Friday, December 17, 2010

One-Eyed Shieks and Holy Wars. How we Got it so Wrong

A CULTURE OF DEFIANCE: History of the Reform-Conservative Party of Canada

U.S. President Obama has come out this week suggesting that gains are being made in Afghanistan, though the progress is fragile.

In other words, they have no idea what they're doing.

U.S. intelligence supports my assessment.

The Americans drew the Soviet Union into invading the country in 1979, giving them their Vietnam, and are now caught in an unwinnable war that has gone on longer than the Soviet occupation, and threatens to continue for several more years.

15,000 Soviet soldiers were killed against about 1,000,000 Afghans, between 1979 and 1988.

And when you look at the rate of casualties in the American led invasion of Afghanistan, as represented by the chart below, we sure aren't fairing much better. And these are just the coalition forces. Thousands more civilians have fallen.

If the Americans wanted to give the Soviets their Vietnam, to weaken their military build up, they are getting it back. And while Stephen Harper has Canada trapped in the Afghan underworld, his answer is that he will now be directing the war himself, from the safety of his office. Rick Hillier calls it "crap!" I agree.

So How Did we Get it so Wrong?

The end of the Second World War brought on the Cold War, and the world's super powers spent enormous amounts of money building up an arsenal of advanced weaponry, in what Hannah Arendt described as an "apocalyptic chess game".
The technical development of the implements of violence has now reached the point where no political goal could conceivably correspond to their destructive potential or justify their actual use in armed conflict. Hence, warfare—from time immemorial the final merciless arbiter in international disputes—has lost much of its effectiveness and nearly all its glamour. (1)
It was a spy war as they all kept a close watch on each other, no one really wanting to use their weapons in what would have been a "universal suicide".

But this created another problem, because as the super powers became both omnipotent and impotent, smaller nations were left virtually unrestricted in the game of one-upmanship.
... in conventional warfare the poor countries are much less vulnerable than the great powers precisely because they are "underdeveloped," and because technical superiority can "be much more of a liability than an asset" in guerrilla wars. What all these uncomfortable novelties add up to is a complete reversal in the relationship between power and violence, foreshadowing another reversal in the future relationship between small and great powers. (1)
So the threats did not necessarily come from countries with nuclear capabilities, but from small groups "able to upset the strategic balance", by launching attacks that cost them very little.
And this bears an ominous similarity to one of political science's oldest insights, namely that power cannot be measured in terms of wealth, that an abundance of wealth may erode power, that riches are particularly dangerous to the power and well-being of republics. (1)
And since many of these new "armies" were stateless, who could the super powers wage war against? The CIA kept track of known terrorist cells, and did their best to keep them contained, but it was still presenting a huge problem for the military-industrial complex.

They had enormous weaponry but few targets, that allowed their use on any large scale.

Enter the Neoconservatives and Their "War on Terror"

In his 'Battlefields of the 1980s', General Andre Beaufre points out, that only "in those parts of the world not covered by nuclear deterrence" is war still possible, so the challenge for the Neoconservatives was to wage war in areas unrestrained by "nuclear deterrence".

But how to get Americans on board. They had already interfered in the affairs of the oil rich Middle East, but needed something bigger.

An enemy. A face. And fear.

Then 9/11 provided the perfect trifecta, though it was only the catalyst. The planning for this had been taking place for several years beforehand, when Bernard Lewis adapted Harvard political scientist Samuel P. Huntington's Clash of Civilizations, into a blueprint for war.

And through clever messaging, the American Neocons were able to sell the notion of an enormous Jihad. One launched by "savages" who had to be destroyed or their entire country would be demolished.

They "didn't start it", but they were sure going to finish it. Eyes lit up, keyboards clicked away and the landscape was awash in yellow ribbons. Meanwhile, the Bush administration used homey rhetoric to reach the masses, knowing that few intellects would find their theory of a massive Jihad against America logical.

Not that terrorism isn't real, but there are other ways of keeping it contained, without the senseless slaughter of so many.

The Blind Leading the Blind

Though Osama Bin Ladin went to his grave in 2001, denying any involvement in 9/11, he became the face of the war. Every now and then an actor would come out and make another tape, to keep fear at just the right level. It didn't make Bin Laden any less dead, but who was going to question?

However, even before Bin Laden became a household name, the Jihad against America had a leader. Omar Abdel Rahman, also called the "One-Eyed Sheik". He was apparently behind the 1993 attack on the World Trade Centre, which at the time, was not considered the work of a mastermind.

However, it did prove to be an embarrassment for the CIA and others, especially when the person who allegedly planted the bomb, returned to the rental agency requesting a refund because the van he rented blew up. (2) I know there's a lot more to that story, but suffice it to say they were not that organized.

But that didn't stop the Bush Administration from linking this incident to their notion of a massive Jihad.

In neoconservative Andrew C. McCarthy's book, Willful Blindness: A Memoir of the Jihad, we see just how they created a powerful enemy from several smaller "underdeveloped" ones, by using myths and creative language. And yes I do on occasion read books by neocons. It's the only way I can get inside Stephen Harper's head. (have you seen the movie Jacob's Ladder? It kinda' looks like that in there. I scream a lot)

He starts out complaining that the government's main focus after the 1993 incident, was handling the fall out. Aghast, he questions why, after "the most brazen attack against the American homeland since Pearl Harbour had taken place". (3) Really? Pearl Harbour?

He then fancifies Rahman, who was indeed a horrible man, and currently in prison with no chance of ever being released. But to equate him those who planned the attack on Pearl Harbour, is a bit of a stretch.

But then McCarthy reminds his readers of the seriousness of the situation. Intelligence and containment wasn't enough. This was "war".
In terms of actual national commitment, such wars translate into a somewhat higher priority than the dogged pursuit of tax cheats and corporate fraudsters. To be sure, jihad differs from Wars on Drugs, Poverty, Disease. Incivility, Intolerance, Greenhouse Gases, or whatever the next Flavor of the Month may be. Jihad, after all, actually does involve warfare: real bombs, real victims, and real death. But the distinction is lost when the side that declares only rhetorical war is exclusively on the receiving end of the blows ... (3)
America was the "victim". They had been taking all the blows, and never fought back. So forget all the other nonsense. Pardon the corporate fraudsters (as George Bush did). Forget about poverty, disease and Global Warming (as George Bush did). Heck you could even forget being civil to each other.

Every waking moment and every red cent had to be put into fighting this Jihad. (as George Bush did)

And where did it get them? Iraq is in a mess and Afghanistan has been taken over by the criminal element. They are still chasing ghosts, while all but ignoring domestic problems, that are spiralling out of control.

And to top it off, the Jihadists are more powerful than ever, because the invasion has only increased the recruitment.

Again, Neoconservatism is the god that failed and we need to rethink this war.


1. On Violence, by Hannah Arendt, Harvest Books, 1970, ISBN: 978-0-15-669500-8, Pg. 3

2. He wanted his money back: Insistence on a Refund for a Van Led to the Arrest of Blast Suspect, by Ralph Blumenthal, New York Times, March 5, 1993.

3. Willful Blindness: A Memoir of the Jihad, By Andrew C. McCarthy, Encounter Books, 2008, ISBN: 13-978-1-59403-213-4, Pg. 5

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