TELLURIDE – Do you care about what is going on Afghanistan? Should you care? Osama Bin Laden is dead and the invasion of Iraq by ISIS may well be the new face of Middle Eastern terrorism and brutalization, but the future of Afghanistan will still have a huge impact on the U.S. and the political and cultural climate of the Middle East as a whole.
Telluride’s Lawry de Bivort, a long-time Middle East analyst, will facilitate the discussion following Afghanistan-born Azim Salehi, who will speak about the future of his country Thursday, Aug. 27, at 6 p.m. The presentation and discussion aim to give attendees a sense of the political and cultural situation in Afghanistan now, how things got to this point, and just what are its prospects for the future, from someone with a unique insider’s view of the country, tempered by his years spent living elsewhere.
Facilitator (and California native) de Bivort , who earned a PhD in political science from the School of Advanced International Studies at the Johns Hopkins University, is president and founder of Evolutionary Services Institute (ESI), a Washington D.C.-based consulting organization serving both the private and public sector.
ESI assists public and private sector organizations in the areas of strategic planning, problem diagnosis and resolution, program design and implementation, economic and social development, developmental strategies, and organizational design and performance.
Clients of de Bivort’s include such important organizations and agencies as the World Bank, the UN (Y2K), and the UNSC; US government organizations such as the Department of Defense, the Naval Post-Graduate School, US Department of State. He has worked with NGOs in the Middle East, including Save the Children, Red Cross, Red Crescent, and CEOSS, the Egyptian Coptic Evangelical Organization for Social Services.
De Bivort has devoted decades of study to Middle Eastern and North African politics, law, history and sociology, and the history of the Arab and Muslim worlds. In a recent interview, de Bivort stated he has also spent a couple of years traveling around the world interviewing terrorists for the U.S. government.
De Bivort hosted a series of talks in Telluride focusing on the Middle East and North Africa, including Wilkinson Library’s Arab Spring Talks, which focused on the uprisings and revolts in the Arab world (2010-2012), exploring the potential impact a U.S.-led democratization could have on the Middle East, post-Iraq War, and a three-part lecture series, “Crafting the Human Future.” He also led monthly book discussions in a series called “Muslim Journeys.”
De Bivort has been coming to Telluride part-time for 24 years, and this past April moved to Telluride full-time.
Salehi was born in Kabul, Afghanistan, where his father’s position in the government, prior to the Communist coup in 1978, led to the family’s escape to Pakistan in 1980. There, they worked with freedom fighters, and eventually were granted asylum in Germany. Azim subsequently emigrated to the U.S., where he worked with various high-level U.S. companies, and now manages several classified government projects. Salehi is currently working quietly with colleagues in the U.S. and Afghanistan to build a coalition for the post-U.S. period in his native country.
In a recent interview, de Bivort stated that he hopes Salehi’s presentation in Telluride will spur further discussion about Afghanistan, emphasizing confidence that Salehi can bring salient issues to the forefront of public dialogue.
“Changing policy starts with discussion,” he says. “In political science, we use language to determine resolution, and then to intervene and achieve pre-selected objectives.”
De Bivort says Telluride is an ideal place for discussion about Afghanistan and U.S. policy because “Telluride gathers interesting people…there are ideas being discussed here and an interest in implementing ideas.”
“I moved here,” he adds, “to try and advance the notion that the human species can manage their own evolution beneficially.”
In a short 2012 interview with Inside Out’s Clint Viebrock preceding his 2012 Arab Spring talks, de Bivort said that although a democratization of the Middle East would not be the foreign relations catastrophe many in the U.S. fear it might be, there is a reasonable concern that, because the U.S. has enjoyed an “alliance of convenience” with Middle Eastern dictators, U.S. foreign policy and interests could suffer, should democratization of the region succeed.
“The dictators had alliances with the U.S.,” de Bivort said in the interview, “where we supplied military equipment to them and keep them in power, and they pursue the policies we wish, even if those policies vary from what the population wants.” He continued, “With the overthrow of these dictators and former allies-of-convenience, and the advent of democracy, the people will have the right to help form domestic and foreign policy, and what the people want will not necessarily be pliant to our [U.S.] needs.”
Near-Certain Civil War
In an interview this week, de Bivort draws parallels between the political and cultural situation in 2014 Afghanistan and the Arab Spring period in Iraq, citing continued U.S. military presence in Afghanistan, as well as the U.S. obsession with instilling democracy and quashing terrorism, as creating conditions ripe for a civil war.
He anticipates that Salehi’s talk will address the misguided U.S. attempt to enter a Status of Forces agreement with Afghanistan. An SOF agreement, he says, would allow a relatively small number of (under 10,000) US troops to remain in Afghanistan to train Afghani police, military and security to respond to violent uprisings and revolts, and also protect the US Embassy.
De Bivort believes that leaving behind American troops would have little benefit to the Afghani populace, and would leave the country even more anti- American than it is now.
“Nothing in Afghani history suggests an SOF agreement would succeed,” he says. “The police can’t protect the people or the government, the military cannot suppress the Taliban. Training Afghani forces is an absurd rationale for leaving U.S. troops in Afghanistan, especially in light of the fact the Afghan local police and the army are loyal to ethnic groups, rather than the current government in place, or democracy at all.”
He adds, “The U.S. must stop holding onto the short-sighted and vapid idea that we have friends in Afghanistan when we don’t. Our occupation has basically been a massacre, particularly of civilians, and once U.S. troops pull out there will be a civil war.”
In addition to covering the SOF agreement, de Bivort speculates Salehi’s talk will include topics such as the recent election in Afghanistan, the current corrupt power structure that exists within the Karzai government and whether the Karzai government should be treated as legitimate, as well as whether of not the coalition Salehi is hoping to form could provide an alternative to U.S. strategy thus far.
“This coalition,” he says, “is made up by people who will end up determining the political future of Afghanistan, but these people did not participate in the last election. And although the U.S. has erroneously branded many of these people and the groups they are affiliated with as ‘terrorists,’ it would be in the U.S.’s best interest to talk with them.”
“The U.S. needs to abandon the fiction that an election means democracy, or that blindly training police and military forces will create a democracy. Doing what the populace desires is democracy,” he says.
“Hopefully brother Azim can pull off a miracle or there will be a civil war once American troops withdraw,” he concludes.
De Bivort will give a talk titled “Causes and Consequences” on Sept. 11, 2014, addressing the lingering effects the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks have had on the Middle East and North Africa.