“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

Friday, July 08, 2005

more froth for your buck

To sum it up: Tony Blair took a non-threat to the U.K., Saddam Hussein, implanted a continuing British presence in the Middle East, and for the return on the British investment got 50 some deaths, 700 some casualties, and the disruption of all of London.

Steven Coll, whose Ghost Wars is the best book I’ve read about the Reagan era financed adventure in creating the jihadi movement in Afghanistan, has a good article in the WP. Here are two grafs:

“Yet al Qaeda's chief ideologues -- bin Laden, his lieutenant Ayman Zawahiri and, more recently, the Internet-fluent Abu Musab Zarqawi -- have been able to communicate freely to their followers, even while in hiding. In the past 18 months, they have persuaded dozens of like-minded young men, operating independently of the core al Qaeda leadership, to assemble and deliver suicide or conventional bombs in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Spain, Egypt and now apparently London.
As in the Madrid bombings, these looser adherents sometimes copy al Qaeda's signature method of simultaneous explosions against symbolic or economic targets, an approach repeatedly advocated by bin Laden in his recent recorded speeches.

"No more 9/11, but lots of 3/11, especially in Europe," declared the final slide in a PowerPoint presentation about al Qaeda's evolution presented at numerous U.S. government forums this year by terrorism specialist and former CIA case officer Marc Sageman, a clinical psychologist who has recently studied al Qaeda's European cells.”

Terrorism on tap – it is evolving nicely in the direction of a constant structure. The war on terrorism, enacted with the incompetence at which the governing class is especially good, to create a continually mobilizable base of support; the occasional real explosions, to instantiate a strong psychological restraint on dissent; and the filtering of all discussion through an endlessly growing network of anti-terrorism experts, whose ideas, a junk shop of reactionary ideological clichés that would have bored a John Bircher meeting in the 60s, will be presented with suitable worshipfulness every time an incident happens. It is rather like interviewing the head of the Nuclear Energy lobby every time there is a Chernobyl.

The end of the Coll story is a nice example of this blindsided mindset:

“Even the relatively unsophisticated nature of the attacks in London has generated soul-searching about whether effective countermeasures exist against an Islamic extremist movement that appears able to "self-generate" new terrorists, as a former senior U.S. counterterrorism official put it. "The impact of it is significant. It shows they have been able to overcome a well-developed security architecture in London," the former official said. "It shows that al Qaeda and associated groups and fellow travelers still have the ability to conduct an effective operation."

A number of themes come out in this graf.

a. The self exculpation of the experts. Since the main fact, here, is that the U.S. spectacularly blew it both by encouraging Al Qaeda at the outset and renting out to a former Al Qaeda collaborator the job of handling Bin Laden, the main goal is to disguise this fact. Soul searching indeed. The job is just so complicated, it is just so intricate, it just requires so many brain cells, that we might need whole offices and bureaucracies to do it, and certainly many, many terrorism experts. It isn’t as simple as: removing the structure and removing the cause – taking down bin Laden and ceasing to occupy significant parts of the Middle East and blowing up Moslems every day on the tv in the name of … well, something. The job couldn’t have to do with exploiting the torture facilities of our ally states in the Middle East while loudly proclaiming our commitment to compassion. No, that is way too simple. The discontent of those young Moslems are because they hate us. They have hate in their hearts. We have compassion.

b. Then, of course, there is the absence, in that soul searching, of a pretty simple solution for the U.K. – withdraw from Iraq. Hey, it worked for Spain. And perhaps, oh just perhaps, a war that is opposed by the majority of the population shouldn’t be pursued by an isolated, arrogant elite – perhaps that was one of the reasons, in the eighteenth century, that the aristocratic/monarchic form of governance was either overthrown or reformed away.

c. Which is why we need a cover story. The “self-generation” one is nice. We know, to a t the kind of landscape that ‘self-generates’ terrorism, since we gleefully exploited that landscape in Afghanistan against the Soviets. And we’ve faithfully copied that landscape in Iraq, with the U.S. this time starring as the U.S.S.R., and with co-stars the Badr Brigade and Sciri imposing shari’a law in those areas ‘democratized’ by the British occupation, such as Basra, while our opponents, yesteryear’s freedom fighters, are showing what good pupils the CIA had back in the golden days.

