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A RESPONSE TO HILLARY CLINTON’S ASSERTION THAT ALL NATIONS SHOULD PLAY A PART IN THE AFGHANISTAN MISSION

John Chuckman

Hillary Clinton, in a just-published piece on the Afghanistan mission (see note at bottom), offers us nothing helpful or enlightening, only boiler-plate American slogans, the kind of stuff you’d hear from some provincial Congressman giving a Fourth of July speech in a place like Muncie, Indiana.

Indeed, her use of the question-begging word “mission” in the title to describe what has been the pointless conquest and occupation of a people signals the vacuity of the words that follow.

“The violent extremism that threatens the people and governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan also undermines the stability of the wider region and threatens the security of our friends, allies and interests around the world.”

No government in Afghanistan or Pakistan was threatened until the U.S. became involved. Yes, they are poor regions with much backward fundamentalism, but those governments knew how to handle the difficulties of their own affairs before the U.S. bombed and machine-gunned its way in.

No matter what the U.S. does, short of exterminating an entire class of people (for the Taleban is not an invading guerilla force but a substantial portion of the population), the fundamentalism is not going to go away in our lifetimes.

It would take decades of very healthy economic growth to bring these places forward, and so far America’s only contribution has been to kill tens of thousands of people and destroy a great deal of the meager physical assets in these places.

I would remind Ms. Clinton that it was only as recently as the 1930s, and into the 1940s, that families in the American South, likely considering themselves good Christians all, would attend picnics to watch the lynching of some black men. I am not exaggerating: such events were common even in Franklin Roosevelt’s day, and he never spoke out against them, despite prodding from Eleanor, for fear of losing his political support in the South.

Yet that grotesque horror has come to an end. How did it happen? The answer is decades of strong economic growth bringing jobs, wealth, and fresh air to America’s once-fetid South.

How much larger is the problem in a land that lives, to a considerable extent, in the 17th century? Immensely larger.

How is the security of the world threatened by these people? It’s not and never has been. The very fact that NATO countries have made such almost laughably small contributions is the strongest possible evidence that Ms. Clinton is not believed by any of them.

Imagine a genuine world threat in which the many countries of NATO each sent the troop equivalent of the police force of very modest-sized cities?

They have only indeed sent those owing to constant American browbeating, cajoling, and, in some cases, threats: the U.S. colossus can summon a great deal of economic and political force in getting its way.

Which fact brings us to the question of why the U.S. did not use those great non-lethal powers in Afghanistan after 9/11.

It simply demanded the extradition of people without supplying a shred of proof to the Afghan government, the Afghan request being the normal procedure for extradition anywhere.

Then the U.S. invaded while lining up a façade of support from the U.N. and NATO, everyone at that time being under both pressure from the U.S. and only naturally feeling sympathy over 9/11 .

What was America’s purpose? No person in the American government today, not Clinton and not even Obama, can give you a lucid and reasonable answer, because the truth was that there was nothing lucid or reasonable about the invasion. The purpose was blinding white-hot rage for revenge.

Once the U.S.got there, beyond its early cheap victory over 17th century people, it did not know what to do, and it still does not know what to do. Its victory consisted of displacing the Taleban with warlords of the Northern Alliance, supported by a level of horrific bombing perhaps not seen since America’s holocaust in Vietnam.

Eight years later, there is no democracy in Afghanistan, elections being pretty much a sham. The burka is still worn by most of the women in Afghanistan: after all, many members of the Northern Alliance are just as backward and vicious as the Taleban. General Dostum, for example, is a certified mass murderer, a man whose ghastly, brutal excesses were winked at by Bush and Rumsfeld, if indeed not quietly encouraged.

I heard an interview recently with the only woman elected to the Afghan legislature – since tossed out by the warlords – who says that nothing really has changed and, indeed, some things are even worse than they were under the Taleban.

I have heard from other sources that schools for girls are closed almost as soon as they are opened because no money flows to pay salaries and because of the threats from local authorities. The openings of such institutions are often little more than Potemkin village photo-ops. The Bush people used women’s rights as a propaganda tool to gain domestic support for their invasion, and, like all good propaganda, it worked because it was based on truth.

The truth is that Afghanistan is not even a country in the sense that we understand it. It is a remote, impoverished land of about 30 million where tribes live hardscrabble lives with almost no economic progress, steeped in superstitions having the same force they did in 17th century Spain with its Holy Inquisition. Even its border with Pakistan is artificial, never properly defined with the same tribes living on both sides.

