GAMBIER — The biggest failure of United States policies in Iraq and Afghanistan has not been in creating governments, or achieving compromise between divergent groups of people, but in dealing with corruption.
In a talk at Kenyon College on Thursday evening, former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan and Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, drew on his years of experience in the area to help the audience understand what has been going on there.
He was involved in the constitution-writing process in each country and his descriptions of some of the different factors involved led to the countries creating different kinds of democracies: Iraq a federal system with more autonomy for the different regions; Afghanistan a system with a strong central government.
However, our inability to effectively battle corruption has worked to undermine confidence in U.S. actions in the two countries. He also pointed to the presence of a sanctuary in Pakistan for militant forces has prolonged the struggle in Afghanistan, giving the Taliban a chance to build back from near-oblivion.
“The Taliban had lost the people’s faith. I could go anywhere in Afghanistan and be welcomed,” he said. “But the Taliban reorganized and esteem for us began to decline. (There was an element that said) ‘You want to stay and need conflict to continue.’”
Americans also, he said, have a different time sense. Washington was always pushing for quick resolutions or compromises for political disputes between the various factions in the countries, while the Iraqis and Afghanis did not see the need for such precipitate action.
Khalilzad did not delve extensively into the developments in Libya, Tunisia, Egypt and Syria that have been called the “Arab Spring,” except to note that it is still unfolding and America should be thinking about how it can support the development of democracy in the area.
The development of democratic institutions in these counties, he said, is important to American security, just as the transformation of Germany and Japan after World War II were important to peace and security in Europe and East Asia during the Cold War.
A member of the audience asked about the problem of distrust of the U.S. in parts of the world because of its past support of dictators. Khalilzad acknowledged that that has been a problem, but said that can be changed as we show our support for human rights and democracy in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.