Of course, LI’s criticism of U.S. policy in the Middle East shouldn’t overlook the good things we’ve done. For instance, we are cleverly bedeviling the ghost of Khomenei with irony. The man, from all accounts, did not take to irony. But what is his ghost to make of the fact that the U.S. has succeeded, where he failed, in spreading his revolution? This graf from the NYT is a juicy one, buried at the bottom of an Iraq story:

“While the United States has pressed hard for friendly Arab nations to upgrade their ties here, it has been wary of the new government's ties with another neighbor, Iran, and American diplomats and military commanders said on Thursday that they were still weighing an announcement that Iraq and Iran had reached agreement in Tehran on a military cooperation pact that will include Iranian training for Iraqi military units.

Iraq's defense minister, Sadoun al-Dulaimi, was quoted by Agence France-Presse as having told reporters after the signing ceremony, "Nobody can dictate to Iraq its relations with other countries."”

PS – we’ve been very displeased, lately, to see one meme among liberal bloggers: that of getting young Republicans to sign up to go to Iraq. This is another example of rhetoric surmounting common sense. If you want the US to withdraw from Iraq, or set a timetable, don’t encourage, even as a sport, giving the War department more toys to play with. The principle of the strike is pretty simple. Discourage recruitment. Discourage enlistment. I was happy to hear, from my brother, that in Atlanta, the quakers have been active in some of the high schools, passing out anti-recruitment literature. The joke of encouraging Young Republicans to sign up is ultimately on the recruits that are over there right now, and on the Iraqis. It is a sick and sorry joke.


Paul craddick said...

" ... renting out to a former Al Qaeda collaborator the job of handling Bin Laden"


Do you mean Musharraf? I hope not, 'cause to not "delegate," to him, the task of managing affairs within Pakistan's own quasi-borders would have meant - what?! - going to war with Pakistan too.

"But there's no evidence whatsoever that Pakistan had a direct hand in 9.11," retorts the sideline sage.

Ahh, to be king for a day!

Deleted said...

There's evidence of an indirect assist, however, as well as the power sharing arrangement Musharraf has worked out with Islamic militants and militants in the ISI. I'm glad no one has seriously proposed doing something about that. The last time we tried to meddle in that region, we gave a big boost to what has become al Qaeda. I doubt even Donald Rumsfeld is silly enough to attempt something in a country with a semi-stable government and nukes.

roger said...

Hey y'all.
Well, to fully answer your comments about Pakistan would take another post, because it would be necessary to go into the pervasively corrupt relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan over the last thirty years, the convergence of a rigid anti-communist ideology and the interests of the junta and rent seeking Pakistan military in wiping out the communist-socialist space in Pakistan (as all over the middle east, squeezing the political choice into one between corporationist military rulers and bigots, which to the U.S. blessed wholeheartedly), and the inability of the U.S. to clean out its channel of contacts with Pakistan in such a way that it avoided falling into the old client-capture routine: bet everything on a military despot, select our contacts solely from the intelligence and military sectors in the U.S. (who are most inclined to have erotic dreams about juntas according to an article by Strangelove and Strangelove entitled “Military emissions in the Nighttime” in Mercenary Psychotherapist Magazine) and watch as that capture leads to blindsiding by the coming coup, revolution, or what have you.

Obviously, to get back to a previous comment to you, Harry, the justification for a war isn’t the same as the necessity to wage one. That the deep Pakistani complicity in setting up and maintaining Al qaeda has not lead conservatives to call for a war (on the contrary, the call is to be aware that Pakistan has a large population and nuclear weapons – which has such a pacifying influence on hawks that I do wonder whether Iran’s getting them wouldn’t lead to peace in the Middle East) shows that it is possible to dicker with a country that has helped kill a lot of Americans.

roger said...

However, about the escape of Osama bin Laden, a., Pakistan did, according to newsweek back in May 13, 2002, allow U.S. forces across the border covertly. Here’s a graf about the operation from Scott Johnson and Rod Nordland:

“Pakistani officials hated to let the U.S. military operate on their soil. They ran out of excuses in late March, though, when American communications intercepts led to the capture of Abu Zubaydah, one of bin Laden's top lieutenants, at a safe house in the Pakistani city of Faisalabad, hundreds of miles from the Afghan border. Armed FBI and CIA agents accompanied elite Pakistani police on that raid and others that netted a total of 50 Qaeda fugitives. The arrests blindsided bin Laden's former backers at Pakistan's ISI intelligence agency--and mortified President Pervez Musharraf. After that, knowledgeable Pakistanis say, Musharraf decided he had no choice but to let the Americans in.”

