“Those who are not with us are against us.” The words are familiar—but, writes French journalist Nivat, before they formed George W. Bush’s slogan, they belonged to the Communist rulers of Afghanistan.
The Communists were the enemy of the common people, according to many of the Afghans Nivat interviews in these pages. So, too, were the Taliban. So, too, are the American invaders, as they are in Iraq. Nivat opens in Iraqi Kurdistan, victim of an aggressive program of “Arabization” on the part of the Hussein regime, where the arrival of American liberators seems to have done little to improve the lot of ordinary people; says one bookish Kurd, “Arabs and Iraqi Kurds are waiting for Godot. . . . But Godot won’t come because Godot doesn’t exist, and the United States is not Godot.” Remarks a Turkoman of Kirkuk, “We’re grateful that they rid us of Saddam Hussein’s regime, even though everyone knows they hadn’t had weapons of mass destruction in ages, but now we don’t want anything more from them!” And an Arab policeman in Baghdad remarks of the Americans, “They’re extremely fussy and give orders we don’t understand, either literally or figuratively.” In other words, the invasion worked to unite previously disparate ethnic and religious groups in opposition. So it is that a Baathist soldier tucks his uniform into a closet and awaits the day when he might put it on again, another—a former bodyguard of Saddam’s slain son Uday—“lives very discreetly, always resisting the temptation to contact his former companions,” though the odds are good that he’s now part of the resistance. Nivat travels to Afghanistan to find much the same resentment over the American occupiers, whose accommodation to putatively “moderate” elements of the Taliban contradicts all the official rhetoric about ferreting out the bin Ladens of the world.
There’s no thesis as such here, only voices of more or less ordinary people who have much to say about the conduct of an unwanted war.