You simply cannot change these realities, and certainly not with bombs.

The world is full of awful places. They burn brides in India, force child marriages, and treat young widows who were married to old men in horrible fashion.

The great irony is that the Taleban need never have been an enemy. No Taleban invaded anyone. No Taleban was involved in 9/11. That atrocity was committed by a group largely of Saudis. Importantly, they virtually all held valid American visas and were almost certainly part of secret CIA training program that failed terribly.

By the way, to this day, there is not one shred of valid evidence that Osama bin Laden did anything like the U.S. claims he did. Yes, he was a guest of the Taleban, but then he also was a past CIA operative, something that only enhanced his status for many in the region. Does that mean the CIA is responsible?

The entire Afghanistan invasion and occupation is an unqualified disaster.

One can only hope that Obama intends to use the next year or two to come to a reasonable modus Vivendi with the Taleban and then to withdraw.
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Note: Ms. Clinton’s piece may be read at:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/afghanistan/6722751/Hillary-Clinton-All-nations-must-play-a-part-in-Afghanistan-mission.html

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DARK TALES FROM THE MINISTRY OF TRUTH

John Chuckman

Wars always have their propaganda, but it is often not very subtle. In the first world war, the Germans bayoneted babies, and nearly a century later, in a rework of the same false story, the Iraqis tore babies from respirators. But if you want to study the techniques of effective propaganda, you could hardly do better than the War on Terror.

For many, the word propaganda raises an image of ham-fisted Soviet commissars insisting that black is white. But effective propaganda is far more subtle than that. And who should understand better the dark art of planting suggestions than the most practiced people on the planet at advertising and marketing?

The most effective propaganda theme during the Afghan phase of the War on Terror was the status of women under the Taliban. Almost as if by magic, when the B-52s were ready to make those Afghan heathens understand what red-blooded Christians really mean by hell, articles and broadcast commentaries sprang up like mushrooms after a humid spell to enlighten us on the plight of women in Afghanistan. The subject seems to have been of rather marginal interest before saddling up the B-52s with their thirty-ton loads of high explosive and shrapnel.

Now, please don’t misunderstand, women were treated hideously under the Taliban. But women were treated horribly anywhere during the fourteenth century, and that is approximately the phase of development in which the average Afghan lives. Women fared little better under some of the thugs in the Northern Alliance when they ruled previously.

And women do not exactly thrive under the absolutism of Saudi Arabia, a country whose important financial support of the Taliban has been more or less expunged from the record by America’s informal-but-effective Ministry of Truth. Women are not treated well in Pakistan either, a vital supporter of the Taliban now redeemed by a cornucopia of bribes.

Wherever economies are poor and backward and wherever religious fundamentalism plays a significant role, women are not treated as full human beings. My goodness, just think of all those old Virginia planters, Thomas Jefferson among them, using their young female slaves for sex.

An interesting sidelight to the Jefferson-Hemmings story, one that gives you a good raw whiff of life under American slavery, is that Sally was the half sister of Jefferson’s dead wife, and she resembled her closely. The existence of half-brothers and sisters by slave women was an ordinary fact of Southern plantation culture, but it was not one discussed at Sunday dinner after church.

The American notion that you can just sweep political players off the board and change the basic patterns of a society has no basis in history. It is wishful thinking at best. Advanced societies evolve over long periods of economic growth in which large numbers of people gain the influence that comes with economic resources. This is the way democracy and modern attitudes towards human values develop. This is the story of civilization since the dawn of the modern era about five hundred years ago.

The record of political revolutions when societies were not ripe for their results is one of utter failure. After the American Civil War – a truer political revolution in many respects than the original American Revolution – blacks were fitted into a new, more sophisticated form of bondage for another century. As late as the 1930s in the American South, lynchings were an occasion for family picnics. Only long-term, solid economic growth bringing an end to rural stagnation made it possible to change the status of America’s blacks.

Now America has just about achieved its limited purpose in Afghanistan. America is not about to try occupying the place as the Russians tried doing, nor does it seem likely that truly generous financial assistance will be given to these very poor people once our dirty work is done. No, that kind of generosity is saved by the State Department for places we need to bribe.

Does anyone believe that the status of Afghan women will change greatly after the first photo-op schools for girls, with a few hundred token students, have been adequately featured in our press? Or that we will ever hear much about anything in Afghanistan once we have destroyed what we came to destroy?