But b., at that date, we already had other priorities. The Rumsfeld who exclaimed, like a Monty Python general, that he didn’t have enough places to bomb in Afghanistan, was getting his big birthday wish for a place with enough places to bomb. By December, 2002, when Bin Laden’s voice was heard again, Time magazine, which like most MSM is a lacky of the D.C. hawk crowd, wrote this:

“Bin Laden broke cover at a particularly awkward time for President Bush, raising doubts about the success of phase one of Bush's antiterrorism war just when he's pushing to launch phase two against Saddam Hussein. The news was rushed to him not long after experts at the CIA's bin Laden unit at Langley reviewed the audiocast on al-Jazeera, the network regularly used by al-Qaeda to deliver its messages. At around 8 p.m. that day, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice called Bush with the bad news while he was in the shower. Experts were almost certain they were hearing the voice of bin Laden for the first time since U.S. agents thought they picked up a radio message from him in Tora Bora almost a year ago. When the President walked into his staff meeting the next morning, a staff member says, "he was very intense." After all, this is a President who keeps a copy of the faces of key al-Qaeda leaders in his desk and crosses them out as they are killed or captured. “

That last image, by the way, is sorta precious. One thinks of the cretinous children in Far Side Cartoons.

In order to go after Iraq, Bush rented out the hunt for Bin Laden to Pakistan, plain and simple. There was no urgency in the hunt – glimpses to salivating newsmen, like the Newsweek story in May, 2002, were only planted to assure us that our leaders were action movie heroes, working for our interests. Instead of slackers, conspiring against our interest and for their own parochial obsessions.

Paul craddick said...


Despite an awful lot of bluster, I don't believe you addressed the question squarely.

If, ex hypothesi, Bin Laden had fled to Pakistan - and surely you're not insinuating that a burgeoning "obsession" with Iraq somehow allowed him to give American troops the slip - then how would it have been possible for the US to track their quarry relentlessly without undertaking actions which would entail de facto belligerence towards Pakistan? For, angrily tolerating troops crossing the border on occasion is most emphatically not the same as acceding to the freedom of motion required for responsive and effective military campaigning.

roger said...

Angry toleration? Where do you get that from, Paul? I really think that it isn't bluster. I really think, without reference to the actual history of what happens, one simply treads water.

What we have is clear negligence on the part of the American governing class, subspecies Bush. There is no barrier between Pakistan and Afghanistan here that we have to tremble at -- as is the convenient myth about how we just couldn't go into Pakistan because it was too dangerous. What there is is lack of will. If Pakistan is angry, all the better, then, to operate with efficiency and on point, n'est-ce pas? Unless, really, you don't think it is important. Unless you think Bin Laden is a mere scarecrow, and the really important thing is establishing a footprint in the middle east by occupying Iraq. In which case, Tony Blair and George Bush would have been more truthful in saying, we are going to sacrifice a few American and English and Spanish civilians here and there to bombing attacks to pursue what we think is the really important goal.
Which, in practice, is what they have done.

Further honesty would have compelled them to drop the phrase war on terror and insert the phrase -- war for preserving and expanding our spheres of influence. Or, war to preserve the Carter policy in the Gulf.

I've pretty clearly presented an opportunity cost, I think. And I don't see that your argument addresses it. The argument that could address it would say, hey, the risk of continuing that operation was so very great that we had to abort it. Which isn't true. Although it may be true now, after two more years of malign neglect.

roger said...

PS. Paul. One question. When you say, "If, ex hypothesi, Bin Laden had fled to Pakistan..." So you don't think Bin Laden is in Pakistan?

Paul craddick said...


Working from back to front ... I wouldn't claim to know where Bin Laden is. I assume that Pakistan is the most likely place, out of a host of possibilities. I say "ex hypothesi" to indicate that I will concede the point, for purposes of dialectic, in order to see what does or doesn't follow.

