BIN LADEN MYTHOS
bin Laden may become, among many Muslim militants, a modern-day
version of a vanished
imam," avers Gerecht, "a lost spiritual guide
whose hoped-for return will empower the oppressed and vanquish
the strong." If Bin Laden escapes, one of the ironic
unintended consequences of US intervention in Afghanistan
may be to valorize a moral monster, to empower the terrorist
leader and his followers rather than neutralize them.
BIOLOGY OF TERROR
analogy with another plague, AIDS, is chilling: the development
of a drug "cocktail" to prevent the onset of the
disease in infected patients has, paradoxically, led to the
evolution of a
drug-resistant strain, and the AIDS virus has not only
survived but been strengthened. In our efforts to stop the
spread of the terrorist disease, and target its source, the
US may have only succeeded in creating a bomb-resistant strain
of the Bin Ladenite virus: "If we hunt for him and bomb
his sanctuaries but don't find and kill him," Gerecht
points out, "we will only add to his appeal and set him
up for the next spectacular act of terrorism."
IS OSAMA AND WHO CARES?
the US appears to have given up the essential task of finding
out whether the Invisible Imam is alive and well and living
in a cave somewhere, and blithely moved on to other targets.
After a flurry of reports that Bin Laden had fled to Pakistan,
and stories about how the honeycomb of caves abandoned by
fleeing Al Qaeda and Taliban forces was being systematically
searched for evidence of the Muslim Pimpernel, suddenly all
urgency seems to have gone out of this supposedly massive
manhunt. What's up with that?
ETERNAL BIN LADEN
it be that it is much more convenient to have Bin Laden around?
Even if he is dead, wouldn't the announcement of this fact
give the American people a "premature" sense of
closure? Surely a dangerous sentiment to an administration
which envisions a protracted conflict extending into the indefinite
any rate, the search for Bin Laden, we are told, is
being downplayed in favor of the hunt for Abu Zubeida,
described as Al Qaeda's chief of operations. US policy planners
and their pet pundits, already bored with Afghanistan, are
turning their sights on new targets: Somalia, the Philippines,
Yemen, Iraq, and even Iran. Forget Osama, seems to be the
not-so-subliminal message here, and let's get on with the
"real" business of going after these other
guys. Can the flightiness of our national policymakers and
their amen corner in the media really be this severe?
Donald Rumsfeld Fan Club formerly known as the American
media is so busy celebrating the "victory"
of the Imperial forces over a rabble of backwoods savages
that they seem to have forgotten all about the one war aim
that has the virtually unanimous support of the American people:
getting Bin Laden.
IT TO THE BRITS
seem to have remembered it in Britain, however: the [Monday,
Jan. 14] Times noted that "the quest for the al-Qaeda
leader has been carefully downgraded in the past ten days"
in favor of vaguer war aims. In a
report that could not have appeared in any American newspaper,
the Times informs us that "American military chiefs
have made a subtle change in Washington's war aims to help
to mask their continued failure to capture Osama bin Laden
and his most senior lieutenants." Instead of killing
or capturing the top Al Qaeda leadership, including Bin Laden,
now the goal is to "disrupt" the terrorist network
in a more general sense. Notice the change in rhetoric: we
have gone from "uprooting"
Al Qaeda to merely "disrupting" its operations.
The longer one gazes at this great "victory" of
ours, the more it looks like a defeat.
Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke keeps insisting that
"this war is not just about Osama bin Laden and [Mullah]
Omar," the American people have a somewhat less nuanced
to a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, 55 percent say
that the war will not be a success until and unless Bin Laden
is captured or killed.
