LI finally got around to reading Mark Danner’s article on Iraq. It is very good. However, one notices that Danner makes the blunders in Iraq stand out against a rather blurry background of America’s foreign policy history, one which exudes a lot of feel good aura but little content. That’s a shame. As we have pointed out before, one of the truly underreported aspects of the American debacle in Iraq goes back to class. Namely, America’s natural tendency to work with the upper class in third world countries was, in Iraq, uniquely negated by the fact that much of that upper class was Sunni, or was perceived to be supportive of Saddam Hussein. Meanwhile, the working class justly saw America as its enemy, since in fact America is always the enemy of the working class in any third world country you want to name. That class aspect only comes into view once one starts viewing America’s foreign policy critically – i.e., once one departs from the consensus about the Cold War that has been dribbled over the establishment like Ronald Reagan’s hair mousse.
You cannot see Iraq, you cannot see the long war, you cannot see 9/11, until you have a clear view of foreign policy past. A timely reminder of what that was all about is given to us by the recent fascistic salute to Jean Kirkpatrick in Hiatt’s Washington Post editorial. To quote it again: “The contrast between Cuba and Chile more than 30 years after Mr. Pinochet's coup is a reminder of a famous essay written by Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, the provocative and energetic scholar and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations who died Thursday. In "Dictatorships and Double Standards," a work that caught the eye of President Ronald Reagan, Ms. Kirkpatrick argued that right-wing dictators such as Mr. Pinochet were ultimately less malign than communist rulers, in part because their regimes were more likely to pave the way for liberal democracies. She, too, was vilified by the left. Yet by now it should be obvious: She was right.”
Kirkpatrick’s terms were, actually, not a change in the weather, but a call to order – a way of reminding the Carter administration of what American policy makers since Truman had always stood for: the implantation, in third world nations, of governments that implemented the Hitler model circa 1938. And, of course, that train of action lead directly to 9/11. There’s a nice reminder of this in Tariq Ali’s concise essay about Pakistan’s history in the LRB. And it calls for some overview.
While Kirkpatrick’s terms simply made visible an old pattern, it is true that the legitimacy of that pattern had been undermined by the obvious U.S. viciousness in Vietnam. Vietnam brought to the surface a critical view of U.S. aims sadly lacking now. It made visible, behind the window dressing of democracy, the real policy of instituting and supporting “authoritarian” regimes. But the critique projected that foreign policy back into the domestic realm in a way that overlooked the contradictions of the system. The foreign policy-maker’s fondness for authoritarian states was in constant tension with America’s political culture. The same liberal newspapers that could support the extension of the liberal program – for instance, disestablishing Dixie apartheid, sustaining the structures of the Keynesian welfare state in health, education, and retirement – could also maintain, without blinking, a network of assumptions shared among foreign correspondents and editors that adopted a wholly other attitude towards third world countries. Eventually, this would have a domestic political effect – cultivating reactionary political economies in Asia and South America was like creating a laboratory for the design of macro-economic policies that would hit the U.S. in the eighties, creating the conditions for a reactionary culture: heavy on military spending, using an unleashed credit sector to weaken the labor movement, with its narrow focus on pay and its inability to understand the new factors brought into the economy by easy credit, the piecemeal de-industrialization, etc., etc. Thomas Friedman, the idiot savant ideologist of neo-liberalism, was right: the whole aim was to take the economy out of politics – to put it wholly in institutional hands unaffected by popular mandate or need.
Thus, the work of the foreign policy establishment in seventies and eighties was to create a new international order of capital, founded on easy credit and pre-30s economic inequality. To buffer the economy completely – to surrender it to investors and business leaders – meant, before anything else, breaking labor’s power decisively. Thus, in the zones outside the ‘democracies’, the ‘fumigation’ began, provided at first by the Hitlerite model – National Security States - and could then become transit points in which loans (for fraudulent, state sponsored projects) and capital flight could come together to bring money into the House – the U.S. and Western Europe.
This structure required the Soviet Union as the enemy that would keep it all together. But that necessity led to a second contradiction in the system – and like one would expect, contradictions lead to innovations. The innovation that the U.S. cultivated, funded, directed and then abandoned happened to be the arming of Islamicists within the structure of fungible National Security States. This is where Tariq Ali’s history comes in as a nice reminder, since the fake history that gives us a fake debate is all about grievances – ah, the framework of victimization, so convenient as a decoy. The real history, which is deeply embedded in the pathological anti-communism and industrial policy of the American foreign policymakers can then be comfortably ignored. The problem, of course, is that it is unignorable – Iraq is a debacle, as Danner says, of the American imagination, or lack of it, but it is also a debacle exposing the way the system has been run, and the antitheses that are now coming, with IEDs and mortar fire, to ruin our ‘freedom loving’ President’s party Middle Eastern bash for himself. There is a sense in which Bush is the victim of a very old and respected Texas fraud – he’s the last link in the daisy chain. A daisy chain is not a mass fuck, in this case – a daisy chain consists of buying a property and selling it to a confederate for an inflated value, who sells it to another confederate for an inflated value, until it is laid off on a mark who, believing these values, shells out some fantastic sum for what turns out to be a world class lemon.
In the case of the Central Asian lemon, as Tariq Ali points out in this overview of Pakistan, the story has roots in the dawn of the independence period. That is when the Free World had need of a subordinate system of non-free gunga din states:
“Pakistan’s first uniformed ruler, General Ayub Khan, a Sandhurst-trained colonial officer, seized power in October 1958 with strong encouragement from both Washington and London. They were fearful that the projected first general election might produce a coalition that would take Pakistan out of security pacts like Seato and towards a non-aligned foreign policy. Ayub banned all political parties, took over opposition newspapers and told the first meeting of his cabinet: ‘As far as you are concerned there is only one embassy that matters in this country: the American Embassy.’”
