We are, by now, quite used to the practice of pinning our various overseas interventions with some tag line, some felicitous phrase that seems to sum up the official rationale for war. The "new war" as the networks have unimaginatively dubbed it is no exception, but I'm afraid the process seems to have hit a few bumps in the road.
Deep in the recesses of the Pentagon is some sub-department charged with coining these monikers, and, naturally, they have the aid of a specially-designed computer program: the Code Word, Nickname and Exercise Term System. "Basically what happens," according to a Pentagon source, "is that each of the commanders is given a database of words. A name is randomly selected normally a word that is pertinent to that region like desert in Desert Storm and Desert Shield. The commanders are then presented with a new database of words. They choose another word they like and pair it with the first. They are given some leeway, but they are instructed about which two letters to use first. In 1983, for instance, when the United States invaded Grenada, the Atlantic Command was asked to come up with a name whose first two letters were U and R, for complex reasons of cyber-military protocol. The result: Urgent Fury."
Who knows what mysteries of "cyber-military protocol" dictated the creation of "Operation Infinite Justice"? In any case, they had to ditch that one pretty fast because it's offensive to Muslims. According to a report in the Daily Mail, secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld was informed at a press conference that several Islamic scholars objected to the name on the grounds that "only God, or Allah, can mete out infinite justice." That our own theologians didn't catch this, or raise any objections, and left it to the ayatollahs to point out the obvious, underscores our cultural as well as military vulnerability to the terrorist threat.
Okay, so they've nixed "Operation Infinite Justice," and I guess they're up for suggestions. My first choice is "Operation Infinite Arrogance," with first runner up "Operation Infinite Hubris." On reading the following news item, however, "Operation Unlimited Chutzpah" also comes to mind. Today [September 24] we had the US State Department pulling back from yesterday's announcement that evidence of Osama bin Laden's culpability would soon be forthcoming. That information, we were told, is "classified," and disclosing it would "make the war more difficult to win." But why even bother with evidence? Surely an entity capable of dispensing "infinite justice" needn't bother with such trivial amenities. For such power is truly godlike, and God doesn't need evidence: He knows all, sees all, and His knowledge, like His sense of justice, is infinite.
After what Senator Joe Lieberman had to say on Jim Lehrer's News Hour on PBS last night [September 23], I have a fourth choice: "Operation Dump-the-Constitution." Lieberman struck an Orwellian note as he intoned:
"I do think there's a new role for the individual citizen in America though in this new era of our history. In some ways the terrorists have made every citizen a combatant, including civilians. I think now it's the opportunity and responsibility of individual citizens to act that way. When they see things that bother them, that look suspicious, to call up their local police department or the FBI or hit the Internet for the appropriate web site to convey that information and be alert and be prepared."
Oh yes, everything's "different" now: America, they tell us, will never be the same. It's a "new era," a "new war," and we'll just have to ditch such anachronistic ideas as the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. A comprehensive "anti-terrorism package" has been delivered to the Congress, and it is a ticking time-bomb designed to blow up the remnants of our old Republic. They'll be monitoring our email, our snail-mail, our web-surfing, and other extracurricular activities, all in the name of the "war effort." Anyone who opposes such measures will, of course, be singled out as a traitor, and perhaps even prosecuted. Dissenters have always been labeled "fifth columnists" in wartime America, and this war is certainly going to be no exception. Every citizen a combatant, every American a soldier and a soldier follows orders, or else….
Since Senator Lieberman is recommending that we report anything "suspicious" to the proper authorities, what about the recent spate of incidents involving Americans of Arab descent and certain airlines? When four of them tried to board a recent Northwest Airlines flight, they were told that a vote had been taken among the passengers and they would have to find other accommodations. Northwest defended its atrocious behavior on the dubious grounds that arcane FAA regulations somehow require them to eject those who, for any reason, makes other passengers "uncomfortable." In two other separate incidents, it was the pilots who refused to take off until all those damn rag-heads were out of there. And here's some news: a typically deranged American went out and shot a Sikh, whose turban had him convinced that the wearer was an Arab.
Oh, it's getting ugly. Antiwar.com recently ran a story reporting that a third of all New Yorkers believe internment camps have to be set up for Arabs and other "subversive" elements. The President, much to his credit, has made a point of condemning in advance the wave of anti-Arab hatred and violence we all knew was coming. But that has not, apparently, been enough: what the perpetrators of this hate cry out for is some real punishment, starting with a boycott of Northwest Airlines by decent people everywhere. Hit the haters where it really hurts in the pocketbook.
I note two aspects of the President's [September 20] speech that struck a rather ominous note. The first is that, in listing the ideological scourges of our times, he mentioned "fascism, Nazism and totalitarianism" but not communism. This is due to the possibility that the US can woo China into supporting our anti-terrorist campaign, at least to the extent of neutralizing a potential veto in the United Nations Security Council when the time comes for military action.
Secondly, Bush's proclamation that "from this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime" and, presumably, subject to attack. This means that virtually all the nations of the Middle East are on the list of potential targets. Echoing Lenin's famous dictum, "those who are not with us are against us," the President put these nations on notice submit or live in fear of invasion.
First on the list is Afghanistan, but Israel's amen-corner in the US is frantically trying to finger Iraq as the real power behind Osama bin Laden. (Never mind the bin Laden and his sympathizers volunteered to fight on behalf of Kuwait when Saddam tried to reclaim Iraq's "nineteenth province.")