the newly-installed "provisional" President is hailed
as Afghanistan's George Washington, and news reports of massive
aid to Afghanistan and the "liberation" of its women
fill the airwaves and dominate the headlines, ordinary Americans
are bound to scratch their heads and think, if only to themselves:
"But what does any of this have to do with avenging the
horror of 9/11 or averting the next one?" As time wears
on, and the search for Bin Laden turns up nothing, our alleged
military triumph will be seen for what it really is: a political
defeat, and a Pyrrhic
Hitchens brays triumphantly that the "left" was
wrong about the war, and laughingly
exults that we have "bombed a country out of the
Stone Age" even
as the dreaded burqa returns. American social
conservatives such as William Kristol hail the "liberation"
of Afghanistan by US military action even as some major
aspects of that "liberation" turn out in
ways that may be surprising. The death
of irony has been widely reported, yet it seems to be
alive and kicking, tweaking the noses of the pompous and mocking
the pretensions of the powerful. The paradoxical consequence
of this war as described by Gerecht is an extra large dose
of the bitterest irony:
Middle East is a brutal land of paradoxes. Though we should
all hope that Osama bin Laden and his followers have already
received their punishment from the United States Air Force,
it is entirely possible that the war in Afghanistan will make
Al Qaeda a more focused, careful, and lethal organization.
Time will tell. In the meantime, American Marines ought to
be all over Tora Bora and northern Pakistan."
THAT MAN A HARLEQUIN!
great paradox of our Afghan "victory" is that it
has all the earmarks of a disastrous defeat. If, as seems
likely, our deadly enemy has gotten away, then his stock in
the Muslim world as the Vanished Imam goes way up. And we
have vastly contributed to constructing the Bin Laden mythos
by dropping a
ridiculous leaflet showing a crudely retouched image of
Osama shaved and in a rather tacky business suit
claiming "your leader has deserted you." To the
genius in the government's employ who thought that one up
goes a special award, the Harlequin,
given to those whose actions make a mockery of the claim that
this war is an exercise in the noblest idealism.
exactly, does our great "victory" consist of? Our
original war aim the elimination of Al Qaeda as a viable
force has not been accomplished. Most of Al Qaeda's
core cadres have melted into the wilds of Central Asia, fleeing
to Pakistan and Iran, and fanning out all over the region.
Furthermore, our clumsy and heavy-handed intervention, our
focusing on unseating the Taliban and installing the Northern
Alliance in power, has destabilized the entire region
and brought Pakistan and India to the brink of all-out war.
boy wonder Andrew
Sullivan seems to have gotten around strictures against
uncloseted gays in the military by appointing himself commander
in chief of the laptop bombardiers. Aside from proffering
his strategic advice to the Pentagon suggesting, at one
point, that we use nuclear weapons Field Marshall Sullivan
clearly sees his job as hectoring his fellow journalists when
they show insufficient zeal for the war effort. Around mid-November,
Sullivan was crowing
anyone have guessed that the Taliban would have essentially
abandoned Kabul by now? Or that Washington would be trying
to rein in military success? So much for the New York
Times' prediction of 'quagmire.' (I notice that the Times
today cannot bring itself to celebrate this success. Why not?
What's their problem?) What we are dealing with now is the
first class conundrum of sweeping success."
MATTER OF TIME
so fast. Here it is mid-January and we can't be so sure that
the Afghan quagmire has been avoided. After all, a quagmire
isn't really a quagmire until more than a few months have
passed. Yet already we are hearing at least two cheers for
from what passes for the Right, and this [Sunday] morning
we have the considered opinion of at
least one powerful Democratic Senator that US troops must
be part of an occupying force of "peacekeepers."
The US has already been dragged into the role of mediating
age-old Afghan vendettas, and propping up an inherently unstable
regime, but even that quagmire may not be the deepest.
US military is projecting a
six-year war, with targets extending from Baghdad to Bali
and an expenditure of resources that will rival and perhaps
surpass our cold war military buildup. Like all government
program and activities, war is prone to "mission creep":
so many careers, incomes, and profit margins are tied up in
its continuation that it is rendered practically immortal.
From getting Bin Laden to toppling the Taliban to restoring
"order" to a country that has always been mired
in chaos, the mission gets bigger, broader, and more grandiose
as time goes by, until, in the end, it amounts to what?
A quest for world hegemony? And that will be the biggest and
most dangerous quagmire of all.
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