September 04, 2009

Vietnam Redux

My guess is that we're fighting in Afghanistan because the military establishment always demands at least one hot war in progress, and now that Iraq has finally petered out (because of Nouri al-Maliki's treacherous snookering of George W. Bush), Afghanistan is the only candidate. The Pentagon needs wars for lots of reasons. They're essential for training soldiers in actual combat, for keeping the vast armies of mercenaries under contract employed (many of the mercenaries are former military lifers seeking an upgrade in pay and working conditions, plus that Bondsian License to Kill), and most of all, as a laboratory for all the weapons and gadgets produced by defense contractors. Officers get promoted, they collect war stories, they acquire battle credibility.

This kind of rationale does not play well on the political scene, of course. We're not that far gone in cynicism yet, though we're working on it. The original Afghan meme, sold to the American public 8 years ago, was that Afghanistan was a "safe haven" for al-Qaeda where it could train terrorists and plot attacks on the United States. In the wake of 9/11, almost all Americans went along with this Dick&Jane story read to us by W&Dick. I can recall that even Al Franken, when he had his radio show on Air America, steadfastly supported the war in Afghanistan, probably with his run for the Senate in mind. It became doubly important to support the Afghan venture after Iraq was invaded: being against both wars was the sure mark of the lily livered liberal.

I was against both wars from the start, as was the Sage of Boynton, the 92-year old veteran of the Pacific campaign in WW II. The Sage thought that we "should do nothing," meaning we should not have used conventional military forces for an invasion simply because this is what we're set up to do. This, indeed, was the rational course. The terrorists who carried off 9-11 were all dead. They did not plan the 9-11 attack in Afghanistan. The central plotters (the four pilots) began their plotting in the late 1990's in Hamburg, Germany, where they attended mosque together. These facts are confirmed in the Report of the 9-11 Commission, which I have read. Rumors of their trips to Afghanistan are most often attributable to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, whom we now know was waterboarded 183 times by the CIA. The circumstances of his interrogation are curiously absent from the official 9-11 Report. Even if Khalid was gurgling the truth, there is no particular reason why the four pilots, or the 15 muscle hijackers (who were almost all from Saudi Arabia), needed to travel to Afghanistan for training. What is it about the jungle gyms there that were essential to overpowering unarmed stewardesses or opening unlocked cockpit doors?

As far as Osama bin Laden was concerned, a warrant had been out for his arrest for years prior to 9-11. He was the financier, the money source of a kind of Terrorist Foundation, who passed on terrorism proposals and made funding grants. Peter Bergen's book on bin Laden is the best source of info I have seen on this question. I doubt seriously that bin Laden kept his money in an Afghan bank, with no offense intended for his Taliban "hosts." He was a canny investor and businessman who shorted the U.S. airline and tourist industries on the eve of 9-11 and then cleaned up on the mayhem he caused, a kind of Terrorist Insider Trading. But his "training camps" or his residence could have been taken out with cruise missiles, as Clinton had attempted before. What was the purpose of a full-scale military invasion and an 8-year occupation? Al-Qaeda and bin Laden did not need Afghanistan; it's just where they happened to be (some of them, anyway).

In addition to the rationales given above, Bush&Cheney wanted to give the definite appearance of doing something. They wanted to invade Iraq and desperately sought connections to 9-11, but these connections could only be made in Cheney's mind, and that wasn't enough even for the American populace thirsting, in an omnidirectional way, for revenge. So Afghanistan would have to do, because Big Dog Osama was there and he would suffice for the casus belli. Then Rumsfeld, Bush & Cheney (Moe, Larry & Curly) totally screwed up the invasion and let Osama get away, so there was no one left for the Taliban to harbor.

Eight years on, and we've revised the Mission Statement a few times to keep the Predator drones flying and mercenaries shooting. We're now nation building, keeping an eye on Pakistan, and denying al-Qaeda safe haven within Taliban-controlled areas of Afghanistan, which somehow have survived 8 years of warfare and siege by the mightiest nation on Earth. But maybe 8 years more will do the trick. Barack Obama supports the war for the same reason Al Franken did: O is the President of a militarized nation, and it won't do to be against even stupid wars if it's the only one you've got going. You can be the Commander-in-Chief of a peacetime army if you're Dwight Eisenhower and have already demonstrated your mettle in actual combat, but not if you're Bill Clinton, W Bush or Barack Obama and left all the combat to others when you had the chance.

57% of the American populace now opposes the Afghan whatever it is. I guess, this being a democracy and everything, we should see a wind-down and a denial of funding from the Democratic House. Yeah, I know. Ha ha. That's a good one.

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