In my post on the transatlantic divide over Israel’s Gaza operation, I referred to “America’s virtually automatic support of Israel, even for actions that are not only outside the norms of international law but decidedly unhelpful to our own interests.”
A case in point was noted yesterday by WaPo’s ace foreign correspondent Pam Constable, who reports that Israel’s actions and our perceived support for them are seriously hampering our success in Afghanistan.
Like Muslims in many parts of the world, Afghans have expressed grief and outrage at the Israeli military incursion into Gaza, their emotions stoked by TV coverage. In the past week, protests have erupted in spots as remote as Badakhshan, in the snow-covered Hindu Kush mountains. Afghans’ reaction to the escalating Middle East conflict, however, is set apart by their country’s uneasy partnership with the United States, which has sent tens of thousands of troops to secure Afghanistan since the overthrow of the extreme Islamist Taliban regime in late 2001 and has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to help rebuild its devastated economy and institutions.
Now, the Israeli attack on Gaza, widely seen here as an act of aggression enabled by the United States, has become conflated in the minds of some Afghans with U.S. motives and actions in Afghanistan. Taliban propaganda and sermons by conservative clerics have contributed to a notion of the United States as an occupying power that seeks to subjugate the Muslim world. “We have cable TV, and we know what the Americans are doing,” said Mehrabuddin Ali, a baker in a working-class Kabul district. “First they attacked Iraq. They didn’t find any nuclear weapons, but they killed a lot of Muslims. Now they are supporting Israel in killing innocent Palestinians. If they have come here to help us, we will welcome them. But if they come to destroy us, we will drive them out like we drove out the Russians. Real Muslims only need the protection of God.”
Danger Room‘s Nathan Hodge isn’t surprised.
As we’ve noted here before, the United States and its NATO allies have been facing growing resentment in Afghanistan. Reliance on air power has stoked perceptions that the coalition is indiscriminately killing civilians; the Taliban has capitalized on civilian casualties as part of a successful information campaign. While I wouldn’t expect a long-running backlash over the events in Gaza, things are off to an even more precarious start this year in Afghanistan.
This is a complicated problem, in that we’re dealing with perceptions outside our control, such as that Israel is a “terrorist” nation and that its government somehow answers to the United States. Still, there’s undeniably a price to be paid for being virtually alone among Western nations in justifying Israel’s flouting of centuries of Just War theory in being indifferent to noncombatant casualties while targeting legitimate foes. U.S. reliance on airstrikes against soft targets in operations in the Muslim world doesn’t help, either, and is easily conflated with Israeli tactics despite the painstaking measures our military takes to avoid innocent victims.
James Joyner is managing editor of the Atlantic Council.