Others take a more expansive view of the problem. The dust had not yet cleared from the battered Manhattan skyline when Bill Kristol and his "Project for a New American Century" sponsored a full-page newspaper ad in the form of a letter to the President, demanding that Bush invade not only Iraq, but also Syria and Iran if they don't comply with all our demands. The letter is signed by every neoconservative known to man. But at least they are consistent: they always opt for war, the bigger the better, a view embraced by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, who are arguing for a broad assault on the Arab world.
On the other hand, the Bush administration and its British ally are playing a very strange double game. The arrival of British foreign secretary Jack Straw in Teheran illuminated, with awful clarity, what the "allies" are up to in the Middle East. The West has been tilting toward Iran for years, with great store being put in the Iranian "moderates" led by Iranian President Khatami. The Taliban is anathema to the Iranians, whose position as the epicenter of Islamic radicalism has been challenged by the mullahs in Kabul. At this point, Iran is more than happy to let Uncle Sam take up the cause of the Northern Alliance, as Teheran has been footing the bill lo these many years and with not much to show for it.
Our new allies in the anti-Taliban "Northern Alliance" are a motley crew of ethnic separatists and Iranian-trained Shi'ite fundamentalists whose only quarrel with the Taliban is that each claims its own version of Islam is purer, fiercer than the other. The disparate elements of this alliance were in power before the Taliban seized control, and their fall can be traced to the inability to keep any kind of order. Post-Soviet Afghanistan bore a distinct resemblance to post-Communist Albania, with the country essentially descending into anarchy a condition that seems natural to the Afghanis, who have successfully resisted the rule of law, or any sort of order, for most of their turbulent history. The Taliban, at least, stopped the brigands from taking over, a respite for which ordinary Afghans were no doubt grateful, albeit temporarily. Now the US, the great champion of "democracy" and international goodness, wants to restore these same warlords to power. Could a more addled strategy, one practically designed for defeat, be imagined?
No, we aren't declaring a war on Islam, or on terrorism: we are interfering in a civil war between rival Muslim factions. The US has backed the fiercely secular Turks, who have taken up with the Israelis, but the rule of Turkey's generals is perpetually in doubt and their control of the country is tenuous. Likewise, the US is naturally intent on propping up the House of Saud in order to ensure that all those oil profits flow freely to US companies, but their rule is even more brittle. It was Bill Clinton who first struck out in a new direction, engineering a rapprochement with Iranian "moderates" and setting up an alliance with Balkan Muslims: Bush is backing their progeny in Macedonia. But an alliance with Iran the taker of American hostages, the nation identified by the State Department's "Patterns of Global Terrorism" as "the most active sponsor of terrorism in 2000," a country whose legislators openly list appropriations for the overseas "jihad" in the national budget is a different story altogether. The State Department goes on to report:
"Iran has long provided Lebanese Hezbollah and the Palestinian rejectionist groups notably Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and Ahmed Jibril's PFLP-GC with varying amounts of funding, safe haven, training, and weapons. . . . Iran also provided a lower level of support including funding, training, and logistics assistance to extremist groups in the Gulf, Africa, Turkey and Central Asia. Hezbollah has been credibly linked to the bombing of U.S. military barracks at the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia."
The Iranians have eagerly signed on to Bush's "war on terrorism," a move of such breathtaking hypocrisy that it boggles the mind. But none of this bothers the War Street Journal, which admits the above but muses vaguely that "Iran will have to decide which side it's on. At this stage in the war on terror, it can't hurt the US to give it a chance to make the right choice." I realize everybody over at the Journal is in shock right now, but clearly the horrific events of September 11 have unbalanced at least one editorialist. For all we know, Iran could be the real perpetrator and/or sponsor of the Twin Towers atrocity a possibility made more prominent by the American unwillingness to release the alleged evidence against bin Laden & Co. Oh, but war, the Journal assures us, "makes for some strange alliances." Any war against terrorism that numbers Iran among the good guys is far too strange for my taste, and, I suspect, for the average American.
Senator Lieberman was insistent that we report anything "suspicious": it is necessary, he intoned, to keep up a high level of "vigilance" against anything out of the ordinary. Well, certainly it is unusual that a so-called war on terrorism should have us working hand-in-glove with some of the principal terrorists in the world. If anything excites the suspicion of the American people, then surely it must be this sinister anomaly one that gives the lie to the assertion by our leaders that this is a war for "justice" or even for something so ordinary and human as vengeance.
When George W. Bush won the White House, narrowly averting a Democratic party coup, I warned: "Desert Storm II, here we come!" Now, I averred, was the time to really start worrying, and in retrospect the following has an eerie ring to it:
"Here, at last, is something Republicans and Democrats can agree on: the necessity of going to war for the profits of Big Oil. For President Bush, it would be a diversion away from political divisions at home that could give him much-needed legitimacy. He didn't quite win it at the polls: perhaps he can win it on the battlefield. In this way, a new precedent will be set, and the analogy with the old Roman Empire will be complete. On account of his conquests, Dubya, like Caesar, could win the crown and the accolades of the people. Few would notice what had been lost."
The complete failure of our government to protect us against terrorism is underscored by George Bush's alliance with one of the biggest terrorist centers on earth. If this is World War III, then the Anglo-American-Iranian alliance brings to mind Roosevelt's rapprochement with Soviet Russia against the Nazis a strategy that led to another fifty years of "cold" war and the death of millions. In both cases, the US built up its own enemies, creating a Frankenstein monster that could only have gotten out of control. The history of Osama bin Laden as a CIA-sponsored "freedom fighter" in Afghanistan, where he fought the Soviets, underscores how this Frankenstein Syndrome operates. We support a "lesser evil" against a purportedly greater evil, and, before you know it, two airliners packed with American citizens are being rammed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center and our whole world comes crashing down…
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