October 21, 2009

Nonsensical Slogans as Official Policy

I've remarked a few times on a phenomenon which has become the norm in American politics over the last decade or so, namely, the Nonsensical Slogan as official policy. As a prime example, there was Bush/Cheney's deathless repetition of the real reason for the war in Iraq: "We're fighting them there so we don't have to fight them here." In my naivete, I was prone to thinking this moronic incantation only demonstrated that Bush & Cheney were foolish. How wrong can a person be? They were way ahead of me, in actuality, because the slogan worked.

Although the statement itself made no sense. Bush, in a press conference, admitted unequivocally that Saddam had "nothing" to do with 9/11. So - what was the basis for the insistence that we would fight Iraqis here if we did not fight them there? Have we ever fought Iraqis here? Have they ever tried to invade or attack us here? We've been in combat with Iraqis, in desultory fashion, on and off since 1991. In all that time, with all that provocation, did they ever attack us? Yet Bush & Cheney (and Rove), seasoned pols that they were and are, had a better reading of the American booboisie than I, I have to admit.

It's at least reassuring to read other writers once in a while who refuse to abandon common sense in the face of propaganda. Take, for example, Johann Hari, a fine writer who contributes on the HuffPost sometimes. He was analyzing the various rationales for continuing the American occupation of Afghanistan. The Nonsensical Slogan most often trotted out, by Bush originally and now by the Obama Administration, is that we cannot allow Afghanistan "to become a safe haven for terrorists planning attacks against the United States." At the surface, at least (that is, before you spend two or three tenths of a second thinking about it), this rationale seems more plausible than fighting them over there so we don't have to fight them here. Hari points out, however, as I've tried to do before, that this reasoning is equally lame.

He adds a few facts I hadn't thought of. Since 9/11, there have been two other headline terrorist attacks, the 3/11 attacks on the trains in Madrid, and the 7/7 attacks on British public transit. None of these attacks (including 9/11 on New York and D.C.) was actually "planned" in Afghanistan. As far as preparations for 9/11, most of those were done in Hamburg, Germany, and in South Florida. It is strictly and only the temporary residence of Osama bin Laden and a few top al-Qaeda henchmen in Afghanistan that provided cover for what was actually simply an acting out of American rage against a plausible foe. Except that Bush & Cheney completely blew it where bin Laden was concerned, so it's difficult to see now what in the hell it was about.

The other aspect which Hari talks about is what might be called the Whack-A-Mole problem. Supposing for a moment that terrorists need a "safe haven" to "plan attacks" (and in the three examples above, there is no evidence for this), why is it that Islamic terrorists would cooperate by all migrating to Afghanistan so we can annihilate them? That presents a contradiction in terms: if they're that stupid, what's the real problem anyway? If General Jim Jones is correct (no one has authoritatively contradicted him), there are currently about one hundred members of al-Qaeda left in Afghanistan. One shudders to think that if there were many more before, then like toothpaste being pushed from the tube, they are now all over the border in nuke-armed Pakistan. How helpful. But more to the point, what is it about Afghanistan that makes it uniquely suitable as a "terrorist base" as opposed to other Muslim states such as Yemen, Indonesia or Algeria, or, to refer to the actual home states of the actual 9/11 hijackers, Egypt and Saudi Arabia? The United States cannot actually invade, occupy and nation-build in every last country that might be used as a terrorist "base," and to repeat: why does a terrorist need a "base?" Timothy McVeigh used the United States as a base, and he accomplished what he was after.

I work on the assumption that President Obama is a pretty clear thinker and must see these easily-grasped points. It does not make sense to confer upon Afghanistan the unique status as "terrorist stronghold" simply because it was bin Laden's last-known forwarding address, following stints in Saudi Arabia and Sudan. Yet Obama repeats, over and over, that the Afghanistan War is a "war of necessity." Necessary for what, and to whom?

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