Published August 29, 2013
Remember the war in Afghanistan? Of course you do. Not only does it have the distinction of being the longest U.S.-fought war in history (“Vietnam” has finally been defeated! U-S-A!), but Iceland has had a role since the start. Three Icelanders are still a part of the so-called International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), toiling away alongside their freedom-lovin’ allies in the Graveyard of Empires.
Hell, since the 2008 banking collapse, Icelanders have even run off to volunteer for the Norwegian military, citing the lack of economic opportunity at home as a reason to take up arms in Pashtunistan. While Icelanders might no longer be afforded the chance to plunder British savings accounts, they can still be party to other sorts of destruction—through a war that has, in many respects, continued unabated since 1979.
But a little-noticed cable published by WikiLeaks reveals that Iceland’s involvement would be even greater if Icelandic diplomats were a tad more gullible. Internal deliberations show that then U.S. Ambassador Carol von Voorst told her superiors at the State Department to push some pretty manipulative pro-war talking points on then Foreign Minister and Social Democratic Alliance head Ingibjörg Sólrún Gísladóttir. Before Ingibjörg embarked on a trip to Washington for official business in April 2008, van Voorst wrote:
“We should push the Icelanders to greatly step up their support for police training, which may also allow them to blend in elements relating to the status of women (a heartfelt personal concern of Gisladottir’s).”
The advice—which described Ingibjörg as “a shrewd politician with an activist streak” that “tackled well” as Foreign Minister, even though she “came in with expectations of being able to take lengthy vacations in the Nordic tradition”—did not lead to any sort of Icelandic surge, however. Iceland had been winding down its involvement in the war before May 2007, when an election resulted in a Social Democrat-Independence Party coalition government. As von Voorst noted in the very same cable, Ingibjörg’s predecessor (former Progressive Party MP Valgerður Sverrisdóttir) had “pulled Iceland’s mobile liaison team out of PRT [Provincial Reconstruction Team] Chaghcharan” the month before the election, and Ingibjörg could not be persuaded to reverse that decision.
A May 2008 “scenesetter” van Voorst sent to then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice a month after the D.C. trip made no mention of increased Icelandic participation in Afghanistan—nor did van Voorst tell Rice that she should try to persuade her Icelandic counterpart to step up intervention. Ingibjörg then presided over even more downsizing in August 2008. In response to a Ministry of Foreign Affairs report about a 2004 suicide attack that wounded four Iceland Crisis Response Unit members, she forbade Icelandic peacekeepers in Afghanistan from carrying weapons, except for “rare circumstances,” and ordered troops to be replaced by “unarmed specialists” at the next opportunity. The “status of women” propaganda tack, if followed by the U.S. State Department in actual discussions, didn’t move Ingibjörg, it seems.
Even if Ingibjörg had ramped up Iceland’s official mission to Afghanistan, any escalation would have almost certainly been quickly reversed after Prime Minister Geir Haarde ordered God to Bless Iceland in October 2008 (this a reference to the financial collapse, kreppa scholar neophytes). In November of that year, van Voorst told Washington that Iceland’s “newly established defense budget will be slashed.” In 2009, after Ingibjörg stepped down from the ministry (and then from politics altogether after falling ill in September 2008), then acting Foreign Minister Össur Skarphéðinsson informed van Voorst in April that she “should be happy” (van Voorst’s words) that Icelandic troops weren’t called home immediately after the Left-Greens joined the coalition government just after the New Year.
And although she was described as having an “activist streak,” Ingibjörg and the Social Democrats hardly protested all of the excesses of American National Security while in power. In another WikiLeaks cable from 2007, van Voorst wrote that Ingibjörg’s foreign ministry conducted an inquiry into alleged CIA extraordinary renditions that passed through Iceland as “an attempt to take the issue away from the opposition”—“an exercise in transparency,” in the words of one ministry official, with no legal bite. In January 2008, Left-Green leader Steingrímur J. Sigfússon cited a Danish TV documentary on the issue as evidence that an independent investigation was needed. He was rebuffed by Ingibjörg who insisted the matter had been settled, and that the documentary detailed Iceland’s scrutiny of the flights. Either way, the debate shows that the crisis probably did more in 2008 for Iceland’s anti-war activists than any one politician could do.
Whatever the case, Iceland wasn’t alone in facing down the American feminist PsyOps tactics. According to a March 2010 CIA report (also published by WikiLeaks), American officials wanted to exploit the plight of Afghan women in capitals across Western Europe.
“Afghan women could serve as ideal messengers in humanizing the ISAF role in combating the Taliban because of women’s ability to speak personally and credibly about their experiences under the Taliban, their aspirations for the future, and their fears of a Taliban victory. Outreach initiatives that create media opportunities for Afghan women to share their stories with French, German, and other European women could help to overcome pervasive skepticism among women in Western Europe toward the ISAF mission.”
But Icelanders and their continental counterparts, to their credit, have apparently been able to see through the shamelessness and the logical fallacies. The Pentagon, the State Department, and the CIA haven’t been particularly perturbed by the treatment of women in Saudi Arabia—the oil-gushing U.S. ally home to fifteen out of nineteen 9/11 hijackers and a theocracy suspected by former American Senators of playing a central role orchestrating the attacks. Nor has U.S. intervention improved the lot of Iraqi women, who have seen and continue to see their personal security, quality of life and legal status diminish since the fall of Saddam Hussein.
Nor does the American military appear particularly concerned about Afghan women themselves, either. A famously outspoken Afghan woman and former Parliamentarian named Malalai Joya said recently that the U.S. and its NATO allies “were not fighting on behalf of women, because they have put into power the reactionary warlords who are sworn enemies of women.”
Women in Afghanistan don’t need to wait for ISAF to withdraw to feel the coercive grip of homegrown patriarchy. U.S. backed officialdom is piling on ingrained cultural attitudes grinding Afghan women down. According to the Afghan Interior Ministry’s own statistics, 600 women were in prison for “moral crimes” in May 2013 – an increase of 50 percent since October 2011. These egregious violations of law, according to Human Rights Watch, include “being victims of forced marriage, domestic violence, and rape.”
And some of these women could have been arrested by men trained by Icelandic “support for police trainers” too, if Ingibjörg Sólrún Gísladóttir had swallowed Carol von Voorst’s PR gumdrop.