the disappearance of osama bin laden and the my pet goat presidency

The time seems ripe for going over the way in which the Bush administration deliberately let Obama bin Laden escape from Afghanistan to manipulate an unnecessary and disastrous global war on terror. We’ve done this before, of course. But since we are now in the passenger seat, watching the consequences rush forward through the driver’s window – and since the usual shitheads, the O’Hanlon-Kagan crowd, are suggesting their usual shithead policy to deal with it (send U.S. soldiers that are apparently created by magic to occupy a Pakistan that is just aching and shaking to have its nukes taken away by a loving ally) – it is always a fun and fitting thing to marshal the facts and inferences. Where at one time malign, fucked up behavior on the part of the Bush administration might have seemed implausible, after seven incredible years of devious behaviors, second and third rate thinking, and a consistently juvenile policy of thoughtless aggression, wrapped in an impenetrable aura of entitlement and impunity, our theory seems all the stronger. Dismayingly, it has never made a dent in the blogo-chatter sphere.

The facts are pretty simple. Six years ago, the CIA, which had the most connection with opposition groups in Afghanistan, had succeeded in using a limited American force, in conjunction with a number of Afghani warlord-headed forces (given a misleading unity as the “Northern Alliance”), and supported by heavy air cover, to force the fall of Kabul (November 13) and drive Osama bin Laden’s paramilitary force into the mountainous region southeast of the capital city. The fall of Kabul was greeted as a turning point in the quick war by the press. By December 10, the Defense department was treating the defeat of the Taleban as a fait accompli, and issuing misleading press reports, like this one:

“Al Qaida fighters near Tora Bora are reported to be putting up stiff resistance as the operation to dislodge them from their mountain stronghold continues. U-S officials say the operation is making moderate progress as anti-Taleban forces on the ground push forward on several fronts. The American military is still not sure where al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden is, but officials believe they have a general idea.
In the southern part of the country, Afghanistan's new interim leader, Hamid Karzai, has settled a dispute between tribal chiefs over who will control Kandahar, which the Taleban surrendered Friday.

Under the agreement, Kandahar's pre-Taleban governor, Gul Agha, will resume his position. He will be assisted by Mullah Naqibullah, who accepted the Taleban's surrender.

Pentagon officials says U-S Marines are having success in preventing armed Taleban and al-Qaida fighters from fleeing southern Afghanistan into neighboring Pakistan.”

In actuality, the U.S. marines were not having success in preventing armed Taleban and al Qaida fighters from going into neighboring Pakistan. And in actuality, the U.S. had a pretty good idea that Osama bin Laden was in the cave system in Tora Bora.
Peter Bergen has written several articles about Osama bin Laden’s “disappearing act” – which is more act, obviously, than disappearance. In a 2004 article about Tora Bora, he underlines two things: one is that Tora Bora was a pretty well known location to the Americans – it had been extensively used during the guerilla war financed by the U.S. in the eighties; and the other is that far from the Pentagon throwing in its U.S. marines en masse to capture Osama bin Laden, the Pentagon was being curiously stingy about resourcing the end game:

For some perspective on Jalalabad, I spoke with Dr. Muhammad Asif Qazizada, the deputy governor of Nangarhar, the province that contains Jalalabad. In his office, in a splendid blue-domed nineteenth-century building that was once the winter palace of Afghanistan's kings, Qazizada explained why Jalalabad and the nearby mountainous redoubt of Tora Bora were the perfect places for bin Laden to stage one of history's great disappearing acts. In his early twenties Qazizada worked as a medic in Tora Bora when it was an important base for the Afghan resistance to the Soviets. At the time, he recalled, Tora Bora was a warren of caves and fortifications defended by machine guns and anti-aircraft batteries. Because it offered easy access by foot to Parachinar, a region of Pakistan that juts like a parrot's beak into Afghanistan, it was also an ideal place from which to mount hit-and-run operations against the Soviets. Indeed, bin Laden fought his first battle against the Soviets, in 1987, at Jaji, an Afghan village that abuts Parachinar.

During the 1980s, Qazizada said, Tora Bora was the object of several Soviet offensives, one of them involving thousands of soldiers, dozens of helicopter gun ships, and several MiG fighter jets; so solid were the fortifications that the Soviet offensives were held off by a force of no more than 130 Afghans. For this reason, Qazizada believes, bin Laden chose the region as his hideout and escape route in November of 2001. When the two-week battle of Tora Bora took place shortly afterward, in December, it was fought largely by the forces of local Afghan commanders, supported by small numbers of U.S. Special Forces, who called in intense air strikes against al-Qaeda's positions. But Tora Bora's mountainous topography worked to bin Laden's advantage. "It was difficult for the Americans to attack," Qazizada says, "and there was a way to flee."

