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A TALE TOLD BY AN IDIOT

Full of sound and fury signifying nothing

John Chuckman

It’s almost as though American policy in Afghanistan had followed the script for a Hollywood summer blockbuster. A potboiler-epic aimed at pleasing affluent, pimply teenage boys, dreaming dreams of power and adventure, its script mixing generous helpings of Cecil B. deMille, Steven Spielberg, explosive special effects, bad dialogue, and a lack of intelligible plot.

That may not be an exaggeration. Only reflect that America’s second-last, dangerously hare-brained president, Mr. Nixon, used to watch the movie Patton over and over again, hoping to derive inspiration in dealing with the catastrophe he himself created.

Unfortunately, this isn’t a movie. Real lives and real villages are being torn apart by a slightly-earlier generation of pimply American boys at the controls of some of the world’s most hellish weapons. Boys like that eager fellow, reportedly nick-named “Psycho” by some of his comrades, who ignored procedures to get “a kill,” his target being a group of Canadian soldiers carrying out known exercises.

(Canadians, by the way, will be grateful that the county’s modest contribution to insanity in the mountains will end soon. America brow-beat its allies into playing supporting roles, hoping to give vengeance the color of a genuine international cause. It was easier this time than it was for Vietnam owing to people’s initial, instinctive sympathy for those killed September 11. But one remembers the story of how Lyndon Johnson grabbed Prime Minister Lester Pearson, winner of the Nobel peace prize, by the lapels and tried intimidating him into contributing troops for Vietnam. Thank God, Pearson stood his ground against the Texas thug.)

In December of last year, U.S. planes mistakenly attacked a convoy of tribal elders, killing 65 people. There were reports that this ugly incident had an even uglier origin: Americans had been deliberately tricked by one of the cut-throat factions now ruling the country into eliminating some political opposition. Since then there have been many lethal attacks on the wrong people.

Now we have the report of a wedding party in southern Afghanistan blown to bits. The government in Afghanistan reports 40 killed, including the bride and groom, and 100 injured, by some trigger-happy fly-boy undoubtedly trying to clutch Psycho’s fallen laurels. (Actually this was the second wedding party attacked, the first was in eastern Afghanistan in May with 10 killed.)

I suppose we can be grateful the Pentagon much earlier gave up its disgusting stunt of dropping food-ration packets along with 500-pond bombs. Imagine bags of freeze-dried rice dropped on the bodies of the bride and groom?

Does anyone understand why American planes are still bombing Afghanistan? Oh, yes, I forgot, to destroy any elusive al Qaeda who might still be clambering the rocky slopes in sandals threatening New York. And it makes such good sense to do this with bombs from the air where you cannot distinguish a cleric from a warrior, a rifle from a hoe. Perhaps al Qaeda members are supposed to wear transponders for easy identification?

Recent stories from Britain reveal the utter contempt in which American tactics are held by senior officials there – information suppressed until now by the heavy hand of Prime Minister Tony Blair who seems keen to play dwarf armor-polisher to America’s idiot-prince. The tactics in question include American special forces in Pakistan and border areas of Afghanistan conducting searches for hidden al Qaeda by breaking into village homes with weapons blazing away, completely oblivious to the fact that this is not a part of the world where arrogant, insulting behavior is easily forgiven.

Can you imagine what a hellish storm of vengeance and terror Northern Ireland would have reaped had British troops behaved that way? In more than a quarter century of civil unrest in Northern Ireland, bad as it was, fewer people died on all sides than the number in Afghanistan killed by Americans during just a few months. You might think Americans had some valuable lessons to learn from Britain’s long, demanding experience in Northern Ireland, but the kind of Americans in Bush’s crowd already know everything, possessing wisdom magically sprung from the head of Zeus.

Not that you’d know it from America’s limp press, but it does appear that the country’s special forces, whose every member has more expensive outfits and fancy equipment than the deluxe jet-set, celebrity edition of Barbie comes with, have pretty much come up short in every significant operation so far.