I hope I am wrong, but history doesn’t support optimism here. Afghanistan – like Haiti, following a more elaborate, showboat intervention – will recede from our view and sink back more or less to the same early state of economic and social development that characterized it before.

The point of the propaganda effort on women’s rights was that the subject should be on people’s minds when it counted, when our bombs were blowing the limbs off peasants. Aroused concern in America over those rights blunted potential criticism by middle-class women to the bombing. It made the sensibilities of soccer moms safe for Bush. And, like all the best propaganda, it started with truth.

Another line of propaganda in Afghanistan, less subtle and less truthful, has been that familiar refrain, “weapons of mass destruction.” This phrase, so overused in the case of Iraq, is beginning to sound a bit tinny and hollow, but it proved still serviceable for Afghanistan. Although coming as it does from the only nation that ever totally incinerated two cities full of civilians, it is remarkable that the speakers have not choked on the words.

One cannot help recalling Secretary of Defense Cohen at a pulpit in the Pentagon a few years ago, preaching to us about “weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq. In his best, earnest vacuum-cleaner salesman’s style, he held up a bag of sugar to illustrate how small a quantity of some nasty things could destroy American society.

The truth is that there is only one weapon of mass destruction, and that weapon is a nuclear or thermonuclear device. Biological agents, while all advanced countries have experimented heavily with them, are not effective weapons of mass destruction.

The actions of our own armed forces support this assertion. The Pentagon never saw a weapon it didn’t like, so long as it does a good job of killing people – and that is the very reason it strongly opposes the international treaty against land-mines. But the Pentagon is not uncomfortable with existing international regimes concerning biological warfare.

Sophisticated delivery systems are essential to any success with these weapons – we saw with the anthrax scare that crude distribution methods render biological agents to be anything but weapons of mass destruction. Even with such delivery systems, weather and other factors make using these weapons full of uncertainty.

Saddam Hussein during the Gulf War did not use his supply of biological and chemical weapons. American and Israeli nuclear weapons provided a complete check against his paltry arsenal. The calculation is easy enough to make: inflict some highly uncertain and limited damage on your enemy in exchange for the certainty of being obliterated. Even a man often called mad was unwilling to take those odds.

Now, anyone with a fully-functioning brain knows that a true terrorist would relish having a nuclear weapon. I am sure Timothy McVeigh dreamed dreams of possessing such power. And the boys who were to die slaughtering their fellow students at Columbine High School undoubtedly enjoyed such fantasies. But what has that to do with reality? Reports of pieces of paper with such dreams found in Al Quaida caves are meaningless, except to scare people by combining the words nuclear and bomb and Al Quaida in the same statement.

The only kind of bomb involving nuclear material that an organization like Al Quaida would be remotely capable of making is a conventional bomb wrapped in radioactive material. Such a bomb would leave an area littered with radioactive debris, but it is not a particularly effective weapon. Discussing it in the same breath with a device capable of a nuclear explosion is confusing and dishonest.

Nuclear weapons still represent a massive technological and financial undertaking, far beyond the resources of an Al Quaida, and Washington’s experts know this. Even Iraq, with all its oil wealth and the kind of government that can direct resources without answering to anyone, working very hard to develop a nuclear weapon, remained at least a few years from getting it.

THE FIRST VICTIM IN THE WAR AGAINST TERROR

JOHN CHUCKMAN

It takes a good deal of time to realize the full impact of any large and sudden change in foreign policy, and this is especially true of the kind of sudden, violent interventions often undertaken by the United States since the end of World War ll.

In the case of Mr. Nixon’s secret bombing of Cambodia during the Vietnam War, it took the best part of a decade for results to unfold: a beautiful, peaceful country was reduced to despair and savagery by bombing, a coup, invasions, and a politically-motivated holocaust.

The men responsible for destabilizing Cambodia in the name of expedient policy were not only ten thousand miles removed from the misery they created, they were soon gone from office, busying themselves with memoirs justifying their deeds to others also ten thousand miles removed. In all cases, the stench never quite reached their nostrils.

The most important antecedent of the War against Terror was another expedient, violent policy – the recruitment, training, and supply of Islamic fighters for a proxy war against the Soviet Union during the 1980s. Once America’s immediate goal had been met in that war – that is, inflicting maximum damage on the Soviet Union – the mess created in achieving it was of no interest. Just as was the case in Cambodia. And just as was the case in many lesser American interventions from Chile to El Salvador.

