“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Yet Lucian, a rhetorician also, in a treatise entitled, How a history ought to be written, saith thus: 'that a writer of history ought, in his writings, to be a foreigner, without country, living under his own law only, subject to no king, nor caring what any man will like or dislike, but laying out the matter as it is.' – Hobbes in the introduction to his translation of Thucydides

LI recommends the Sy Hersch story on Afghanistan in the current Nyorker. It should be read in conjunction with the stories that are coming out concerning both the Bush administration’s pre-9/11 readiness to counter terrorist activity and its post 9/11 actions in so doing, or not. It has been our contention, all along, that the heart of the case against Bush is summed up by what happened not before 9/11, but in response to it -- that is, a massive and willful blindness to the reality of an attack by a nomadic, well entrenched jihadist group, with roots in the mujahdeen movement the U.S. not so covertly supported in the 80s in Afghanistan. The willfulness of this blindness was in thinking that any terrorist group is ultimately anchored in some state’s policy. Thus, the U.S. fought Osama bin Laden with one hand tied behind its back in the winter of 2001-2002, and ultimately satisfied itself with the collapsing of the precarious shell of Taliban governance in Afghanistan, as if the Taliban had been anything more than a bribed provider of a hideaway for Al Q. The Bush administration then took up its pre 9/11 obsession with Saddam Hussein, with the consequences we all know. LI thinks that it is completely odd that some of those consequences have received absolutely zero attention from the American press or public, since they include the flourishing of the Al Qaeda organization – in spite of the less than convincing statements of Bush concerning the killing or taking hostage of 2/3rds of the Al Qaeda leadership. Surely this radically misunderstands Osama bin Laden’s role as a symbol of recruitment, the network between the jihadist fighters in Central Asia (as in Chechnya) and Al Qaeda, and its ability to plug into local jihadist groups.

LI has written about this with the obsessiveness of Richard Dreyfuss piling the mashed potatoes on his plate in Close Enconters. Were we nuts? Well, it is nice to have the confirmation of a study by the Pentagon, which is being reported in the Nyorker article. Here’s a money shot graf. Hersch discusses Clarke’s larger and more interesting criticism of the Bush administration (that the diversion into Iraq subverted the war against terrorism), and then writes:

“Clarke's view of what went wrong was buttressed by an internal military analysis of the Afghanistan war that was completed last winter. In late 2002, the Defense Department's office of Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict (solic) asked retired Army Colonel Hy Rothstein, a leading military expert in unconventional warfare, to examine the planning and execution of the war in Afghanistan, with an understanding that he would focus on Special Forces. As part of his research, Rothstein travelled to Afghanistan and interviewed many senior military officers, in both Special Forces and regular units. He also talked to dozens of junior Special Forces officers and enlisted men who fought there. His report was a devastating critique of the Administration's strategy. He wrote that the bombing campaign was not the best way to hunt down Osama bin Laden and the rest of the Al Qaeda leadership, and that there was a failure to translate early tactical successes into strategic victory. In fact, he wrote, the victory in Afghanistan was not, in the long run, a victory at all.”

Don’t expect the papers to touch this gingerly topic anytime soon, since they have gone along with the script.

LI has been conducting an interesting knock about with a certain Rajeev over at Crooked Timber, in the comments section. Rajeev, flatteringly enough, has actually read this endless series of graphomanic posts, or some of them, and has even spotted LI’s big themes about Iraq. He’s nailed us, in short. Rajeev disagrees with our viewpoint, but his main criticism is with our framing distance. He asks, reasonably, how LI can talk about the ‘Americans” in Iraq, as if LI himself weren’t a born and bred Yankee.

It is true – I like to maintain a pretence of distance between myself and what ‘we’ - the ‘americans’- are doing in Iraq. As my little quote from Hobbes indicates, I think that the intellectual gain from that distance, the ability to see in terms of sharp outlines, is worth the emotional loss – the loss of being cut off from a ‘we’. However, I am not totally happy with the accounting, here. The mask of allegiance is woven out of passions that are incomprehensible – at least in their force and connection – to the outside observer. This makes the supposedly clear vision that I bring to what is happening in Iraq inadequate – beyond the inadequacy of pure ignorance. It isn’t just that I have no personal acquaintance with how Iraqis think, I have cut myself off from the personal acquaintance with how Americans think.

The gain, here, is to see the encounter of different projects and their adaptation to each other and circumstances without thinking that I am watching a morality play between the forces of good and the forces of evil. The loss is that the CPA., in particular, is incomprehensible to me in its more extreme moments. In moving against both Sunni paramilitary groups and the Sadr Shiites, the CPA shows that it is more, well, conceited than even I gave it credit for. Only behind the mask would one be able to understand the thousand and one impulses that feed into that conceit.

However, I am not so cut off from the “we Americans’ that I don’t recognize who is running the CPA. And I think this is part of the difficulty. People like Bremer and the people around him have shaped their careers in the least democratic organizations in America – big business and the lobbying bureaucracies. It is all either command and control or spin. Furthermore, they are heirs to the forces that have always seen democracy as something to be brought before a judge and fined. If the CPA really wants to promote democracy in Iraq, why not translate Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals into Arabic? Why not import organizers of demonstrations, anti-globalization activists – all those who like to activate peaceful transformative change. If anything, Iraq needs a King or a Gandhi, not a Sadr or a Chalabi.

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