Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s support for the transatlantic alliance was tested by fire the year he was elected prime minister of Denmark in 2001. Following 9/11, Denmark proved to be one of the United States’ closest allies, deploying over 4 percent of its active-duty military to the NATO mission in Afghanistan and suffering one of the highest casualty rates of any nation in that war. The bond between the two countries would be strengthened by subsequent crises, including the showdown with Saddam Hussein in 2003 and the deadly international riots over Danish depictions of Muhammad in 2005. Rasmussen stepped down as president of Denmark to become secretary-general of NATO in 2009, two years before NATO launched an air campaign to oust Muammar Gaddafi. His final days in that position in 2014 were marked by increasing Russian interference in Eastern Europe, which culminated in an invasion of Ukraine.
A recent New York Times headline says it all: “15 Years Into Afghan War, Americans Would Rather Not Talk About It.” A Kingdom of Their Own by Joshua Partlow, who was the Washington Post’s bureau chief in Kabul from 2009-2012, explains in agonizing detail why. He has told the story of America’s involvement in Afghanistan since 9/11 by telling the story of the Karzai family, many of whom were working in their own restaurants and living in America when 9/11 happened.
Hamid Karzai was not, though; he was living in Pakistan in modest circumstances. At first, U. S. officials did not want him to be president of Afghanistan—he was not a significant player in the region—but he knew the different tribes and spoke the languages, including a British-accented English.
John Stuart Mill saw it clearly, all the way back in 1861, when he published a book called Considerations on Representative Government. Rejecting the idea that the ability to vote could ever be a right in democratic societies, he argued instead that voting constitutes a specific trust. The ability to vote is granted to us because we have implicitly promised to make abstract and impersonal decisions about the general public good. Every political activity, including voting, is an exercise in power over others. And that kind of power should never be thought a right we possess but only a trust we are granted. Just as it would be absurd to say that any particular person has an inalienable right to be president or prime minister, so it is meaningless to claim that anyone has a right to vote.
As so often with Mill, he clarifies part of an issue for us: streamlining the question of political suffrage and trimming it down to a particular component. The result has a genuine allure.
In the summer of 1988, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini ordered thousands of political prisoners to be executed in secret over a two-month period. About 4,500 people were murdered, with the massacre covered up by a media blackout inside Iran. Twenty-eight years later, the official website of Khomeini’s then-heir apparent, the late Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, released an audiotape of an Aug. 15, 1988, meeting on the purges. Montazeri can be heard lashing out at the clergymen present for facilitating the mass-killings, declaring, “You all will be judged as the biggest criminals in history.” The audiotape shows the ruthlessness of the committee of clergymen, some of whom hold senior positions today in President Hassan Rouhani’s cabinet–men like Mostafa Pourmohammadi, the current minister of justice–and elsewhere in the regime–like Hossein Ali Nayeri, now a senior judiciary official.