Rohullah Qarizada is one of those Afghans you used to see a lot on American TV in the immediate aftermath of the Taliban’s fall. Trimly bearded, dapper in Western suit and tie, he heads the Afghan Independent Bar Association in Kabul. Did you know Kabul had a bar association? A few years back, I ran into one of the U.S. prosecutors who helped set it up, with a grant from the Swedish foreign ministry. Mr. Qarizada currently sits on a committee charged with making revisions to the Afghan legal code. What kind of revisions? Well, for example: “Men and women who commit adultery shall be punished based on the circumstances by one of the following punishments: lashing, stoning.”
As in stoning to death. That’s the proposed improvement to Article 21. Article 23 specifies that said punishment shall be performed in public. Mr. Qarizada gave an interview to Reuters, explaining that the reintroduction of stoning was really no big deal: You’d have to have witnesses, and they’d better be consistent. “The judge asks each witness many questions,” he said, “and if one answer differs from other witnesses then the court will reject the claim.” So that’s all right then.
Stoning is making something of a comeback in the world’s legal codes — in October the Sultan of Brunei announced plans to put it on his books. Nevertheless, Kabul has the unique distinction of introducing the practice on America’s watch. Afghanistan is an American protectorate; its kleptocrat president is an American client, kept alive these last twelve years only by American arms. The Afghan campaign is this nation’s longest war — and our longest un-won war: That’s to say, nowadays we can’t even lose in under a decade. I used to say that, 24 hours after the last Western soldier leaves Afghanistan, it will be as if we were never there. But it’s already as if we were never there: The last Christian church in the country was razed to the ground in 2010.
At this point, Americans sigh wearily and shrug, “Afghanistan, the graveyard of empire,” or sneer, “If they want to live in a seventh-century s***hole, f*** ’em.” But neither assertion is true. Do five minutes’ googling, and you’ll find images from the Sixties and early Seventies of women in skirts above the knee listening to the latest Beatles releases in Kabul record stores. True, a stone’s throw (so to speak) from the capital, King Zahir’s relatively benign reign was not always in evidence. But, even so, if it’s too much to undo the barbarism of centuries, why could the supposed superpower not even return the country to the fitful civilization of the disco era? The American imperium has lasted over twice as long as the Taliban’s rule — and yet, unlike them, we left no trace.
Seven years ago, in my book America Alone, I quoted a riposte to the natives by a British administrator, and it proved such a hit with readers that for the next couple of years at live stage appearances, from Vancouver to Vienna, Madrid to Melbourne, I would be asked to reprise it — like the imperialist version of a Beatles cover band. The chap in question was Sir Charles Napier, out in India and faced with the practice of suttee — the Hindu tradition of burning widows on the funeral pyres of their husbands. General Napier’s response was impeccably multicultural: “You say that it is your custom to burn widows. Very well. We also have a custom: When men burn a woman alive, we tie a rope around their necks and we hang them. Build your funeral pyre; beside it, my carpenters will build a gallows. You may follow your custom. And then we will follow ours.”
India is better off without suttee, just as Afghanistan would be better off without child marriage, honor killing, death for apostasy, and stoning for adultery. What my readers liked about my little bit of Napier karaoke at live appearances was its cultural cool. It wasn’t an argument for more war, more bombs, more killing, but for more cultural confidence. In the long run, that’s more effective than a drone. For the least worst two-thirds of a century in its history, the vast fractious tribal dump of Sudan was run by about 200 British civil servants. These days, I doubt the smallest Obamacare branch office makes do with fewer than 200 “navigators.” Yet, alert to the obsolescence of the mid-20th-century social programs, the Right remains largely blind to the similarly too-big-to-fail model of the American way of war. No serious person can argue that we’re not spending enough money. The problem is we waste so much of it — to the point where in Afghanistan the Western occupation accounts for 97 percent of GDP, and all we have built is another squalid sharia state.
The American way of war is to win the war in nothing flat, and then spend the next decade losing the peace. The American people have digested that to the point where they assume that, no matter how “unbelievably small” (as Kerry promised of Syria) the next intervention is, it’s a fool’s errand. The rest of the world grasps it, too. If Hamid Karzai treats Washington with contempt and gets away with it, why expect the Iranians to behave any differently? A nation responsible for almost half the planet’s military spending goes into battle with the sentimental multiculti fantasist twaddle of Greg Mortensen’s Three Cups of Tea as its strategy manual — and then wonders why it can’t beat goatherds with fertilizer.
Incidentally, I’d be interested to know which particular fellow at the Pentagon ordered that a copy of Three Cups of Tea be included in every Kandahar-bound kitbag. He should be fired. Come to think of it, he should be stoned.
– Mr. Steyn blogs at SteynOnline (www.steynonline.com).