September 14

Will the US administration learn?

The accusations of fraud in the Afghan election, and the rise in the insurgency will be of concern especially to the powers with troops there. The UN-backed Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC), which has overall responsibility for the investigation, has ordered the country’s Independent Election Commission (IEC) to conduct a comprehensive audit of its staff amid allegations that they were complicit in the fraud. The ECC also ordered a partial recount.

A British official told Jerome Starkey in Kabul (The Times 14/9): “If there’s going to be a recount done properly then they need to look at the staff as well, because in a lot of cases the fraud was being done by the IEC officials.” .


The problem is not that the powers, especially the United States, have behaved unconscionably.    Of the dominant world powers over the centuries, the two English speaking ones, Great Britain and then the United States, have been the most benign. Of course neither has been perfect.

And as Australian General Peter Cosgrove says, ( The Weekend Australian Magazine 5-6 August) there will always be wars. Governments are elected in democracies primarily to defend the realm, provide justice including law and order and maintain a stable currency.  At some stage the dominant power and her allies will be involved in war.

When she is, she must know how to administer  an occupied territory.

For the foreseeable future the United States will remain the overwhelmingly dominant power. As others emerge or re-emerge, she will probably still lead them in a concert of powers, as Great Britain did in the nineteenth century, using the balance of power to impose her leadership. The often too rigid machinery of the Security Council will be used when possible and convenient. But the US, whether led by the Democrats or Republicans, will avoid submitting to the likelihood of a great power veto whenever it is in her interests, as President Clinton clearly demonstrated.

While formidable militarily, and exceedingly generous as occupiers, the Americans have too often succumbed to simplistic ideas about governance. This is probably  because the American establishment has turned the War of Independence into a mythical struggle between good and evil, in the same way that the French have done to their Revolution.

It is alright to create a myth for domestic purposes, the danger is you actually begin to believe it. The sanitised mystic version of the American republic has been unwisely used as a model with universal appeal.  It is not. Unlike the Westminster system, it has never worked for long outside of the United States where, the civil war apart, it does work, even if it is too rigid in times of crisis.  (If you doubt that think of the impeachment process, and contrast it to the vote of no confidence in the Westminster system.)

And the causes of the War of Independence are not so heroic once you that it involved an alliance with  the slaveowners who feared the consequences of the decision of Lord Mansfield in Somerset's case, which the British Parliament refused to reverse and those who wanted to take Indian land made inaccessible by King George III.

Washington DC

So too often US administrations  have rushed to recreate in occupied territories some almost instant constitutional mirror image of the United States. They have not paid attention to others, especially the British who in these things are the most experienced.  While they have had their failures, the British had  been more successful than most.


The American approach has sometimes involved insisting on a clean slate, as in Iraq.  Contrast this with their great success, Japan. By retaining the Emperor, and making him a constitutional monarch, the transition from occupation to a working democracy was smooth. (Germany was an entirely different case.)

A pity the Japanese lesson was not followed in Iraq. Prince Andrew has argued much of the post-invasion chaos in Iraq could have been avoided if President George W. Bush's administration had listened more to the British.  

"If you are looking at colonialism,” he told Stephen Castle of The New York Times ( 4 February, 2008) “if you are looking at operations on an international scale, if you are looking at understanding each other's culture, understanding how to operate in a military insurgency campaign – we have been through them all," he said. "We've won some, lost some, drawn some.

The fallout from Iraq has fuelled, the Prince argues, "healthy scepticism" toward what is said in Washington, and a feeling of "why didn't anyone listen to what was said and the advice that was given."

After all, he told The New York Times, British views had been sought – "it's not as if we had been forcing that across the Atlantic."

Stephen Castles reported that the Prince’s view that is there is quite a lot of British experience which is valid and should be listened to is widely shared in Britain.  Geoff Hoon, the former British defence secretary, has said that British views on Iraq were ignored in the decisions to outlaw the Baath Party and dissolve the Iraqi military.



Meanwhile the situation in Afghanistan is dire. There was one golden period in this sad country. This reminded me of conversation I had in a taxi in Sydney last year.  The driver  told me he came from Afghanistan, a country he said was in “a terrible mess.”

He said that the best time for Afghanistan was under the King Zahir Shah. His reign marked the longest of stability known to Afghanistan, that is  between 1933 and 1973. The King  had turned Afghanistan into a constitutional monarchy, with democratic elections to a parliament, civil rights, and women’s liberation.

My driver said things were going very well until a failed  politician, Mohammed Daoud Khan, staged a coup d'état and declared Afghanistan a republic while the King was in Europe for an operation. This was the beginning of the disaster, a dictatorship, the Soviet invasion and the rule of the Taliban.

After the fall of the Taliban, there were calls for a return to the monarchy.  But when he was back in Afghanistan, the King  was prevailed on  by the Americans to stand aside to allow their nominee Hamid Karzai to become President.

…restoration blocked…

In a recent comment on this point in The Christian Science Monitor “Democracy in Afghanistan is wishful thinking”  (20/8), , Thomas H. Johnson and M. Chris Mason, say the tragic mistake, “which we warned against, was in eliminating the Afghan monarchy from a ceremonial role in the new Afghan Constitution.”

They point out that nearly two thirds of the delegates to the loya jirga in 2002 signed a petition to make  King Zaher Shah the interim head of state. Only “massive US interference behind the scenes in the form of bribes, secret deals, and arm twisting got the US-backed candidate for the job, Hamid Karzai, installed instead.”

The same US and UN policymakers then rode shotgun over the constitutional process,eliminating the monarchy entirely. This they say was the Afghan equivalent of the 1964 Diem Coup in Vietnam with the result that  there was no possibility of creating a stable secular government.

“While an Afghan king could have conferred legitimacy on an elected leader in Afghanistan, without one, an elected president is on a one-legged stool,” they say.

The fact is that an American cannot declare himself king and be seen as legitimate: monarchy is not a source of legitimacy of governance in America. They say the same principle applies in Afghanistan. There a man cannot be voted president in Afghanistan and be perceived as legitimate.

While representative democracy is not a source of legitimacy in Afghanistan, the King would have been. In this country the alternative seems to be “a religious source of legitimacy.”  The obsession of the bush advisors into making Afghanistan an instant US style democracy has backfired. Instead the legitimacy vacuum has been filled by the Taliban.

It was not enough that the Americans allowed the king to be declared  “Father of the Nation.“ A benign symbol of legitimacy, and of leadership beyond politics, he should have been restored.

As we reported here, “Afghan King farewelled,” 31 July 2007, he died on 23 July, 2007.

…an exile's view…

My taxi driver’s opinion that the Afghan constitutional monarchy was a golden period was confirmed recently by American diplomat, Peter Tomsen.. In  a report by Kevin Howe in  the Monterey Herald on 29 August, 2008, he said :  “Afghanistan enjoyed 45 years as a monarchy progressing toward democracy before a failed communist coup in 1978, followed by the Russian invasion in 1979 to bolster the "revolution."  “The invasion and resulting insurgency, destroyed what had been built up over 45 years.”

Will future American administrations learn that  massive force followed by imposing the US model may not work?  

Using advisors who have a superficial understanding of history and politics will produce the failures we have seen in Iraq Afghanistan and yes, Iran. 

In particular a prejudice against  the most exportable and most sophisticated form of government the world has known, the Westiminster sytem, may well doom an occupation to faiure, however well intended.  So will a prejudice against constitutional monarchies, or crowned republics.

The result in Afghanistan is a president whose writ does not run far from the presidential palace, and who stays in office through manifest fraud.


[ King Zahir Shah ]


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