Agreed: I have not directly addressed the question of "opportunity cost" (if by that locution we mean the extent to which focus on Iraq detracted from the overall effort to nab Bin Laden et al) - that hasn't been the point on which I'm pressing you, and about which I'm seeking an answer. However, I alluded to it indirectly, in ridiculing the notion that a 'burgeoning "obsession" with Iraq somehow allowed him to give American troops the slip'. This ridicule is justified by looking at the timeline (which, perhaps, I'll examine in a future rejoinder).

As to the infelicitousness of the locution "war on terror," I would agree - although to an observer not out to score points, it's clear enough that it's a trope intended to convey a host of aims and exigencies; some of which it would be impolitic to state explicitly.

As to "sacrificing" citizens ... I do recall it being stated over and over again that, in confronting the exigencies entailed by 9.11, we are in for a long fight which will in all likelihood see further attacks in Western Capitals; in attempting to vanquish our enemies, they will fight back, hard - and their cachet is a gleeful disregard of the combatant/noncombatant distinction. Your point loses its punch if its rhetorical integument is peeled away.

Now, when you ask "Angry toleration? Where do you get that from, Paul?" I "get" it from paraphrasing Johnson/Nordland, whom you quote as stating, "Pakistani officials hated to let the U.S. military operate on their soil. They ran out of excuses in late March, though." The Pakistani officials allowed this to happen - hence they "tolerated" it; those same officials "hated" the incursions, hence they were "angry." There's nothing at all controversial about my restating, that I can see.

I take it that this is your answer to my question about belligerence vis-a-vis Pakistan: "If Pakistan is angry, all the better, then, to operate with efficiency and on point, n'est-ce pas?" Here is my paraphrase, and correct me if I'm wrong: if killing/capturing Bin Laden entails running roughshod over Pakistan's borders, disregarding their at least nominal claim to "sovereignty," then the Pakistanis be damned.

I'm actually sympathetic to that line, if that's really what you're prepared to say - would you extend it to other states in the region where Bin Laden might find a safe haven? (I'll be glad to be corrected, but my hunch is that you would look askance at any incursion into, say, Iran, if we had reason to think that Bin Laden had set up shop there).

However appealing the notion might be, I'm not convinced that putting it in to practice would be prudent, by any stretch - especially with respect to Pakistan. Clearly we've made another deal with a Devil, on the timeworn pretext that ambivalent cooperation from Musharraf - pushing things at times, holding back at others, getting cooperation at times, followed by duplicity - is better than undertaking actions/provocations which would probably issue in his overthrow, with him replaced by nuclear-armed ISI Islamists.

Hence, you're mistaken that not relentlessly pursuing Bin Laden, wherever he might be suspected of being, necessarily bespeaks a "lack of will." It might reflect a prudent (but undeniably tragic) statecraft - i.e., the least bad course of action. To me this is no surprise - it's part/parcel of operating on the internationl stage, where 3 steps forward are often followed by 2 backwards; especially in the Middle East, where it's difficult to find a palatable and reliable ally.

Do I consider Bin Laden a "scarecrow"? Good metaphor; in part, yes, though in my view it is needful for him to be killed, both because of his role as an enemy strategist and figurehead. Do our efforts to-date count for naught if he's still at-large? Not at all, but they're certainly vitiated. Here's the crucial point, though - do I countenance any action, however reckless, to bring him down: most emphatically not.

roger said...

It seems to me, Paul, that the point here that should be emphasized is:

"what we can do now in Pakistan has changed from what we could do in 2002."

Execution is obviously about time frames. Why is the time frame important? Because U.S. power is only partly dependent on the fungibility of its military technology (which, in itself, is not magical. You can prepare to invade Iraq or you can seriously occupy Afghanistan. You can’t do both). It is also dependent, vitally dependent, on world opinion, as well as domestic opinion. The ability to leverage cooperation between the European states, the Middle Eastern states, and U.S.'s own priorities was great in Spring, 2002, and had dissipated by Winter, 2002, due to the deliberately belligerant policies of the U.S. vis a vis Iraq.

For the Bush administration, the Afghanistan war was never considered in any way but as a prelude the war in Iraq.

