If You Break It

If You Break It
By Shea Howell
Michigan Citizen, November 4, 2009

“If you break it, you own it” was one of Colin Powell’s most famous statements. While the Bush administration was whipping up war fever, Powell offered the comment as a cautionary note. In later years Powell said he was really noting that “When you take out a regime and you bring down a government, you become the government.” But Powell’s imagery invoked more than the idea of governing. It warned us to be careful what we picked up and how we put it back. Sometimes things break so badly they can never be put back right.

It is time to acknowledge that we have reached that point in Afghanistan and Iraq. This week began with gruesome accounts of suicide bombings in Iraq that killed more than 150 people, including children playing on swings and seesaws at a day care center housed in the Ministry of Justice. More than 500 people were wounded in the blast. What should have been some of the most secured areas in all of Baghdad proved to be as vulnerable as any open market.

Meanwhile, in Afghanistan reports of fighting by Pakistani and NATO soldiers are now routinely followed by comments that each day was more deadly than the last. 14 U.S. soldiers died in a helicopter crash and thousands of people are fleeing their homes on roads that lead to nowhere.

As a backdrop to this fighting and dying, President Hamed Karzai agreed to a run-off election without ever admitting there was any reason for it. He had to be intensely pressured by U.S. and European allies to agree to the run-off. Both he and his challenger Dr. Abdullah Abdullah refused efforts to create a coalition government as a way to bring some legitimacy to the tainted process.

Karzai announced the new election while still claiming victory in the first one. He said that he was agreeing to the run-off out of respect for the national interest. “Unfortunately, our elections have been defamed,” he said. “This would have brought the legitimacy of the government into question, whoever the winner was. I leave it to the Afghan people to judge whether I was the winner; I prefer the interests of Afghanistan to my own interests.”

His team still insists that he won outright on August 20.

“Karzai accepted a run-off for the good of the nation,” said Moen Marastyal, a member of Karzai’s campaign office. “The president thought it would be good for democracy and for the legitimacy of the next government to go to a second round even if was already the winner.”

To most outside observers, this run-off election is little more than an effort to create some legitimacy for a hopelessly flawed process. Everyone agrees that the only good thing about the timing of the run-off is that it will not allow for the organization of much more systematic fraud. Weather is likely to make voting difficult, security continues to deteriorate, making voting unsafe, and there is the widespread belief that foreigners are behind the whole thing. A recent news report quoted Mohammad Yasin, a taxi driver in Kabul, saying “What elections? What freedom? What democracy? Whatever the foreigners want they do. Nobody knew Karzai, they dropped him on a mountain in Uruzgan province and made him president. So now they can make somebody else president.”

There is no fix for Afghanistan, no way to put back together what we have broken. The time has come to acknowledge that our presence only creates further destruction and we must find another path to peace.



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