What happened next was seen but not seen by the U.S. press. I’ll quote myself, here, from my more extensive post about this, July 28,2006:

“Anyway, I recently came across Army Times reporter Sean Naylor’s account of the battle. According to Naylor, the incompetence factor (although he doesn’t put it so bluntly) can be laid at the feet of General “Kick me in the ass” Franks, who operated in our heroic Afghanistan war as a conduit for the senilities of Rumsfeld. Rumsfeld, of course, didn’t want the Afghanistan war to involve regular troops, on the theory that that is where the Russians went wrong. No, we’d used bombing and our super duper special forces – initial decisions that we are paying for today. Anyway, the American force that approached Tora Bora at the end of November, 2001 was extremely small, and depended on Afghan allies that were busy feuding with each other. According to Naylor, as the siege proceeded, the Air Force flew over the twenty mile passage between Tora Bora and Pakistan and recorded “hot spots” on their heat sensing equipment. Now, CENTCOM, unbelievably, had never considered the possibility that Al Qaeda’s forces could escape from Tora Bora – thus, there were no guards on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. But the hot spot data did provoke some consultation:

“The Generals in Kuwait recommend[ed] bombing the positions as soon as possible. But Franks [who, you will recall, bravely lead our heroic troops from a boat in Florida] and his staff did not see it like that. “They might be shepherds,” was Control Command’s attitude, according to two officers who sat in on the video-teleconferences in which the matter was discussed. At CFLCC that theory didn’t wash. The idea that scores of shepherds were tending to their flocks at 10,000 feet in the middle of winter was implausible.”

Implausible is a kindly word. Let’s recall what was happening back at the scene in Tora Bora. This is from the NYT Magazine’s rather thorough article about it in 2005:

“The American bombardment of Tora Bora, which had been going on for a month, yielded to saturation airstrikes on Nov. 30 in anticipation of the ground war. Hundreds of civilians died that weekend, along with a number of Afghan fighters, according to Hajji Zaman, who had already dispatched tribal elders from the region to plead with bin Laden's commanders to abandon Tora Bora.” – Mary Ann Weaver, NYT, 9/11/05

Recall, also, that at the time Franks was displaying this untoward shepherdophilia, the U.S. was accepting payment from the Northern alliance in captives gathered at random – the camel driver, the Avon salesman, the cab driver – and subjecting them to the waterboarding, beatings, and sometimes murder that they obviously richly deserved.”

The military is still scratchin’ its head, apparently, as to when OBL ‘disappeared’. For years, the standard Bushie defense of what obviously happens when you saturation bomb an area in front of a force and leave its rear untouched by explosive and unguarded by any force was that OBL could be anywhere. Now, one of the things that we have been taught, over the past seven years, is to swallow verbiage that an average six year old could debunk, since that is usually the age, according to Piaget, in which the logical faculties kick in. The age in which the logical faculties kick in for war mongers is obviously much later - sixty-five? seventy-five? hard to put a number on it. Remember, though, that Piaget drop outs run this land of ours. And benefit enormously from their pseudo-incomprehension. It is the system of the big fix. And in that vein: we bet that not a single reporter will, at Bush’s next press conference, press the president on why the facts of the case seem to lead to the conclusion that the U.S. intentionally let OBL escape. And ask whether, now that Pakistan seems caught in an act we have all seen before, that was such a bright idea. In fact, Osama bin Laden is now not mentioned in our King’s present – it upsets his dainty mechanism.

On the other hand, we know that Osama bin Laden is not as dumb as the U.S. press. He made the logical conclusions long ago. And he has followed through on his end of the gentlemen’s agreement. Instead of attacking the U.S. on U.S. soil, again, he has aided in a series of attacks that tiptoe around U.S. soil. Attacks in Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Spain and the U.K. To attack, say, NYC again would be a dishonorable act against his host and protector, George Bush.

What a win win situation the two have produced for each other! The GWOT spawned a vast, unnecessary war that generated, in turn, an excuse for an unprecedented and pointless buildup of the military that in turn - oh the dominos! - generated unprecedented profits up and down the line for companies even only peripherally touched by the Santa Claus policy of the Pentagon; Bush sailed into a second term on the comical pretense that he had shown himself a strong leader (when, in fact, we have never had a modern president who is so paralyzed by panic in the face of critical situations - the man who kept reading My Pet Goat as he wondered who he was and why he was there on 9/11 is the same guy all the way through the past six years, a second rate golf pro’s mind stuffed into the body of another rich man’s prodigal son); and after an obvious down period following the disorganization of Al Qaeda in 2002, OBL reconstituted himself as a kingmaker in Pakistan, training the Taleban forces for edging into Afghanistan again, connected to a number of Islamicist groups who have ingratiated themselves with the Pakistani rural population in a number of ways, not least of which is a proto-social welfare system that is more efficient in rushing aid to, say, earthquake victims than the government itself. We are about to hit another harmonic convergence as Musharref increasingly looks like he is doing the dictator’s death spiral, a thing we have seen before. And we will continue to swallow lies and bullshit like troopers on our way to an ever more malformed relationship with the rest of the world.