Strip in August 2005.

The termination of Israel’s “temporary” occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem remains the subject of the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. “Under the 1947 UN Partition Plan to divide historical Palestine between Jewish and Arab states, Jerusalem was granted special status and was meant to be placed under international sovereignty and control. The special status was based on Jerusalem’s religious importance to the three Abrahamic religions.”  “Jerusalem-capital-Israel”

In general, the international community rejects the use of brute force to change borders. Russia’s annexation of Crimea into Russia (though it was previously part of Russia before Khrushchev gave it to Ukraine in 1954) violated this understanding.

President Trump’s announcement about the status of Jerusalem violates standing U.S. and international policy. It was almost universally condemned. The US vetoed a Security Council condemnation of Trump’s action but the General Assembly overwhelmingly (128 to 9, with 35 abstentions) passed a resolution declaring that, “any decisions and actions which purport to have altered the character, status or demographic composition of the Holy City of Jerusalem have no legal effect, are null and void and must be rescinded.” White-House-vows-to-stand-firm-on-trumps-recognition-of-jerusalem-as-israels-capital/2017/12/23/

The General Assembly vote used a rarely exorcised power as explained by Paul Pillar. “Among the principal takeaways from the General Assembly’s action is that an international sense of justice and fairness matters.  Many states reject the notion that might makes right, which is how the Israeli government has treated its relations with the Palestinians, and how the Trump administration approached its lobbying on this resolution.” “Uniting-against-trumps-policies-for-peace”

When the UN voted Thursday (Dec 22) to condemn this action “Only seven countries—Guatemala, Honduras, Togo, Nauru, Palau, Micronesia and the Marshall Islands—were willing to stand with Uncle Sam and Israel and vote against the resolution.” “Next-year-in-Jerusalem”

Aside from keeping the favor Israeli Prime Minister “Bibi” Netanyahu and some wealthy American Jewish donors, there is no upside to this step to be found. The peace talks, such as they were, have been damaged. Even the “Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations called for maintaining of the status quo of Jerusalem.” In its letter to the President of the General Assembly it stated that: “The unique identity of Jerusalem, which is of universal interest, consists in its particular nature as a Holy City, most sacred to the three monotheistic religions and a symbol for millions of believers worldwide who consider it their “spiritual capital”. Its significance goes beyond the question of borders and this reality should be considered a priority in every negotiation for a political solution.” “Holy-See-supports-Jerusalem’s-historical-status-quo”

Israelis themselves are deeply divided on this issue. The continued and unresolved occupation of the West Bank by Israel has and continues to provoke terrible behavior by both sides. Uri Avnery, an Israeli freedom fighter in his youth, decries acts by his country against occupied Palestinians in passionate terms (email me if you are interested in his email) as does Phillip Weiss: Ending-crisis-Zionism/

But American bullying did not stop there. Nikki Haley, U.S. Ambassador to the UN, delivered a disgusting and threat-filled speech condemning the U.S. rebuke. “The crude tactics included Nikki Haley’s rhetoric about ‘taking names’ and Donald Trump’s bombast about cutting off U.S. aid.  Among the Arab states that supported the resolution were the two states—Egypt and Jordan—that receive more U.S. aid than anyone other than Israel.  The very crudeness of the tactics, and the offense taken to bullying, probably made the tactics counterproductive.” (see Pillar article above).

Good hearted and freedom loving Americans are increasingly represented by governments that push our views and interests on the rest of the world. The rest of the world’s resistance is building. This does not serve our economic or security interests. How did the “essential country”—the “exceptional country”—become a big bully? In recent weeks we have also been asking ourselves how prominent leaders in the media, industry, and Congress have become sexual bullies. It seems that power corrupts. Eternal vigilance is still needed.