It is often asked, by pro-war people, what alternative was there to war in 2003? Well, the question of alternatives cuts both ways. What were the alternatives in Afghanistan after Tora Bora revealed the style of the War Department to which we have now become accustomed (rhetorical overkill concealing tactical failure)? An exploration of those alternatives -- and successes in failures in pursuing them -- has to be tied to those ephemeral factors that made it possible for the U.S. to trespass on Pakistan with little cost during this time. As you know, I was pro-war in 2001 and 2002, the war in question being the one against the Taliban and against Al qaeda. Being pro-war doesn’t mean that you are pro any war, however. It means you are pro a war that is taken seriously by the supposed leaders of it, for one thing. For another thing, there is the conduct of the war, which should involve a minimum of terror bombing and torture; and finally, the aim of the war shouldn’t be auctined off cheaply like some white elephant prize at a house party.

When the anti-war person says, well, there was no imminent reason to invade in 2003, the time frame issue suddenly becomes all important to the pro-war advocate. But in Afghanistan, on the other hand, time frames are suddenly slack. So we can press the advantage we had with the attention and urgency that the 'hunt' for Osama b. had in 2002, or we can just let it go, and satisfy ourselves with the pics of the prez, tongue out to the side of this mouth, magic marker uncapped, putting x-es over the pictures of terrorists. While you seem to object to saying we outsourced the hunt for Osama to a kleptocratic ally, in fact, you seem to think the same thing. You just seem to think it is a good thing. Alas, this is what comes of having a rubber stamp Congress in 2002, because these issues should certainly have been articulated then. But the D.C. eggheads in both parties certainly didn’t want that to happen.

Any recklessness in going after Osama bin is in direct proportion to the time frame I've presented -- it becomes more reckless the more time ticks away. And thus, a leadership that neglects the necessities that arise out of that time frame is either: a., incompetent, or b., disinterested. Or, to be fair, a mix of the two.

So, what was the cost of not completing the mission in Afghanistan and beginning another one in Iraq? Tracking the costs is like one of those negative space pictures, where you fill in the space around an object. The object so revealed is the structural inability of the Bush administration to comprehend terrorism. It has not changed its mindset from before 9/11 in the post 9/11 world. It still believes terrorism is a sub-branch of some x state’s policy. It still can't conceive of a shifting, entrepreneurial, state changing terrorist group. Even though, actually, these groups aren’t uncommon. The cellular, global, franchising illegal group on a black money dole is essentially of the same structure as the Mafia, but with a different incentive set. The mafia, too, started out as a political, not a commercial group. By the time it had evolved a global network, it had become a commercial group – but the omerta at the heart of it was a political legacy. Of course, the person who pointed this out in the nineties was John Kerry. Too bad he didn’t read his own book – whoever ghostwrote it did a decent job. Kerry, on the other hand, throughout his campaign showed only a pale grasp of the gross defects in Bush’s approach to counter-terrorism.

So what happened is: Iraq's state was cracked, its army disbanded (all in the lunatic hope that Chalabi, of all people, was the people's choice for Iraq -- or Allawi, after that hope had proven clearly misjudged), and an insufficient force, unable to guard an occupied population, was 'surprised' when jihadists came through the borders. Of course, those who go through one way can go through the other way, so it sets up a nice school for a franchising terrorist network. I guess the neo-cons, who have read their Marx, are trying to prove that the first time around is tragedy, the second time is farce. The first time around, in the 80s in Afghanistan, the Soviet's created an uncontrollable guerilla situation, with the U.S. operating as the insurgents ogistics masters. Having learned nothing from the experience, the U.S. does the Soviet thing in Iraq. With the addition that, having left their flanks unprotected, the U.S. suffers the first defection from an alliance it has forged in its history after the Madrid explosion. Chalk another one up to the Bush counter-terror strategy. As well as to the long term political cost of taking to war countries that don't want to go to war.

Essentially, the Bush group’s thinking about terrorism is as obsolete as its latent dreams of imperialist glory in Mesopotamia. And the price we are paying for an unnecessary war is an amplified terrorist threat.

roger said...

Hey, all you commenters -- I think I'm going to copy all of these comments into a post -- if nobody minds.

That way, I can fill a post.

Deleted said...

Hey, all you commenters -- I think I'm going to copy all of these comments into a post -- if nobody minds.

Post away!

Paul craddick said...


I hope you weren't waiting for me give the go-ahead; it's your blog, please incorporate the material in any way that seems promising or interesting.

roger said...

Paul, come on -- my mom did teach me manners. In spite of being a leftist. What do you take me for????? ... Actually, sometimes people are touchy about such things, so I just wanted to make sure. Thanks. I'm gonna do this later this week.