Part of the behavior exhibited in these examples is a direct extension from American domestic life – enjoy your beer and toss the can for someone else to pick up. Only in foreign affairs, it’s other people’s lives being tossed.

The impact of intervention in Afghanistan during the 1980s has only been realized more than a decade after the Soviet Union ceased to exist. The Afghan people have experienced more than a decade of anarchy, tribal warfare, and the Taliban’s coming to power as a result (Despite the Taliban’s obvious shortcomings as a government, they came to power to end the violence that Americans, after arming everyone to the teeth, couldn’t be bothered about, and they did succeed at least in cleaning up America’s carelessly tossed trash).

The War against Terror itself will have many unforeseen results. This very fact was one of the soundest arguments against proceeding in the fashion that Mr. Bush has done, without ever attempting to use diplomacy or international institutions to bring to justice those responsible for terrible acts. Now, with the fairly rapid collapse of the Taliban, the Bush people are having a difficult time controlling a tendency to smirk, but the savage work of B-52s does seem an odd thing to smirk about.

The first clearly discernable victims of carpet-bombing Afghanistan and overthrowing its government (other than dead and starving Afghan peasants, streams of refugees, murdered prisoners of war, and a new bunch of thugs in power – none of which appear to be of great concern to Americans or their government) are the Palestinians.

Mr. Bush’s actions in Afghanistan have made it almost impossible for him to resist the bloody-minded Mr. Sharon. After all, Bush’s approach to terror originating out of Afghanistan is the Israeli model: you destroy things and kill people even if their only connection with an attack is shared geography.

The absurdity of the policy is made clear by analogy. Imagine the American government bombing the city of Buffalo, New York, because that is where Timothy McVeigh grew up. Or bulldozing the homes of his relatives.

The futility of the policy is obvious from Israel’s decades-long experiment on unwilling subjects. She has succeeded only in raising new generations of bitter enemies – groups like Hamas or Islamic Jihad, more fanatical than the PLO, are in large part creatures of Israeli policy.

Despite extremely harsh practices, Israel has never succeeded in silencing such opposition groups in territories she herself occupied. Despite a lifetime’s experience in brutality, Mr. Sharon is not able to stop desperate young men from committing kamikaze acts in the heart of Israel. Yet we have Mr. Sharon’s demand that Mr. Arafat, with his pitiful resources and unstable political environment, do so as a pre-condition even for talking. At the same time, Mr. Sharon labels Mr. Arafat “irrelevant,” proceeds with a policy of serial assassination in the West Bank, and blows up the tiny bit of infrastructure that gives Arafat’s government any sense of authority.

This is plainly irrational, yet Mr. Bush is in no position to say so. Mr. Sharon has very pointedly made the comparison between the two situations, Bush bombing Afghanistan and Sharon bombing the West Bank and Gaza. Of course, there are many differences in the two situations, starting with the fact that the Palestinians live under conditions that most Americans would never tolerate without making full use of Second-Amendment rights. But the differences are too complex to explain to a broad political audience, while the gross parallels are obvious to everyone – facts which work in Mr. Sharon’s favor.

In the long term, Mr. Sharon’s approach is hopeless, but hopeless policies can do a lot of damage in the meantime. The Palestinians are not going to disappear or become, as so many of Israel’s leaders have wished them to be, absorbed by Jordan. Israel with her policy of settlements in the West Bank has always talked of having “facts on the ground,” but there are no more convincing facts on the ground than a few million people with a high birth rate.

And a few million people living with no hope, right next to a few million people who regard them darkly only as something to contain while themselves living in considerable comfort, is by definition a volatile and dangerous situation. Israel controls this situation, just as South Africa did in very similar circumstances (even more so, since the Palestinians are a minority rather than a great majority). It seems almost sarcasm to write or speak, as most of our press does, of two “partners” in a “peace process” and how one of them, the Palestinians, has utterly failed its responsibilities.

A viable Palestinian state with generous Israeli assistance for its economic success is the only intelligible concept of peace. But it seems impossible that the statesmanship required can ever come from a man with as much blood on his hands as Mr. Sharon, or from his nemesis, the Nixonesque Mr. Netanyahu who waits grinning darkly in the wings. And it seems equally impossible that Mr. Bush, purring with satisfaction over the immediate results of his nasty work in Afghanistan, can rise to what is required of an American president with any pretensions to genuine leadership in the world.