In Ali’s version, the familiar scenario enfolds – the fakery of pressuring a NSS client into an election that is rigged – by suitable murders, kidnapping and torturing of radicals, students, civilians, etc., etc. – the electing of our man in Karachi, and then the praise showered on him by an adoring American press.
Let’s quote a few grafs that cluster around the Reaganite adventure in creating a jihadi network, arming them, and encouraging them to attack a superpower – a fabulous success that was somehow left out of the funeral orations over the Great Communicator’s corpse:
“Always a bad judge of character, he [Bhutto] had made a junior general and small-minded zealot, Zia-ul-Haq, army chief of staff. As head of the Pakistani training mission to Jordan, Brigadier Zia had led the Black September assault on the Palestinians in 1970. In July 1977, to pre-empt an agreement between Bhutto and the opposition parties that would have entailed new elections, Zia struck. Bhutto was arrested, and held for a few weeks, and Zia promised that new elections would be held within six months, after which the military would return to barracks. A year later Bhutto, still popular and greeted by large crowds wherever he went, was again arrested, and this time charged with murder, tried and hanged in April 1979.
Over the next ten years the political culture of Pakistan was brutalised. As public floggings (of dissident journalists among others) and hangings became the norm, Zia himself was turned into a Cold War hero – thanks largely to events in Afghanistan. Religious affinity did nothing to mitigate the hostility of Afghan leaders to their neighbour. The main reason was the Durand Line, which was imposed on the Afghans in 1893 to mark the frontier between British India and Afghanistan and which divided the Pashtun population of the region. After a hundred years (the Hong Kong model) all of what became the North-Western Frontier Province of British India was supposed to revert to Afghanistan but no government in Kabul ever accepted the Durand Line any more than they accepted British, or, later, Pakistani control, over the territory.”
Then we get into it – although these facts are known, it is always good to have a concise account of how the U.S. fought the Cold War, outside of the purview of the population:
“In 1977, when Zia came to power, 90 per cent of men and 98 per cent of women in Afghanistan were illiterate; 5 per cent of landowners held 45 per cent of the cultivable land and the country had the lowest per capita income of any in Asia. The same year, the Parcham Communists, who had backed the 1973 military coup by Prince Daud after which a republic was proclaimed, withdrew their support from Daud, were reunited with other Communist groups to form the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA), and began to agitate for a new government. The regimes in neighbouring countries became involved. The shah of Iran, acting as a conduit for Washington, recommended firm action – large-scale arrests, executions, torture – and put units from his torture agency at Daud’s disposal. The shah also told Daud that if he recognised the Durand Line as a permanent frontier the shah would give Afghanistan $3 billion and Pakistan would cease hostile actions. Meanwhile, Pakistani intelligence agencies were arming Afghan exiles while encouraging old-style tribal uprisings aimed at restoring the monarchy. Daud was inclined to accept the shah’s offer, but the Communists organised a pre-emptive coup and took power in April 1978. There was panic in Washington, which increased tenfold as it became clear that the shah too was about to be deposed. General Zia’s dictatorship thus became the lynchpin of US strategy in the region, which is why Washington green-lighted Bhutto’s execution and turned a blind eye to the country’s nuclear programme. The US wanted a stable Pakistan whatever the cost.
As we now know, plans (a ‘bear-trap’, in the words of the US national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski) were laid to destabilise the PDPA, in the hope that its Soviet protectors would be drawn in. Plans of this sort often go awry, but they succeeded in Afghanistan, primarily because of the weaknesses of the Afghan Communists themselves: they had come to power through a military coup which hadn’t involved any mobilisation outside Kabul, yet they pretended this was a national revolution; their Stalinist political formation made them allergic to any form of accountability and ideas such as drafting a charter of democratic rights or holding free elections to a constituent assembly never entered their heads. Ferocious factional struggles led, in September 1979, to a Mafia-style shoot-out at the Presidential Palace in Kabul, during which the prime minister, Hafizullah Amin, shot President Taraki dead. Amin, a nutty Stalinist, claimed that 98 per cent of the population supported his reforms but the 2 per cent who opposed them had to be liquidated. There were mutinies in the army and risings in a number of towns as a result, and this time they had nothing to do with the Americans or General Zia.
Finally, after two unanimous Politburo decisions against intervention, the Soviet Union changed its mind, saying that it had ‘new documentation’. This is still classified, but it would not surprise me in the least if the evidence consisted of forgeries suggesting that Amin was a CIA agent. Whatever it was, the Politburo, with Yuri Andropov voting against, now decided to send troops into Afghanistan. Its aim was to get rid of a discredited regime and replace it with a marginally less repulsive one. Sound familiar?
From 1979 until 1988, Afghanistan was the focal point of the Cold War. Millions of refugees crossed the Durand Line and settled in camps and cities in the NWFP. Weapons and money, as well as jihadis from Saudi Arabia, Algeria and Egypt, flooded into Pakistan. All the main Western intelligence agencies (including the Israelis’) had offices in Peshawar, near the frontier. The black-market and market rates for the dollar were exactly the same. Weapons, including Stinger missiles, were sold to the mujahedin by Pakistani officers who wanted to get rich quickly. The heroin trade flourished and the number of registered addicts in Pakistan grew from a few hundred in 1977 to a few million in 1987.”
Well, enough for today. I am going to add to this post tomorrow, I hope.
“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
"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads