LI has been pondering our backlog. We’ve poured out at least a thousand posts over the last three years. Andre Gide liked to preen himself in his journal to the extent of revising and publishing it as he went along. What’s good for Gide is surely good for LI. Vanity is the writer’s better angel. In our case, we are going to publish, on Saturdays, selected former posts, exposing our track record in the hope that where we went altogether wrong and where we were presciently right amounts to evidence of real intellectual work. There is also, of course, the mad chance that some marvelous coincidences between past apercus and present disasters will leap off of the screen.
Here’s one we published on November 20,2001. The coincidence we like here is that: a., the same blank has been thrown up by the military in Iraq, and has been servilely acceded to by the U.S. Press, again showing the current vileness of the 4th estate; b., the sense that something wasn't quite right with the bombing in Afghanistan was later confirmed by what we know of Rumsfeld's plans in Nov., 2001 -- he didn't want to attack Afghanistan because he wanted a place to bomb, viz, Iraq; and c., again, the emphasis on the historic tie between Pakistan and the Taliban, a tie that has been systematically unexamined by the press even in the aftermath, when we know more about it.
”Steven Glover in the Spectator discusses what we didn't know and when we didn't know it in Afghanistan. Points for dispassion -- the current fashion in punditry seems to require that the writer bark, whine and growl on the page, and finally pee on his foes, all the better to show you his convictions. This has arisen from the point-counterpoint tv format for mixing together ideas and viewer interest, I suspect. Glover remarks that the press almost universally gave the Northern Alliance no chance, and credited the Taliban with a great, mystifying resilience. Both of those positions have been overturned by circumstances. He also claims that the bombing was much more efficient than the anti-war side gave it credit for being.
The latter is the only part of his article with which I have a problem. To assess how good the bombing is, one would have to get through the great blank thrown up by the American military. Actually, one would also have to have the desire to get through that great blank; given the servility of the press corps towards all things military since 9/11, this would be to expect supererogation on the part of some journalist, and honesty in his editor, which is the kind of fortunate conjunction we just haven't seen since, well, the high 80s. Those who did press into the country carried back pictures of kids and old people wounded by high explosives dropped continuously by American airplanes. Perhaps those high explosives did some military good in the beginning. And it might be the damage so inflicted on the Taliban was irreparable. One thing we can surely say about the Taliban is that it has no depth. Or rather, its resource was Pakistan. Cut off from Pakistan, it crumbled. Did the bombing hasten the collapse? If we rely on previous situations -- if we take Kosovo as a guide -- we'd have to say that bombing without let up a civilian population that is closely integrated with a military organization can lead to a military breakdown. But there might be a question of costs yet to arise -- because that kind of destruction can leave in its wake consequences that will bite our ass. There are advantages to processing territory by way of traditional soldiery that aren't considered by the TAC people in the Pentagon. One is that a population is more likely to consider its opponents honorable if they can see them.
In any case, it is worth pondering Glover's last graf:
"My feeling is that almost all of us - reporters, pundits, academics and politicians - know much less about Afghanistan than we think we do, and perhaps less than we give the impression of doing. Let us be frank: most of us had never heard of Mazar-i-Sharif until a few weeks ago, and yet we have been pontificating about its strategic significance as though we were familiar since childhood with the curve of its hills. In the absence of detailed knowledge, we have fallen back on theories and fragments of history about the Northern Alliance recycled by journalists who probably do not know what they are talking about. In short, we have been peering through a glass pretty darkly. The lesson I will draw from the rout of the Taleban is that none of us has much idea what is going to happen, and that the Sun�s celebrations may therefore possibly be premature."