Afghanistan: The Forgotten War

by , June 22, 2004

The headline of the UPI story detailing President Hamid Karzai‘s recent trip to Washington – "Afghanistan is Bush’s good news" – was in stark contrast to content of the piece, which started out tellingly:

"Standing beside President George W. Bush in the White House Rose Garden Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan’s head of state, observed jokingly that perhaps he would remain in the United States instead of returning to Kabul. ‘One likes to stay here and not go, it’s such a good country,’ he said.

"If he expected Bush to reply that he would be welcome, he was disappointed. ‘Get home and get to work, will you?’ the president said, only half joking."

Poor Karzai, the best-dressed President East of Rome and West of Hollywood: he never gets to flash those classy threads to an audience more appreciative than an assembly of goat-herders. How he must savor his rare visits to what passes for the civilized world, where he gets to address a joint session of Congress, and, no doubt, consult with fashionista Tom Ford – formerly the "creative director" over at Gucci, and his number one fan – who hails the Afghan chief exec as "the chic-est man on the planet." You can hardly blame Karzai for not wanting to go back to the daily grind of pretending to be the "President" of the make-believe "nation" of Afghanistan, when he has to return to this:

"A renegade militia commander has taken control of a provincial capital in Afghanistan, causing the governor to flee amid heavy fighting. Hundreds of troops of Abdul Salaam Khan attacked Chaghcharan, capital of central Ghor province, on Thursday."

President Bush calls Afghanistan "the first victory in the war on terror" – which raises the question: if this is victory, then what would defeat look like? Bush’s triumphalism rings particularly hollow in light of the news that, in spite of pleas from the local military commander, the central government isn’t going to bother re-taking the town:

"Defence Ministry spokesman General Zahir Azimy said a National Security Council meeting chaired by President Hamid Karzai had made no decision to send troops. ‘The security situation there is not bad right now,’ he said. ‘There has been no decision to send troops to secure the province.’"

A wise move. The central government has enough on its plate, at this point: the loss of Chaghcharan was the third occasion in as many months that one of Kabul’s handpicked governors has been run out of town by rebels. If I were Karzai, I wouldn’t push it, either. It’s bad enough that "insurgents" got those dozen or so Chinese road workers: I’ll bet the geniuses over at the World Bank will think twice before plonking down more cash for a major project any time soon. And help is not on the way: Canada is withdrawing 2,000 troops this summer, U.S. troops are bogged down in Iraq, and NATO is very reluctant to get involved. Karzai, who can barely hold on to power in Kabul, let alone in the rest of the country, is faced with a daunting task. The delicate patchwork quilt of competing factions and tribal alignments can’t come undone before the elections, scheduled for September and clearly intended as a model of Washington’s plan for Iraq. In reality, however, occupied Afghanistan looks less like a showcase of Middle Eastern "democracy" and more like a foreshadowing of disaster.

"Who lost Afghanistan?" is a question policy analysts will be asking, if they aren’t already, and the answer is deftly articulated by a high-ranking intelligence official who, unlike the President’s other prominent critics of late, is still at his desk and collecting his government paycheck. Asked if we are losing the war on terrorism, the anonymous author of the latest book-length condemnation of the Iraq war replies,

"For my money, the game was over at Tora Bora."

The book is Imperial Hubris, a title that aptly and succinctly encapsulates the problem in Washington, and it looks like the content lives up this promise: the author’s clear-eyed vision cuts through the fog of war propaganda with laser-like intensity. The conquest of Iraq, in his view, was

"An avaricious, premeditated, unprovoked war against a foe who posed no immediate threat but whose defeat did offer economic advantage. Our choice of timing, moreover, shows an abject, even willful failure to recognize the ideological power, lethality and growth potential of the threat personified by Bin Laden, as well as the impetus that threat has been given by the U.S.-led invasion and occupation of Muslim Iraq."

Like Karzai, General Tommy Franks depended on tribal chieftains, purportedly allies of the U.S., to track down Bin Laden, and tamp down the Taliban: neither goal was accomplished. Meanwhile, Al Qaeda – the one entity indisputably linked to the 9/11 terrorist attacks – metastasizes, due in large part to our own policies, in Afghanistan as well as Iraq.

In the run-up to war, administration officials constantly invoked the nuclear bogeyman as the ultimate justification for invading Iraq: "We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud" averred National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice. Similarly ominous warnings were a staple of administration rhetoric. But, as Julian Borger reports in the Guardian, Mr. Anonymous points to a real problem that exists independently of the Bush Administration’s fantasies:

"As for weapons of mass destruction, he thinks that if al-Qaeda does not have them already, it will inevitably acquire them. The most likely source of a nuclear device would be the former Soviet Union, he believes. Dirty bombs, chemical and biological weapons, could be home-made by al-Qaeda’s own experts, many of them trained in the U.S. and Britain."