Except, of course, for the massacre at Mazar-I-Sharif. Scots film maker Jamie Doran has shown parliamentarians in Europe the first portion of his documentary on the disappearance of about three thousand prisoners after their surrender. The film has terrible things to say of American participation. Hundreds of Taleban prisoners were driven in vans out into the desert by order of a local American commander, and those not suffocated by the heat were shot dead by General Dostrum’s troops while Americans casually watched.

A secret report released to the New York Times indicates that even American authorities know what a failure the war has been. It has only succeeded in dispersing anti-American terrorists throughout the Muslim world.

The actual membership of al Qaeda was always very small, far smaller than any Chicago street gang, and never bore any relation to the addled claims of Mr. Bush. They might have been dealt with handily by a set intelligent policies and diplomatic moves rather than a mindless crusade costing tens of billions of dollars.

The recent, much-publicized loya jirga, a grand council of delegates from all over Afghanistan, did little more than set up a temporary figurehead government, a kind of national fig leaf for the nakedness of the war lords who now rule most of the country. Astute readers will rightly ask how delegates could possibly have been chosen in any representative fashion from regions governed by war lords, places that are no-go areas for foreign troops.

At least now the way is clear for America, in its usual end-of-bombing fashion, to hightail it out after a decent interval. Ari Fleischer will blubber claims of having brought democracy to Afghanistan. Who knows, maybe Billy Graham will join in with prayers of thanksgiving before a joint session of Congress for all the swarthy heathens killed? Only the keen political sensibilities of George Orwell could have fully appreciated America’s second wave of destruction in Afghanistan being celebrated as an achievement.

All these developments – Afghanistan left in turmoil, war lords in control, stupid tactics creating many more angry young men seeking vengeance, the dispersal of anti-American leaders – together with the ugly new line on the Palestinians that the weak Mr. Bush has been cornered into accepting, promise little peace or security for anyone. It’s almost as though Ariel Sharon had been named special advisor to the president, and a stunning appointment it is: a man who has spent his life killing innocent people as an envoy for peace.

I reflect back to the Pentagon general who announced not so very long ago, as the forces of the Northern Alliance bravely swept across a landscape first cleared by American carpet-bombing, that this promised to be one of the most effective military actions in history. Here was a case of “pride goeth before the fall” if ever there was.

Of course, you must take account of the fact that he spoke from the perspective of half a century of costly, unprincipled, and often inept American colonial military action – the murderous shame of Vietnam, the pointless destruction in Cambodia, the almost-laughable theater of the absurd in Somalia, the marines providing live targets in Lebanon, the Army’s School of the Americas training the creatures of dictators in the fine points of torture and killing, the destruction of an Iranian civilian airliner with three-hundred souls aboard (an act which also deserves rarely-given credit for the reprisal destruction of the Pan-Am Lockerbie flight), the sinking of a Japanese civilian ship, the vicious fly-boy pranks that hurled an Italian gondola full of people down a mountain, the numerous rapes and assaults by troops in Okinawa.

The general’s breast swelled with the proud reflection that Americans had been so stunningly-successful where the Russians had miserably failed. Of course, he ignored the fact that Russia attempted something quite different to what America has attempted. He also ignored the fact that the Russians worked against a vast secret war waged by the CIA, whose activities in Afghanistan are what made September 11 possible. But most of all, he arrogantly ignored the fact that the play in Afghanistan has not gone beyond the first scene of the first act.

______________________________

A final note of irony: How sound is government now in Afghanistan? In early July, just after this piece was written, the Minister for Public Works, Abdul Qadir, who also served as one of three vice-presidents, was assassinated in Kabul. Last April in Jalalabad, there was an attempt to assassinate Mohammad Fahim, Interim Defense Minister. In February, Abdul Rahman, Civil Aviation Minister, was assassinated at the airport in Kabul, other ministers being implicated in his death. Readers should note that Kabul, where two of these assassinations occurred is the most secure part of the country.

Despite their over-advertised nastiness, this is exactly the anarchy the Taleban ended before American bombing ended the Taleban. So far as we know, the Taleban had nothing to do with September 11, and they were willing to extradite Osama bin Laden and others upon America’s producing evidence of their guilt, a universally-accepted practice in legal extradition. But this was not acceptable to Mr. Bush, and, apart from its many other costly failures, his crusade in Afghanistan has not produced bin Laden.

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