(Torie) Clarke, a Pentagon spokesperson, got the tough job yesterday,
that of flak-catcher. When the subject is bombs that seem to be
destroying or disabling the Taliban and al-Qaida infrastructure,
Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld usually takes the assignment himself
and comes off as affable and confident. Yesterday the subject was
acknowledging that maybe the Taliban was right this time, that a
1,000-pound bomb seems to have missed its target and fell near what
was described as a senior citizensí home in Herat on Sunday (UN
employees said it was a hospital and that it was destroyed).
"Although the details are still being investigated," Ms. Clarke
said, "preliminary indications are that the weapons guidance system
malfunctioned. As we always say, we regret the loss of civilian
life we take great care in our targeting process to avoid civilian
casualties." While the Taliban claims 100 people died, Ms. Clarke
said that estimate was exaggerated. She had no U.S. estimates, however.
I might be reading
too much into the televised news conference such affairs are
seldom as smooth and logical in their flow in reality as they later
seem when their results are converted into print I sensed a certain
emerging testiness, perhaps even skepticism in some of the reporters.
Some of the questions were simply attempts to clarify the few details
apparently available. But some verged on concern that so few details
were being made available.
The paucity of details is perhaps warranted, and at least to
be expected during wartime. There are reasons, including not tipping
off the enemy, for official briefers to be sometimes vague and even
evasive. But there is the American tradition of openness to consider
not to mention the fact that Congress still has not declared
WHAT KIND OF WAR?
The current military
target seems to be the Taliban, which is as close to a nation-state
as exists in Afghanistan these days, although all concerned reassure
us that the real target is Osama bin Laden. It would be appropriate,
if the enemy is a nation-state and the US Constitution still means
anything, for Congress to declare war. But that could present conceptual
and practical problems.
As awful as the Taliban might be, it has not attacked the United
States directly or declared war on the United States, as Hitler
did in the wake of Pearl Harbor. It is accused of "harboring" Osama
bin Laden who is accused probably correctly, although the official
statements to date hardly constitute ironclad proof of being
intimately involved in masterminding the September 11 atrocities.
Evidence is emerging that the regime is quite tightly connected
to bin Laden and his terrorist enterprise, which could mean that
it is not only harboring but facilitating and perhaps even working
hand-in-glove with him.
The simple fact is, however, that the United States has unilaterally
declared the Taliban to be a hostile regime, issued a series of
demands it knew full well would not be met, and refused to negotiate
with it. It might well be that destroying the Taliban is the necessary
prelude to getting at the terrorist networks in Afghanistan. But
the formal hostilities were begun by the United States.
If harboring or
facilitating terrorists are the criteria by which the United States
will decide to go to war, however, other possible suspects exist.
Just yesterday US Attorney General John Ashcroft who really should
takes some time off to get a sense-of-humor implant said that
at least three of the September 11 hijackers were connected to a
terrorist cell operating out of Hamburg, Germany, allegedly
since 1999 at least.
"It is clear that Hamburg served as a central base of operations
for these six individuals [three dead hijackers and three current
fugitives] and their part in planning of the Sept. 11 attack," Ashcroft
said. Twelve FBI agents have been assigned to various locations
in Germany to move the ongoing investigation forward.
If the United States is to be consistent, however, when are
we to expect the announcement of bombing runs on Hamburg or at
least "pinpoint" attacks on the apartment where the terrorist cell
Of course, the German government is cooperating, probably quite
frenetically, with the US investigation, without even protesting
the presence of foreign law enforcement agents on "its" soil. Would
the US declare Germany a hostile regime subject to bombing if this
were not so, or if it deemed German cooperation insufficiently helpful
THE SAUDI CONNECTION
The question might
be a little more pertinent in connection to Saudi Arabia. The bin
Laden family itself, of course, has long claimed that it long ago
severed ties with Osama the black sheep of the family and drummed
him out of the family. Letís assume, for the sake of argument, that
that is true.
However, as Neela Bannerjee put it in the Sunday New York
Bush administration has refrained from criticizing Saudi silence
over the U.S.-led counterattacks against Osama bin Laden, nor has
it spoken out about evidence that Saudi citizens finance Osama bin
Ladenís al-Qaida network and other radical Islamic organizations."
"Moreover, although the FBI identified most of the hijackers
in the Sept. 11 attacks as Saudis, Saudi Arabia has refused to provide
passenger lists of flights to the United States, an act the Bush
administration has been unwilling to criticize."
Furthermore, the Saudi Arabia has refused to allow the US to
use bases planted there during the Gulf War, even as staging grounds
for attacks on networks in Afghanistan.
So is the Saudi regime harboring, facilitating, or aiding and
abetting terrorism? Everyone knows it is, and some Middle East authorities
even see the repressive regime as something of a font of terrorism.
The Saudi regime is repressive and hypocritical, which stirs
up fundamentalist righteous wrath. In part to compensate for this
hostility, it funds terrorist or quasi-terrorist groups. A case
can be made that ousting the Saudi regime would do a lot more toward
the ostensible goal of defusing and reducing terrorism worldwide
than ousting the pitiful Taliban regime. So when does the bombing
A MODEST PROPOSAL
The bombing wonít
begin, of course, because Saudi Arabia is one of the worldís chief
producers of oil (essential to modern Western warfare) and full
of people who are longtime associates of Texas oilmen one of
whom is US commander-in-chief. These facts need to be considered,
of course. But they make the US position notably inconsistent and
vitiate the argument that the real goal is to punish those who contribute
to or support terrorism.
I have a modest proposal, however. The United States could
issue something of an ultimatum to the Saudis: Either cooperate
fully in the ongoing investigations of terrorists and allow US bases
in Saudi Arabia to be used in the military aspects of the conflict
or weíll pull those bases right out of there.
It could well be that the Saudis who undoubtedly fear a
resurgent Saddam Hussein less than some spokespeople might claim
to do would be privately pleased with such a demand. The bases
might have some military and symbolic value to the regime, but they
are also a source of friction and resentment, and not just from
SPINNING AND COUNTERSPINNING
Pulling the US
bases, of course, would also eliminate one of Osama bin Ladenís
ostensible grievances. Thatís why it would have to be spun as a
demand from a righteously indignant and testosterone-driven United
States rather than as a concession to the evil one. Osama (or his
successors or aides if heís not around personally) would spin it
as a victory for them, of course.
But the United States would have at least a counterspin and
possibly (if its diplomats blustered credibly enough) a preemptive
spin. It might even be a prelude to taking the propaganda aspect
of the war seriously, something the United States, for all its history
of wanting to see its wars as righteous crusades, almost never does.
Thereís my modest contribution to neutralizing terrorism. Iím
sure it would be more effective than creating more Afghan rubble.
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