Sweet liberty! The Uzbeks, Tajiks, and Hazaras, under the courageous leadership of Mohammad Fahim, Abdullah Abdullah, Abdul Rashid Dostum, and Yunis Qanoni, have taken control of Kabul and sent the Pashtuns, organized under the auspices of the Islamo-fascist Taliban and its dastardly duce Mullah Mohammad Omar, fleeing for the hills.
Though the Pashtuns vow they will rise again in the South, those of us who understand Afghan history, thanks to recent newspaper accounts, know that this is just typical Pashtun talk. My, what a descent for Omar, who only six years ago was cheered by the world community for unseating Burhanuddin Rabbani and publicly castrating the aging Soviet puppet Muhammad Najibullah — who once governed with the help of Pushtan, Uzbek, and even Tajik assistance — leaving him hanging for days. Well, power corrupts, you know.
May Lakhdar Brahimi of Algeria, the heralded United Nations envoy, put together a government under the wise leadership of aging King Mohammad Zaher Shah, who can only hope he won’t be seen as another puppet. But it could be tough: from evidence so far, the Uzbeks, Tajiks, and Hazaras seem intent on looting and slaying every Pashtun and Pashtun ally in sight, whether Arab, Pakistani, or Chechan. Well, to the victor go the spoils, or what’s left of them.
It’s true that identical coups in Kabul (just switch the tribal names around) have been staged in April 1978, December 1979, February 1989, April 1992, and September 1996, and one wonders whether the cycle of tribal warfare that has lasted millennia until just now will finally end.
Such details can be ironed out later. For now, let us celebrate the stunning triumph, which is due, in no small part, to the steadfastness of Pakistani military dictator Pervez Musharraf, who, though despised by most of his citizens, is a loyal friend of the US, and has been promised billions in debt relief as guaranteed by US taxpayers.
All this I understand. But I do have one question: what would George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and their contemporaries think? It’s true that our nation’s pundit class knows far less about the founding American tribe (called Americans) than they do about the ones currently battling for control of Afghanistan. But though they lived long ago, these men did offer some thoughts that might help us through the current foreign-policy fog.
The founding generation knew the history of European politics well; its unending cycles of ethnic, territorial, and religious disputes, and constantly shifting alliances. Jefferson denounced all this as "the throes and convulsions of the ancient world." So long as kings could start wars to maintain and secure their grip on the population, freedom of the kind the founding generation imagined possible stood no chance. As intractable as these wars were, of course, they paled by comparison with the relentless bloodshed of the Continent’s neighbors to the East, which had not even developed a tradition in which religion and state had separate identities.
So the founding generation had an idea. An ocean on either side separated us from old world feuds. It was possible and indeed necessary to engage in peaceful commercial exchange, but it was not necessary to import the hatreds and wars of the old world. This would be the New World, where liberty would reign supreme.
Thomas Jefferson put it this way:
Kindly separated by nature and a wide ocean from the exterminating havoc of one quarter of the globe; too high-minded to endure the degradations of the others; possessing a chosen country, with room enough for our descendants to the thousandth and thousandth generation; entertaining a due sense of our equal right to the use of our own faculties, to the acquisitions of our own industry, to honor and confidence from our fellow-citizens, resulting not from birth, but from our actions and their sense of them; enlightened by a benign religion, professed, indeed, and practiced in various forms, yet all of them inculcating honesty, truth, temperance, gratitude, and the love of man; acknowledging and adoring an overruling Providence, which by all its dispensations proves that it delights in the happiness of man here and his greater happiness hereafteru2014with all these blessings, what more is necessary to make us a happy and a prosperous people? Still one thing more, fellow-citizensu2014a wise and frugal Government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government, and this is necessary to close the circle of our felicities.
After noting that states rights is the domestic foundation of good government, Jefferson summed up American foreign policy as follows: "commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none."
He was only echoing George Washington, who had urged us to:
Observe good faith and justice towards all nations; cultivate peace and harmony with all… The nation which indulges towards another a habitual hatred or a habitual fondness is in some degree a slave. It is a slave to its animosity or to its affection, either of which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interest. Antipathy in one nation against another disposes each more readily to offer insult and injury, to lay hold of slight causes of umbrage, and to be haughty and intractable, when accidental or trifling occasions of dispute occur. Hence, frequent collisions, obstinate, envenomed, and bloody contests. The nation, prompted by ill-will and resentment, sometimes impels to war the government, contrary to the best calculations of policy. The government sometimes participates in the national propensity, and adopts through passion what reason would reject; at other times it makes the animosity of the nation subservient to projects of hostility instigated by pride, ambition, and other sinister and pernicious motives. The peace often, sometimes perhaps the liberty, of nations, has been the victim…. The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible.
That said, let us continue the celebration of the victory of the Uzbeks, Tajiks, and Hazaras, over the hated Pashtuns, and may our friends and enemies forever keep changing so that our foreign-policy fun may never end, and prosperity and peace never come to the Middle East. Jefferson and Washington were interesting guys, but their ideas just don’t engage the nationalist imagination.