“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

Thursday, December 21, 2006

bush at the end of the daisy chain

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.


Anonymous said...


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to the HARDBALL college tour [a pep rally format] tonight from George Mason University. Joining us again is Robert DeNiro and Matt Damon, stars of the new movie about the CIA, "The Good Shepherd."

Also joining us is a real CIA veteran, Milton Bearden, who was station chief with the CIA in Pakistan, Nigeria, Sudan and Germany and he was a technical consultant. Thank you for joining us.


MATTHEWS: And then we got the CIA today that did interesting things like create the Mujahideen in Afghanistan, which became the fighters of the Soviet occupation and then became al Qaeda.

BEARDEN: No, come on. Americans learn their history from the football coach around here? What is that?

MATTHEWS: You want to get ...

BEARDEN: The Soviets created ...

MATTHEWS: You want to get like this?

BEARDEN: You want to get like this?

MATTHEWS: You are like this now. Let‘s go.

BEARDEN: OK. Let‘s go. The Soviets probably by invading the country, killing a million and a half people, wounding a million and a half, driving 5 million into exile might have had a little something to do with creating the people who rose up against them. Jimmy Carter ...

MATTHEWS: But didn‘t you give them Stingers and everything and arm them?

BEARDEN: You bet we did.

MATTHEWS: Didn‘t we bring in the Arabs from all over the Arab world into Afghanistan to help build them up?

BEARDEN: No, absolutely - let me make you a promise right here, right now. You go find one single Arab that we brought in from the Arab world, trained and recruited and I will sit down on the show with you and about five minutes we‘ll be asking him to get out of here. Didn‘t happen.


BEARDEN: That story for the media has always been just too good to check.

MATTHEWS: So the CIA did not play a role in throwing the Soviets out of Afghanistan?

BEARDEN: You bet we did and it was the right thing to do.

MATTHEWS: Help me.

BEARDEN: Help you what?

MATTHEWS: What did we do?

BEARDEN: We armed the Afghan people to resist the Soviet invasion.

End of story.

MATTHEWS: And where did the people that came out of that became the al Qaeda crowd come out of it?

BEARDEN: The al Qaeda crowd came to a failed state which the United States of America, in all honesty, created by just walking away.


BEARDEN: You go ahead in February 1989 you drive the Soviets out of Pakistan. Great up to that point. Within a few months the Austrians and the Hungarians had opened the border and the whole world was collapsing in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.

We walked away from Afghanistan and let the state fail.

MATTHEWS: And then al Qaeda came up and ...

BEARDEN: And then al Qaeda came up.

MATTHEWS: ... the Taliban, they grew out of it.

BEARDEN: Well, the chaos came and the Taliban came to put some order to it.

MATTHEWS: I‘m looking for -- what‘s called blowback, right?

BEARDEN: Everybody likes blowback.

MATTHEWS: I love blowback. It‘s what happens with the unintended consequences of covert operations.

BEARDEN: No, it‘s what happens with the unintended consequences of every major policy thing you do. Arming Stalin to fight the acute evil, the Third Reich, was a very good idea but it kept them going for another 30 years.

MATTHEWS: We‘re going to talk more about this controversial issue of the CIA. It gets more controversial as we argue here with Robert DeNiro and Matt Damon and Milton Bearden, plus more questions now from the audience from the HARDBALL college tour, George Mason University, back on MSNBC.

roger said...

I love TV! Why not have Mini and Mickey Mouse debate Bearden?

Now, if you were going to have a real discussion, you might want to get Stephen Coll, who recorded Beardon's fine little record in Ghost Wars. So, for instance, instead of talking about the U.S. recruiting Arabs, perhaps the question should be: did you ever ask your contact, General Akhtar, of the ISI, what he was doing with the money he was being provided by the CIA and the Saudis? Did you ever ask him if he was recruiting Saudis? According to Coll, the Islamabad station purposely organized its Afghan networks so that no one - including Bearden - knew all the people in those networks. So isn't it sort of the point that you would have deniability later on? And didn't your station get involved in the hawala system, helping to organize it so as to finance the Mujahideen, which in essence laid down the template for all dark money flows in the region? And how is it that the CIA reported that Afghan fighters were talking about - indeed, complaining about - the Wahabis, arabic fighters, by 1986, and yet you seemingly were unaware of this?

And then perhaps some time could be spent on the great Stinger success, which Bearden was crucial to. Lets here about the accounting system they had, the failsafe so that the stingers wouldn't be shot, say, against a passenger plane. Was there ever any attempt to round up stray stinger missiles?

Finally, how about this wonderful quote from Coll: "At the Islamabad station Milt Bearden felt that Bin Laden himself "actually did some very good things, as Milt Bearden recalled it. "He put a lot of money in a lot of the right places in Afghanistan." Bin Laden was not regarded as "someone who was anti-American." The CIA did receive negative reports about the Arab volunteers from its Afghan agent network and from Western and Christian aid organizations."

But at George Mason University, Bearden faces two actors and a newsman who has the knowledge and breadth of Britney Spears.

Which is pretty typical, eh?

Anonymous said...

And that's HARDBALL, whereon they "bring it."

I admit to being intrigued by Robert De Niro, who directed the new flick.

De Niro on the public stage is like the lead in Who Am I This Time? without a part. He recoils.

roger said...

As actors, I would love to hear both of them on acting. And even on the acting necessary to put over certain state scenarios. But ... it is the mixing up of a politics that sends people off on the very periphery of tv - the scum, the uncelebrated - into wars, exile, starvation, and the need to nightly entertain a bored populace that hints at the true frivolity of the American superpower. Why, after all, was Bearden there in the first place? When the Pakistani officers he was rubbing elbows with were compiling an impressive record for mass murder in Bangladesh in 1972, it wasn't as if America felt called upon to intervene. No, it was only the tragedy of Afghanistan, where the Russians caused such slaughter, that the Americans come into the picture. And that indicates a necessity for intervention or non-intervention that relies on the thinking of the covert body of the establishment - that body which tries to erase the traces of its responsibility when, as so often happens, its plans end in sheer disaster.

Anonymous said...

"As actors, I would love to hear both of them on acting. And even on the acting necessary to put over certain state scenarios."

Yes, that would be fascinating. I've often wondered how a skilled actor of moderate intelligence goes about portraying high intelligence, even genius. What's the common foundation, there?

A friend said, "He knows the questions before they're asked. It's the script, stupid," and I suppose that's partially true. But what else?

Does he simply POSE good questions?

"Why, after all, was Bearden there in the first place?"

In Pakistan, or on HARDBALL? :-)

"He worked with Robert DeNiro on Universal Studios’ smash-hit 'Meet the Parents' [DeNiro plays a retired CIA operative] and worked with DeNiro and screenwriter Eric Roth (Forrest Gump, The Insider) on 'The Good Shepherd', scheduled for release in December 2006. Universal Studios and DeNiro’s Tribeca Productions have optioned [Bearden's] 'The Main Enemy' as a planned sequel to 'The Good Shepherd'." [wikipedia]

These warriors emeriti are embedded in the media to help shape history, to drive the proper scenario, I suppose.

An old soldier never dies, he kills *you* with the proper lies.