Government Watch / National Security / Politics

Democracy Didn’t Fail in Afghanistan, Anti-Democratic Liberalism Did

AMAC Exclusive – by Daniel Roman


Over the past few weeks, it has become popular to mock the idea that the United States tried for 20 years to build a “democracy” in Afghanistan, with many commentators on both sides of the aisle noting the supposed futility of attempting to foist such a political system on a “tribal” society. But the truth is that Americans did not try to impose democracy on Afghanistan — they tried to impose liberalism, and the fact that few Americans were able to see the difference explains everything about why we failed.

To begin to understand what went wrong, consider a tweet from the U.S. Embassy in Kabul last June. Just weeks before Afghanistan collapsed into mayhem, the American Embassy tweeted an image of a rainbow flag with the following message:


It is not the time or the place to discuss the merits of the U.S. goal to build a tolerant and inclusive Afghanistan. For all its flaws, the Afghan state that the U.S. and its allies maintained for the last twenty years was a freer, more prosperous, and happier place for tens of millions, not least women and members of sexual minorities. But it is worth considering priorities. Many of those now bemoaning the failure of the U.S. intervention in Afghanistan point to what it means for those groups, with the suggestion being that the goal of American intervention was not to build democracy, but rather to build democracy so that women’s rights and gay rights could be protected.

This betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of democracy, one that afflicts much of the left and center of the political spectrum across the West. Democracy, quite simply, is governance by people. It is a system of government where the people exercise control over their government. At its most basic, it is value-neutral. As with capitalism, the assumption is that on net the process will ensure that, over time, the people will be right more often than they are wrong, not least if Democracy allows them to change their minds and take responsibility for their mistakes. But as with capitalism, it does not ensure, nor does it promise, that every decision in every case will always be right, much less right for every single person. Life has winners and losers.

Constitutions like the American one exist to regulate this competition, not to predetermine the outcome. Those liberals and leftists who condemn the U.S. Constitution for not outlawing slavery, or more absurdly given the time and context of 1787, guaranteeing gender equality or prohibiting “hate speech,” fail to understand that it exists not to resolve disputes over issues where individuals held genuinely differing positions, but instead to create a framework through which they could be peacefully resolved. That meant that the task of the farmers was not trying to solve every problem, but merely creating a process through which disagreements could be resolved over time.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, constitutionalism was seen as an antidote to political and legal anarchy, and a way of avoiding rapid shifts in policy and avoiding winner-take all conflicts such as those over the role of the Catholic Church which shattered Germany and France, or slavery in the U.S.  By and large, it succeeded. Conflicts were endemic to the politics of France, the United States, and Britain, but amazingly, the American Civil War was virtually the only time anyone sought to resolve them outside of the system. It was not a weakness of the American Constitution that both slaveholders and abolitionists, Catholics and Protestants, farmers and bankers could all sign the same document. It was the strength of the document that such diverse groups could agree to work within it. 

Sadly, all of this wisdom seemed lost when it came to the Americans who designed the constitutions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Afghanistan and Iraq did not need to decide the contours of gender equality or the exact definition of marriage in order to be reconstructed into viable states. They needed systems which all the key parties in the state, Sunni and Shia, as well as varying ethnic groups, could all agree to accept. In both cases, what prevented this goal from being realized was not the unwillingness of locals to work within such systems, but that from the start the Westerners who designed the new constitutions rejected the principles that had served America so well.

Americans did not try to find a system that appealed to Afghans and Iraqis, accepting that many Iraqis and Afghans valued their Islamic faith and culture and did not want the schools they paid for promoting lessons insulting to their values. Western liberals instead foolishly wrote their own values into the constitutions themselves, overriding any future efforts by the voters of either country to reverse them.

This is hardly surprising. Constitutionalism in the liberal academic context, informed by Critical Legal Theory, the predecessor of Critical Race Theory, serves only to promote anarchy and not order in society. A living constitution is a constitution which is different tomorrow than it was yesterday, rendering the entire premises of common law and precedent useless and defeating the purpose of providing certainty. The “living constitution” provides arbitrary powers to judges and unelected bureaucrats and limits the power of elected politicians and the voters themselves.

Unfortunately, this was the version of “constitutionalism” which the United States exported to Iraq and Afghanistan. In other words, it was not democracy at all, thwarting the establishment of the rule of law. This could have been accomplished by maximizing the power of the elected branches of government, encouraging the formation of political parties, and undermining the influence of the executive both directly and through the judges and civil servants appointed by the executive.

Instead, American academics did the reverse. Not trusting the people of those countries, they effectively wrote the people’s preferences out of the new Afghan and Iraqi constitutions. Those documents – very long on what the governments could and couldn’t do – effectively crippled democracy by inhibiting the ability of the people to govern themselves. Afghanistan’s local governors were appointed by the President, not elected; the parliament was designed to prevent the formation of political parties; the ministers and judges were accountable to the President, as was the electoral commission. The Afghan peoples never had a say in their democratic state, for fear that they would vote in illiberal values.

Maybe this allowed American journalists and academics to pat themselves on the back with how progressive their constitution was, but it also ensured that the Afghan system of government they created could never work. For Afghans, local school boards had no power over local curriculum. American officials might say that this prevented ethnically and religiously focused education and ensured the rights of minorities were taught, but it also meant that Afghans faced a choice between allowing government schools to teach that material or allowing the Taliban to teach it. Empowering local elected officials or school boards to set curriculum, even if mildly Islamic, might have encouraged Afghans to take part in elections and strive to make their government work. Instead, we told them that questions of religion, women’s rights, and history were too important to be decided by democracy and must be imposed top-down by military power. They assimilated to that lesson all too well.

The irony is that many non-Westerners do understand what the American founding fathers were trying to accomplish in 1787, much better than Americans. I attended the World Schools Debate Championships this July, the premier international high school competition, where I saw the U.S. national team face Pakistan, debating the proposition that all constitutions should be open to revision every ten years. The American team engaged in an ahistorical and almost absurd argumentation about how the very existence of the U.S. Constitution had made it hard to abolish slavery (without mention of how no constitution would have worked out). They also argued the Constitution made it impossible to ban private firearms today, and pointed to the failure to pass the Equal Rights Amendment as a sign that amendments didn’t work.

By contrast, the Pakistanis argued that constitutions existed to prevent the seizure of power. They noted how calling into question a constitution does not empower the powerless, but rather further empowers the powerful. It is not those without power who are held back by a constitution, but rather Army Generals in Pakistan who wish to be president, or presidents who wish to dispense with Parliament or the Courts. The American participants, fully immersed in Critical Race Theory and other leftist academic thought, saw all constitutions, but especially the U.S. Constitution, as bad because they restrained the use of arbitrary power by the state against views and groups they did not like. It was left to the Pakistanis to explain that constitutions exist to restrain the exercise of arbitrary power. To top it all off, the Pakistanis reminded the Americans that stripping people of their private firearms or enforcing an Equal Rights Amendment without majority political support was reactionary, not democratic.

I was left with the distinct impression that these Pakistani high schoolers had a much greater understanding of what state building involved than their American counterparts, and that Afghanistan and Iraq might have fared far better had the Pakistani view predominated. Evidently the judges agreed, as the Pakistanis easily won. Sadly, the Afghan state was far less lucky.

Perhaps the outcomes in Afghanistan and Iraq were inevitable due to the errors of George W. Bush and Barack Obama. But those errors did not occur in isolation. They occurred at a time in the United States where the traditional notion of democracy upon which the United States was founded has been under attack from self-identified socialists in Congress and left-wing activists in academia and the media. Rather than a neutral process setting the terms for debate upon which to legislate values, the liberal elites who wrote Afghanistan and Iraq’s constitutions now believe the sole purpose of democracy is arriving at the “right policies” – in other words, imposing the value system they believe is best through the structure of government itself, and not through debate, legislation, and voting.  

The liberal elites who wrote Afghanistan and Iraq’s failed constitutions may want to pay more attention to what has happened over the last few years at home under the influence of their ideology. As much as some on the far left of Twitter might want to compare Donald Trump supporters to the Taliban, that comparison is absurd. But there are more than a few similarities between the type of regime Hamid Karzai and Ashraf Ghani tried to run in Kabul and the one Gavin Newsom and Andrew Cuomo have overseen in California and New York. Right down to seeing any sort of political challenges as an attack on the state, as “they are the state.” American liberals would do well to remember where their power comes from, lest they suffer the same decline into chaos that now besets the Middle East.

Daniel Roman is the pen name of a frequent commentator and lecturer on foreign policy and political affairs, both nationally and internationally. He holds a Ph.D. in International Relations from the London School of Economics.

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Peter J Keep
1 year ago

Powerful as it is, this article would be more powerful and persuasive had it named these leftist elites who mismanaged the shaping of the Afghan nation.

Beverly Necessary
1 year ago

I am ashamed the American people have been such fools. Please quite drinking the kool-aid that cradle to grave is the answer. Can’t decide whether I am more sad today than when the towers were hit 20years ago…….#MY HEART IF CRYING FOR USA

1 year ago

I read your article about our 20yr involvement in Afghanistan & its subsequent fall, & this is the first time it made sense to me. We sent Marxists to write their Constitution, ie: their country was never set up as a democracy. Thank you for enlightening me!
Can we impeach our State Dept.?

Ed G
1 year ago

Fantastic article that crystalizes the fault line between conservatives and progressives.

1 year ago

The headline for this article says it all and succinctly. We are losing our Constitutional Democracy by the skimming and cheating and self-serving tactics of the current Demolition Derby DemocRats!

John D. Beach
1 year ago

Fundamental to our society and system is the concept of private property, the violation of which, negatively, affects our security, whether personal or national. Upon this fundamental is the foundation of sovereignty and governance. Government is instituted for the purposes of the security of the blessings of life and liberty. That is, the liberty or freedom of one may be limited for the security of others in a democratic society. It is obvious that political leadership over the past 50 years has underestimated the cultural and religious differences with respect to historical heritage between the Eastern and Western hemispheres. The failure of the 20-year war on terror was predictable in the ashes of 9/11/01. Our constitutional responsibility is to our own security which is not enhanced by the consequences of failed policies in the Eastern Hemisphere which create humanitarian crises which give impetus to liberal policies on immigration and refugees (resulting from those failed policies) whose
history and heritage are, antithetically, opposed to Judaeo-Christianity the origin of which is found in the revelation and divine sovereignty of Almighty God, Creator of the Universe, exclusively, there is no other. Would that liberals, alone, were the victims of their own policies!

Eddie Van Halen
1 year ago

Sad to say that I had to serve in VN combat at that pig LBJ’s “request.” We see what a disaster that was.
MANY times I almost lost my life in “the fight against communism.” On my LAST DAY, I was wounded. Guess who has been ruling that nation for 5 decades ? Now THIS debacle. I’m ashamed and disgusted at how America has to stick it’s nose where it don’t BELONG>

Robin Chandler
1 year ago

Why is it considered a good thing to force cultural changes in Afghanistan today but bad when cultural changes were forced on Native Americans? I have to scratch my head when I realize the same people espouse both views. Either it was good then or it’s bad now. I think most of us would agree that we don’t have the right to force our views (no matter how strongly we may feel we’re right) on others. The hypocrisy astounds me.

John D. Beach
1 year ago
Reply to  Robin Chandler

Because liberals are, grossly, inconsistent, have an ignorant disdain for Judaeo-Christian values, morality and ethics, and believe that personal choice is the substance of freedom and the rule of law.
They, also, have no understanding of cause and effect with respect to the problems which the diversity values of their democrat constituencies cause. “Value Our Differences” did little more than cause us to take very critical perspectives on those differences. Historically, hegemony has been the achieved rule because a “common law” must govern relationships and transactions, which applies, mutually, despite individual differences. Given the commandments of Judaeo-Christianity, it is not likely that the practices and tenets of fundamental Islam are compatible or conducive to harmonious coexistence, especially, if we consider the history of relationships for the past 1400 years.

Philip Hammersley
1 year ago

Don’t equate a “democracy” with a “republic.” WE are a REPUBLIC governed by a Constitution, NOT a senile dictator! Our founders knew that only EDUCATED people could uphold a republic which is why the Northwest Ordinance, among others, provided for education.
Unfortunately, illiterate herdsmen who worship a false god had little chance of running a democracy or anything similar.

1 year ago

Philip, agreed. More important is when states first joined the union they had to agree with the Northwest Ordinance, which stated that; “Religion . . . shall forever be encouraged by legislative provision.”

Our Founders hated a democracy and I believe that you will only find the word republic in our Constitution. Interestingly, what is commonly known as, “Democracy In America” by Alexis De Tocqueville, was originally titled, “The Republic of the United States of America and Its Political Institutions, Reviewed and Examined.”

