The idea that a nuclear war could be started by a hoax caller may seem too Bizarro Worldish, even for the post-9/11 era, but there you have it:
"A hoax caller claiming to be India’s foreign minister threatened Pakistan’s president with war during the final hours of the Mumbai attacks, prompting Islamabad to put its air force on its highest alert for nearly 24 hours, a news report said Saturday."
How did the Mumbai prankster get through to the president of Pakistan? Simple: caller ID! Naturally, these things can be faked, but what do they know in Pakistan? (Although I’ll bet the caller wouldn’t have gotten through to Gen. Pervez "No Nonsense" Musharraf, the previous "president"-cum-dictator.)
What this underscores apart from the tenuous character of human existence and the utter absurdity of life is how delicate the balance of terror is these days. One false move and ka-boom! the world (or a good chunk of it) goes up in a puff of smoke. If you like your humor dark and unsweetened, then this is mordantly funny. What’s not so funny, however, is the probable answer to the obvious question: who made the call?
My guess is that whoever did it had a direct connection to the organizers of the Mumbai terror. After all, their goal was clearly to provoke a war between India and Pakistan, and one can hardly conceive of a more direct way to accomplish it. The call, I believe, also provides a clue to the identity of the Mumbai terrorists.
It’s a truism that murderers have a distinct modus operandi: they do their evil deeds in a particular fashion, and there are certain telltale signs signatures, if you will that habitual killers impart to their grisly work. In this case, we have been here once before on 9/11. In that instance, too, a caller got through to a president at the White House via the Secret Service. According to former New York Times columnist William Safire:
"A threatening message received by the Secret Service was relayed to the agents with the president that ‘Air Force One is next.’ According to the high official, American code words were used showing a knowledge of procedures that made the threat credible."
Elaborating on the credibility of the ”Air Force One is next” message," Safire wrote: "It is described clearly as a threat, not a friendly warning but if so, why would the terrorists send the message? More to the point, how did they get the code-word information and transponder know-how that established their mala fides?"
It’s simple, really: the idea of making such a threat in such a manner would be to demonstrate the terrorists’ knowledge of presidential procedures. As for how they got the code-words and the know-how, I’m not going down that road, at least not in this column. That aside, however, note the pattern: a spectacular terrorist attack followed by a threatening call out of the blue the 9/11 signature.
So what am I saying? That al-Qaeda was behind the Mumbai massacre? Not necessarily. Although Osama bin Laden and his gang would certainly benefit from a Pakistan-India clash, there is hardly enough evidence to point to al-Qaeda as the provocateur. All I’m saying, at this juncture, is that this points to some interested third party as the probable culprit: i.e., it wasn’t the Pakistani government, which is being blamed by India and much of the world’s media, as the hidden hand behind the slaughter.
Of course, it’s perfectly possible the Indians are lying and that Pranab Mukherjee, the Indian minister of external affairs said to have made the call, is a lunatic who didn’t care that he was about to start a nuclear war. Government officials are often lunatics, some with genocidal tendencies, so that wouldn’t be at all unusual. And in the case of the Indian government, it would be even less surprising: after all, it wouldn’t be the first time an Indian defense minister has threatened to nuke Islamabad. In 2003, then-defense minister George Fernandes, a left-wing socialist, publicly opined that India would survive a retaliatory strike and come out the "victor" in a nuclear exchange. So Mukherjee’s outburst, if it occurred, is par for the course.
In either case, this incident shows how utterly crazy it is for soon-to-be-President Obama to wade into south Asia with more American troops in Afghanistan, and possibly an "incursion" or two into Pakistan. The entire region is populated by maniacs. Their mania is religious, and therefore utterly murderous and unappeasable. These people will do anything to get one up on their rivals, including mass murder, and to invest American resources (troops and treasure) into that bottomless pit of malevolence is worse than futile it will blow right back in our faces.
I was struck Sunday morning by Obama’s answer to Tom Brokaw’s question on Meet the Press about the Afghan-Pakistan "hot zone" (as Brokaw called it). Obama had just gotten through a long riff on how "the Afghan farmer hasn’t seen any improvement in his life," promising to send billions that we don’t have to the beleaguered government of our Afghan puppets, and Brokaw opined:
"Here’s something else that Afghan farmer has never seen nor have any of his ancestors ever seen this: foreign powers coming into Afghanistan and being effective and staying very long."
The president-elect’s deadpan demeanor suffered a twitch at that point, but he soon composed himself and launched into his answer:
"Right. Well, I, I think that we do have to be mindful of the history of Afghanistan. It is tough territory. And there’s a fierce independence in Afghanistan, and if the perception is that we are there simply to impose ourselves in a long-term occupation, that’s not going to work in Afghanistan. By the way, that’s not going to work in Iraq either. There are very few countries that welcome long-term occupations by foreign powers. But Afghanistan has shown that they are fiercely resistant to that. We’re going to have to convince the Afghan people that we’re not interested in dictating what happens in Afghanistan. What we are interested in is making sure that Afghanistan cannot be used as a base for launching terrorist attacks. And as long as al-Qaeda and the Taliban, working in concert with al-Qaeda, threaten directly the United States and are engaged in mayhem, then we’ve got to take action. And, and that very limited goal of making sure that that doesn’t happen, I think, can serve as the basis for effective cooperation with the Afghan people."
Here you have the essence of the argument for invading Afghanistan and continuing to occupy it, an occupation, by the way, that has been going on longer than the one in Iraq and will persist "as long as al-Qaeda and the Taliban, working in concert with al-Qaeda, threaten directly the United States."
How, exactly, are we threatened by a bunch of terrorists living in caves in the most godforsaken terrain known to man, where they can neither reach us nor hurt us in any way? Indeed, having them there, we at least know where they are. It’s when they get out into the world say, the streets of New York that they pose a real danger. So why not quarantine them? Why not make it impossible for anyone to leave Afghanistan, ever? Why go in there, police the country for a decade or so, and pipe in billions of taxpayer dollars to make the Afghan farmers and sheepherders feel good about America? They’ll take our money and hate us anyway, and everybody knows it.
The danger to America that is, the continental United States is not going to be eliminated by invading countries, blowing up cities, and setting up little Abu Ghraibs everywhere we go. Quite the contrary: it’s going to make things much worse. Fighting terrorists effectively rather than politically that is, with an eye to the voting public is like a toxic cleanup: you want to consolidate the nasty stuff and keep it all in one place, not spread it around. Yet that is precisely what our invasion and occupation of Afghanistan has done.
Bin Laden and his crew are nowhere near Afghanistan, if the terrorists have an ounce of sense and they do. This whole phony argument that we need to "get bin Laden" and that’s why we’re in Afghanistan is pure malarkey; that is, it’s pure politics. The real reason we’re in Afghanistan is because President-elect Obama inherited a war he doesn’t have the courage to end.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
I have a new piece in The American Conservative on how Garet Garrett, the Old Right author and journalist, responded to the Great Depression and how today’s conservatives should take a leaf from his book. No, it’s not online, but if you sign up for a free three-month online subscription, you can read it in full. Go here for your free trial, or go get the dead-tree edition at your local news stand.