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,
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
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
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.
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
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
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
feel good about America? They'll take our money and hate us anyway, and everybody
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,
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.