December 06, 2009

Deciphering the Afghanistan Strategery

Marwan al-Shehhi (prior to impact).

While other (monetarily compensated) pundits play the "inconsistency game," demonstrating that Pres. O insists that July, 2011 is a firm deadline, while his acolytes, Hillary and Bob Gates of Defense maintain the date is only some sort of aspirational notion binding on no one; I take the next step, the step of synthesis, and conflate the various interpretations in a Grand Unified Theory of Afghanistan Withdrawal.

I offer you this: if by July, 2011, we can figure out why we were ever there, we'll stay longer. If not, not.

It's really not so hard, you know, to make an effort to see things in a light more favorable to our somewhat embattled Prez. And in my case, I do so without the condescending pandering offered up by the likes of Frank Rich in today's New York Times:
We want to believe that Obama’s marvelous powers of reason can check a ruthless enemy and reverse decades of tragic history in one of the world’s most treacherous backwaters.

It ain't really like that. As I've written before, this kind of comment reflects the effort to be politically correct and kind of conspicuously un-racist, while betraying an underlying racial consciousness. Hey, if Obama is doing dumb things, he's doing dumb things. I'm sure the President would rather be criticized for simply blowing it than to be accused of misapplying his "marvelous powers of reason" in a patronizing criticism. Yet Rich's own marvelous powers of reason seem to have deserted him in repeating the fallacy that the attacks of 9-11 "originated in Afghanistan." Quoting Obama approvingly, Rich notes:

“Most importantly,” the president said, “unlike Vietnam, the American people were viciously attacked from Afghanistan and remain a target for those same extremists who are plotting along its border.” This is correct as far as it goes, but it begs a number of questions.

Look, all I know is what I read in the official Report of the Commission on the 9-11 Attacks. What is amazing is that Obama could give an entire speech about the necessity of the war in Afghanistan and never utter any of the following words: Egypt. Saudi Arabia. United Arab Emirates. Lebanon. That's where the attackers were from. The 15 muscle hijackers, all from Saudi Arabia. Atta, from Egypt. His buddy and main co-conspirator, Marwan al-Shehhi, from the UAE. Heck, even the "mastermind," the Gurgling Confessor Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, was from Kuwait.

Al-Shehhi left the UAE in 1996 and traveled to Hamburg, another site on the terrorist map which Prez O did not mention. At a mosque there he met Mohammed Atta. The suspicion is that these two ringleaders (the actual "masterminds" of 9-11) became radicalized by exposure to the West while students in Germany. In time it would be Atta who hit the first World Trade Center tower, al-Shehhi who hit number two. American intelligence sources also figured out that sometime in the summer of 2001, Atta traveled to Spain for a brief period and probably met with an accomplice/financier. Who was that person? My guess is that it was not a guy who bought an extra seat for his dialysis machine for the flight from Kabul. I'm absolutely certain the CIA figured that one out a long time ago - they know whom Atta met in Spain, and they probably know why. That person may represent the sources who supplied the fairly modest bankrolling the 9-11 plot required, and they may not have been in Afghanistan at all.

But even under the prevailing theory, that Osama bin Laden was the financier and Grand Strategist: To say that the "attacks originated in Afghanistan" is a little like saying that if a Saudi withdraws money from his account at UBS in Switzerland to buy a handgun, travels to the United States and then shoots someone, that the attack "originated in Zurich." It originated in Zurich, as the Bushies claimed 9-11 originated in Afghanistan, if you need it to. That doesn't make it logical or the subsequent war against Afghanistan (or Switzerland) any more justifiable.

Bush came up with Afghanistan because it was the closest thing to a country with a connection to 9-11 that he felt he could invade. He couldn't attack Saudi Arabia or Egypt, obviously, because the thugs in charge of these tyrannies are allies of ours. We couldn't handle the attacks as an international crime (which they were) because, really, almost all the perpetrators were already dead, and anyway, Bush had already declared that the 9-11 attack was an "act of war." And finally, Bush needed a real war, using the whole military, as a massive overcompensation for the tremendous embarrassment to him personally which the 9-11 attacks represented. I mean, think about it: he was specifically warned a month in advance. The FBI under the direction of his Administration had submitted field reports that Atta, Shehhi and others were taking unusual commercial pilot instruction in which they slept in on the days the class covered taking off and landing (exaggeration for comic effect). And they were taking this instruction in American flight schools in Florida and Arizona. 15 of the 19 attackers had violated one or more terms of their visas and were subject to deportation. The plot could have been stopped, as numerous other terrorist attacks have been stopped while still in the planning stages.

For me, that was always the great tragedy of 9-11. Our intelligence agencies, at the field level, actually did their work very well. They did what they were supposed to do.

Maybe by July, 2011, Obama will train those formidable powers of ratiocination on the original reason for the war in Afghanistan and conclude that, after a decade of pointless war, the former presence of a few al-Qaeda operatives and a cluster of jungle gym complexes are not the sine qua non of Islamic terrorism. Pissed-off Muslims are the necessary condition, and the CIA (doing its usual good work, and no irony intended at all) has warned repeatedly that these serial wars of foreign occupation do nothing but expand the numbers of the pissed-off. Pissed-off Muslims, like those radicalized in Hamburg, do not need jungle gyms or one country as a "safe haven." They are ubiquitous, fungible, well-dispersed and they can travel light. The best defense is to do exactly what we did before 9-11, with the exception that we have a government, and a President, who take their jobs seriously.

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