If Afghanistan is the forgotten war, then Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda network are the neglected enemy. That they will likely remind us of their existence in a most unpleasant way is more than a possibility: in this view; it is an immediate prospect. "I’m very sure they can’t have a better administration for them than the one they have now,” says our anonymous spook. "One way to keep the Republicans in power is to mount an attack that would rally the country around the president."

Osama – a Republican?

Come to think of it, there is a certain Ladenite feel to the GOP platform when it comes to social issues and the separation of church and state. But you don’t have to imagine Karl Rove coordinating his campaign strategy with OBL to see that Anonymous is not just indulging in rhetorical overstatement: Al Qaeda and the GOP are "objectively" aligned, as the Commies used to say.

Whoa, hold on there just a minute! So Bush gets to rally the country behind his policy of serial "regime-change" – but what exactly does Osama get out of the deal?

The Iraq war was worse than a mere diversion away from Al Qaeda: it strengthened the Ladenites immeasurably, gave them time to hone their skills, allowing them to consolidate their operations worldwide and breed the next generation of terrorists. We are fast approaching yet another 9/11 anniversary, and Mr. Anonymous is tapping us on the shoulder, reminding us we "haven’t laid a glove on" our real enemy. As the 9/11 Commission tells us what we already knew – that Iraq had nothing to do with the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and there was no "collaborative relationship" between Saddam and OBL – the terrorist mastermind behind the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon is believed to be lounging about somewhere in Central Asia:

"I think we overestimate significantly the stress [Bin Laden's] under. Our media and sometimes our policymakers suggest he’s hiding from rock to rock and hill to hill and cave to cave. My own hunch is that he’s fairly comfortable where he is."

So how is our perpetual "war on terrorism" going? Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld claims we don’t have the "metrics" to measure our success, or gauge the degree of our failure, but I’d say Osama’s comfort level is a fair indication of the latter.

The War Party entered the post-9/11 world with an agenda that had little to do with capturing Bin Laden and killing off his organization. Neoconservative Grand Vizier Paul Wolfowitz argued, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, that we ought to go after Iraq and then maybe do something about Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. The whole aim of the neocons’ hijacking operation – during which, as Bob Woodward reported, citing Colin Powell, they set up their own "separate government" – was to commandeer our military away from Central Asia, pulling our attention and focus westward – toward Israel’s neighborhood.

This is not to say that the "liberation" of Afghanistan is any less of an absurdity than the very similar – if larger-scale – farce in Iraq, nor that the occupation is any more legitimate. It is to say that, for a few weeks, at the maximum, we were presented with an opportunity to end it then and there, with a single thunderbolt hurled from the American Olympus. What should have happened – a focused, concentrated, and narrowly-defined strike at the Al Qaeda leadership, concentrated, as it was, in the Afghan wilds – did not happen. As we said shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks: "Kill ‘em – and get out."

Instead of defining their strategic objectives as narrowly and specifically as possible, the neocon war-bots – who effectively took over the U.S. government at this point, at least in the realm of foreign policy – did everything they could to expand our "war aims." The second tower of the World Trade Center had barely been struck and they were ready with a long list of candidates for "regime change," all of which – coincidentally, of course – just happened to be Israel’s most uncompromising enemies: Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia. Oh yeah, and don’t forget that we have to "free" the Lebanese, who keep electing Hezbollah to their Parliament and obviously need to be "liberated" again (the first couple of times was by the Israelis, but those obviously didn’t take).

But I must disagree with the author of Imperial Hubris on one point. The idea that, as Anonymous avers, this was a war for "economic advantage" is really a diversion away from the geopolitical purposes and ideological motives of the cabal that lied us into war in the first place. Ideology, and not the American economy, was the driving force behind the push for war: not greedy capitalists with their noses in a ledger, but power-maddened ideologues with their noses in a book, are the real culprits here. Antiwar.com said this before the war, and so did Pat Buchanan, as well as a few others, and it is a great relief to see General Anthony Zinni and intelligence expert James Bamford have come to the same conclusions.

In his book, Pretext for War, Bamford locates the documentary evidence of the war’s true origins in a 1996 strategy paper presented to then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Drawn up by Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, and David Wurmser, all three now top officials in the Bush administration, "A Clean Break" laid out the blueprint for the Iraq war – and the transformation of the region to Israel’s benefit. Netanyahu rejected the "Clean Break" plan, and understandably so: it was a mite ambitious for Israel to take on – which apparently led the authors to the conclusion that only the U.S. had the resources to carry it out.

As OBL rides away into the sunset, sinking into the vagueness of Central Asia like a ghostly apparition, and we slide into the Iraqi quagmire, Americans are at last getting the picture: they’ve been hoodwinked.

Yes, but by whom, and to what purpose?

Once Americans get even a glimmer of the answers to these two questions – and it is beginning, slowly, to dawn on them – it’s time for the neocons to get out of Dodge, and quick. Let those who don’t have an urgent appointment with a federal prosecutor – or a war crimes tribunal – slink back to academia and their subsidized thinktanks, where they can only hope nobody will take much notice.

Read more by Justin Raimondo