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This council ain't so grand

Donald Trump was just indicted for a third time in the current election season. I’ve seen third world power struggles first hand and nothing beats this mess.

In the opening months of 2002, the war in Afghanistan was still fresh. Smoke was still rising from some of the most recent bombing runs in the Tora Bora mountains. The Taliban and al-Qaeda were on the run. Life in and around Afghanistan was taking on an eerie wait-and-see posture.

My team was inserted into the northern province of Kunduz right after the invasion, and for most of the next year we lived among the Afghan people. We often dressed as Afghans, lived in an Afghan house with our own private guard force, ate their food. It was a very surreal year.

In June 2002 the powers that be decided a transitional government of Afghan leaders was needed to run the country until the first free elections could be held in 2004. The way forward was to conduct a “loya jirga.”

Translated from Pashto, loya jirga means “grand council,” and is a tradition in Afghanistan. It is democracy with a southwest Asian tribal flair. In Kunduz, a huge tent was set up. Hundreds of men in traditional Afghan garb representing tribes, councils, and communities were all crowded into this massive tent. There was yelling, swearing, posturing, and speeches. There was clamor from the young, and deference to the gray beards. Nothing like this had happened for years because of the Taliban, and before that, the Soviets.

These were people trying hard to figure out what self-determination meant. They were beaten down for so long that just gathering to talk about an election made many of them nervous. It was amazing to watch it all.

Loya jirgas occurred in every province. Even the smallest mudbrick, dirt-patch communities sent their representatives to each of the 34 provincial capitals, and they yelled, cussed, postured, and gave their speeches. Hazaras, Pashtuns, Tajiks, Uzbeks. They all came. For the first time in memory women were allowed a limited role in the loya jirga. Trouble arose when certain Afghan warlords demanded entry to the loya jirga tents and tried to threaten and intimidate the participants.

Eventually the congregation of angry, noisy, Afghan men in Kunduz selected their delegates, who then selected their leader. Those men then represented Kunduz Province in the great loya jirga in Kabul. The former King of Afghanistan, Mohammad Zahir Shah, who had been in exile since before the Soviet invasion, returned to formally open the ceremonies.

But there was still shouting, and cursing, and posturing. Weapons were drawn on several occasions. There were walkouts and resignations, nominations and more resignations. It was organized chaos.

From an outsider’s perspective, I had trouble believing they would ever reach a resolution. But it is amazing what people can do when they are given a choice, and eventually Hamid Karzai was elected interim president.

The first free election in Afghanistan was a raucous mess. But nobody went to jail, nobody was shot, and nobody tried to send their opponent to jail on trumped up charges.

Twenty-one years later I am watching the current election season here in the U.S. and I feel like the post-Taliban Afghans did a better job at electing a government. The modern world has not seen anything like the mess we have going on right now with former President Trump indicted again and again.

In American elections, we expect raucous speech. We expect over-the-top advertisements and feisty debates. We actually expect some of those ubiquitous sleights of half-truths designed to knock your opponent’s favorable polling numbers down.

What we don’t expect is a coordinated abuse of the justice system designed solely to derail a political opponent’s campaign. Trump has now been indicted for the third time during the ongoing election season: once on the classified documents issue, once by rogue New York City District Attorney Alvin Bragg on alleged campaign finance violations, and again this past week on claims related to Jan. 6th and election irregularities. Don’t forget that Trump also faced decades-old sexual harassment allegations for which he was just in court, and the sense is that he will possibly be indicted on additional charges in Georgia for allegedly attempting to insert himself in the process of that state’s 2020 election ballot counting.

Does anyone really believe that the timing of these various suits and indictments is not coordinated? Is there anyone who really believes that it took almost three years for the DOJ to decide whether or not Trump said something inciteful on Jan. 6th? Or that he made claims about elections that some people took issue with?

The bottom line is that where there is this much smoke, it is not a question of whether there is a fire. When you have this much smoke, what you actually have is someone fanning the flames. What we are watching is not an attempt at multiple prosecutions; rather, this is one single persecution.

Meanwhile, Biden has been on vacation again at his beach house, conveniently out of pocket and unavailable for questioning. That’s what tyrants do. They sit back in their castles and send their minions out to do their bidding.

If tribal leaders in a war zone can come together in a tent and yell and cuss and posture and actually elect their leaders, all while a war is still going on around them and the Taliban’s brutality is still fresh on their minds, then surely we can complete a U.S. election without looking like a bunch of Afghan warlords trying to intimidate their way into the tent.

But hey, those Afghan warlords got nuthin’ on this.

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