”4 Centuries Of American Education”, by David Barton, is an information packed small booklet of 62 pages, well worth purchasing. WallBuilders, also, offers other good literature defending the Founders, the use of the ,Bible and traditional values.

Larry W.
1 year ago

The United States of America is a very unique Country. Until another group of God fearing, dedicated, selfless, brave, and patriotic folks come together to form a country there will never be another country like the United States.

1 year ago
Reply to  Larry W.

Couldn’t put it any better than your comment, simple and to the point.

1 year ago

Reckon Joe Hidin’ Biden got a (kickback to him or his family) from the Taliban and its sponsors to back out and let them take over? That is not out of the realm of potential given what we now know about Joe Hidin’ Biden and his sidin’ with foreigners to give him and his family kickback favors.

1 year ago
Reply to  Hal

Biden not only gave the Taliban a boat load of key military hardware, he most likely gave them money to boot in order for them to not attack us as we left. He’s a rookie, fraud, socialist/marxist, anti-American, etc.

1 year ago

THE LEFT DESTROYS everything it touches! Dems beware you are feeding this monster.

Old Silk
1 year ago
Reply to  BAE

“Everything that is woke turns to —-“

1 year ago

Under “Democratic Socialism”, there is NO MIDDLE CLASS only rich and poor, with 98% being poor and dependent upon the government, their government. Not a government “of the People by the People” but a government RULING the People! THAT IS NOT MY AMERICA, NOR THE AMERICA Of OUR FOREFATHERS! … It’s time for We the People to rise up and fight back! Not with words, but with actions. Words without actions are only words! … I’m ready for actions, are you?

Larry W.
1 year ago
Reply to  Rik

Right on Rik, we don’t want a country ruled by an undemocratic elitist party who think they know what is right and everyone else is wrong. You either tow their party line or they will crush you.

1 year ago
Reply to  Larry W.

We will know if we need to fight back in 2022. Our votes either count or they don’t. Then the next step will be determined.

1 year ago

“Constitutionalism in the liberal academic context, informed by Critical Legal Theory, the predecessor of Critical Race Theory, serves only to promote anarchy and not order in society.”

Critical Theory is the basis for both of these. At it’s core, it is designed to deconstruct. It offers no “Plan B”, just a vague notion of something new. It is not concerned with consequences, either.

In short, Critical Theory (of any flavor) is for those who see a few unhealthy trees in a forest, so they make the determination that the entire forest must be destroyed, regardless of the loss of life and resources.

1 year ago

Our bureaucrats of the policy section have tried this in every country we were in. Whatever was needed for our corporations to make money on, upsetting the peoples way of doing things,like farming practices.

Eddie Van Halen
1 year ago
Reply to  Tom

And WHY can’t we abide by the Constitution to MIND OUR OWN BUSINESS ! ! !

Helena Brus
1 year ago

Who else caught this?

That meant that the task of the farmers was not trying to solve every problem, but merely creating a process through which disagreements could be resolved over time.

I do believe the writer meant to say framers.

I. Marie Eggers
1 year ago
Reply to  Helena Brus

I caught it, but then it occurred to me that at least some of the framers were farmers.

Eddie Van Halen
1 year ago
Reply to  Helena Brus

So, Helena, which is it – framers or framers ? ? ?

Stephen Russell
1 year ago

Leftisim Fails ALL
Since WW2
See War on Poverty Scam

Robin Walter Boyd
1 year ago

Progressives worldwide are every bit as bad as are radical Islamic factions. Both have extremist ideologies that they want to force on all citizens of whatever nation they are in control of. The U.S. has not completely given in to Progressive Socialism, but we are getting way too close for comfort. The end result of either extreme controlling a nation is fascism. When the controlling government is able to dictate most every aspect of the lives of citizens; that is fascism.

1 year ago

We abandoned the Embassy & one of the news said this place cost $800 Million.
Why did we leave this intact for Taliban & I have seen other news that Taliban defeated
USA & will celebrate 9/11 Ann. 20th from this location. I hope not, but if so, we should
have demolished the whole building. How could US intelligence not see the fast pace
Taliban was on way to Kabul.

1 year ago
Reply to  johnh

How would you define US intelligence? Hopefully not by this administrations standards!

Mark B
1 year ago

Amen, article to the point, failure to encompass the people, their faith and culture.

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