Last week, hours after President Trump announced in primetime that he would—despite his initial instincts—recommit American troops and resources to the war in Afghanistan, news broke that it was this 1972 photo that had swayed him.
According to The Washington Post, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and H.R. McMaster, Trump’s national security advisor, had for months cautioned the President that withdrawal from Afghanistan would have disastrous consequences. McMaster, the Post explains, effectively framed his appeal to Trump, well, culturally. Desperate to prove Afghanistan wasn’t doomed to its current circumstances, McMaster showed Trump a black-and-white photo of Afghan women, strolling through Kabul in miniskirts.
Every few years, photos like this one ricochet across the web, especially on Facebook and Twitter, where they’re shared both by the well-intentioned who’ve watched with horror the erosion of women’s liberties in Afghanistan and across the Middle East, and by arch conservatives, who, as The Guardian points out, express concern for women in the Middle East in order to better silence progressive feminist voices at home.
ISN’T IT POSSIBLE THAT “THE ONLY [FACTOR] THAT COULD MOTIVATE THIS PARTICULAR PRESIDENT IS A LITTLE THIGH”?
And yet while the images predictably crop up on social media, they’re seldom used as cornerstones of foreign policy. Rosa Brooks, professor at the Georgetown University Law Center and the author of the book How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything, isn’t surprised. Perhaps, she muses, McMaster knew he needed to frame the situation in terms Trump could understand—that is, miniskirts. And it’s rather horrifying, but admit it, Brooks presses, isn’t it possible that “the only [factor] that could motivate this particular President is a little thigh”? Couldn’t it be that, “Donald envisions a happier Afghanistan where everyone looks a bit more like Melania?”
Still, Brooks concedes that there’s a more generous read. When she served in the Pentagon under President Obama, photos like the one McMaster showed Trump weren’t uncommon. “Not only that particular picture, but also pictures of [young women] sitting in classrooms and of women doctors and of women giving lectures at conferences and pictures of Afghan men, too, engaged in ordinary activities in mixed groups,” Brooks recalls. The photos were meant to demonstrate that “the Afghan people are people like everyone else,” she says, and that the current “quote-unquote” culture in Afghanistan has been imposed on its populace by the Taliban. It’s an important reminder. “It’s just false to say Afghanistan has always been the way the Taliban wanted it to be,” Brooks continues. “It hasn’t. it changed before; it could change again.”
“IT’S JUST FALSE TO SAY AFGHANISTAN HAS ALWAYS BEEN THE WAY THE TALIBAN WANTED IT TO BE. IT HASN’T. IT CHANGED BEFORE; IT COULD CHANGE AGAIN.”
Within Afghanistan, the point stands. Rina Amiri, who was born in Afghanistan, served as a senior advisor to the late U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, and is now a scholar at the NYU Center on International Cooperation, explains that well before 2001, even before the Soviet invasion in 1979, “there was a robust debate” between the country’s moderates and traditionalists over whether to experiment with democratic ideals, including the full enfranchisement and civic participation of women. That’s why, according to Amiri, so many Afghans open up their own family photo albums and insist, “Look, this is already who we are. You’re not necessarily bringing democracy to us. You’re not creating this. We have an authentic history that’s our own.”
“These were the lives of our mothers and fathers,” Amiri continues. “They couldn’t have dreamt that Afghanistan would be where it is now.” To wit, when Amiri’s mother visited her in Kabul while she was dispatched there for the U.N., she didn’t recognize her own childhood home. “It had changed so drastically,” Amiri says. “She was just dumbfounded.” The photos are talismans, Amiri continues, proof that the situation in Afghanistan now may be just an “aberration.”
From: ELLE UK