Having been pronounced dead by Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik and various assorted Western intelligence agents, diplomats, and spokespeaks, Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud convened a press conference Sunday to reveal his resurrection and promise a new campaign of mayhem.
Mehsud’s brother, Baitullah, was killed by cowardly back-shooters on August 4, blown in half by a missile directed from the United States, as he lay abed on a rooftop in Pakistan, receiving a drip infusion for a kidney ailment. Pakistani and US officials immediately, jubilantly announced that “fierce infighting” had commenced among Baitullah’s mates over who should succeed him. Hakimullah was several times declared dead in this alleged fighting.
Sunday Hakimullah appeared with his chief deputy, also several times described as dead, numerous top Taliban commanders, the head of the Taliban’s suicide-bomb cell, a prominent Taliban press agent, and an Al Qaeda figure with a $5 million US bounty on his head.
So much for “infighting.”
Hakimullah entertained reporters with a laptop presentation of an Afghan comedian’s stand-up routine on jihad. There was also a pre-attack video testimonial from a successful suicide bomber. During their seven-hour confab, Mehsud and his fellows offered the five reporters lunch, for which two goats were slaughtered.
Mehsud also mentioned that Pakistan and the West could expect soon to feel his wrath. The next day, a man walked into a UN office in Islamabad, and there detonated himself, killing five people.
The target was the UN office of the World Food Program. Azam Tariz, the Taliban press agent present with Mehsud on Sunday, announced after the blast that the program’s work was “not in the interest of Muslims,” and denounced UN workers as “infidels” and American cat’s-paws. A UN spokeswoman described the shattered offices as previously “one of the best-protected UN centers in all of Pakistan.” The bomber apparently entered garbed as a security officer.
Hakimullah Mehsud and his people are presently preparing for what the Pakistani government has announced will be “a major offensive against Al Qaeda and the Taliban in South Waziristan.”
“We are fully prepared for that operation,” Mehsud said Sunday, “and we will give full proof of those preparations once the offensive is launched.”
The government has tried three times since 2004 to drive the Taliban out of this region. Three times it has failed. It is believed that some 10,000 well-armed fighters are dug in to the mountainous terrain.
On the drive to and from the interview, the AP reporter could see fighters taking up positions at key vantage points. Residents said the militants were digging trenches along routes the army was expected to travel.
Fearing the coming offensive, civilians were fleeing the area via backroads and traveling at night because the military had already sealed most of the main routes out.
The government expects here to duplicate its “success” in the Swat Valley, where, in May, and under US pressure, the army drove the Taliban from an area the government had previously ceded to it. This “success” includes military reprisals against hundreds of civilians, who have been tortured and murdered by Pakistani troops, and in some cases dumped like cordwood in the streets.
The brothers Mehsud have previously confined their acts of war to Pakistan. Hakimullah, for instance, is credited with the June 9 bombing and storming of the Pearl Continental Hotel in Peshawar, and the March assault in Lahore on the Sri Lankan cricket team.
However, that may now be changing. Sunday Hakimullah Mehsud said there was no “difference between Taliban of Afghanistan and Pakistan.”
Hakimullah is particularly lit up by US drone attacks, which slaughter people on both sides of the border. There is some reason for this outrage. For, the successful strike on Baitullah Mahsud notwithstanding, these drones have proved more effective in transforming weddings into abattoirs, than in killing officially designated bad people.
Of the 60 cross-border predator strikes carried out by the Afghanistan-based American drones in Pakistan between January 14, 2006 and April 8, 2009, only 10 were able to hit their actual targets, killing 14 wanted al-Qaeda leaders, besides perishing 687 innocent Pakistani civilians. The success percentage of the US predator strikes thus comes to not more than six per cent.
The Pakistani government publicly protests these six-percent-effective attacks, but privately both condones and enables them.
“There is no doubt that American spy planes are being used in these attacks, but we know all the intelligence is being provided by Pakistan,” Hakimullah said. “We have taken revenge for the past attacks and we will definitely take revenge for the remaining drone attacks.”
Sunday Mehsud described his group’s relationship with Al Qaeda as one of “love and affection.” According to the oracles at AP, Osama bin Laden and other elusive Al Qaeda sorcerers are now believed to be hiding astride the Afghan/Pakistan border, “possibly in territory controlled by Hakimullah.”
However, some people who would probably know better, namely a group of US Afghanistan/Pakistan security experts, meeting in August in New York, concluded that they hadn’t the faintest clue as to the whereabouts of bin Laden and his brethren, and hadn’t for years.
“Our counterterrorist campaign focused specifically on defeating Al Qaeda (emphasising the vital necessity of capturing or killing bin Laden), is not just cold; it is in a deep freeze,” the memo said.
The US expert quoted in the memo added that “for several years, we have had literally no accurate information about the physical whereabouts of either bin Laden or Ayman al-Zawahiri.”
It added that, “We are still at a total loss to understand how Al Qaeda’s complex and remarkably secure and efficient command and communications system actually functions.”
Vice President Joe Biden, a sane person, traveled to Afghanistan in January of this year, and there encountered Chaosistan. “US policy was in disarray. When he asked why American troops were there, no two people gave him the same answer.”
Biden is now believed to be advising the president that the US should confine its “kill-and-break-things” presence in Pakistan and Afghanistan to the deployment of spies and Special Forces units, charged with first sniffing out the gone-cold trail of bin Laden and his associates, and then dispatching them.
In this view, it’s a dangerous illusion to think that America knows how to fight insurgents in the deserts and mountains of Afghanistan, and to believe that America can help build a viable Afghan state. Afghanistan is too tribal, too ancient, too recalcitrant to be shaped by foreigners; Americans, for their part, are ignorant of the complexities of foreign places and too entranced with their own ideas to understand what they’re dealing with.
Substitute “Russia” for “America,” and this is remarkably similar to the view articulated by two Russian military officers, Major General Oleg Sarin and Colonel Lev Dvoretsky, in The Afghan Syndrome, which details the Soviet defeat in Afghanistan. Sarin and Dvoretsky titled their book as they did because they believed that a Soviet failure to learn from the “the Vietnam Syndrome” helped the USSR blunder into its own Vietnam in Afghanistan. Proving Che Guevera something of a prophet after all, in his call for “one, two, many Vietnams,” the US now seems determined not to learn from the Soviet experience in Afghanistan. As the Soviets did not learn from the American experience in Vietnam. And so in Afghanistan the US shall eternally recur Vietnam.
American troops over there already see it: they call Afghanistan “Vietnam without napalm.”
And here come the generals, determined to de-activate Biden, so that they might dive into the dustbin of history as the architects of Vietnam, The Sequel. First we had General Stanley “Precious Bodily Fluids” McChrystal embarrassing himself in London, ululating that the Biden sanity was anathema, brazenly braying that he would refuse to support it. Amusingly, this man who currently presides over Chaosistan, claimed that it was Chaosistan that the Biden wisdom would create.
At first it seemed there might be some leash-yanking after this demented barking, as both Defense Secretary Robert Gates and National Security Advisor Jim Jones took to the airwaves to note that, pending any rash outbreak of Seven Days In May behavior, it is the president and other civilian leaders who direct military policy in the United States, and those serving in the armed forces are obliged to shut their yaps and support it.
But then Gates, unable to control himself, began leaking like a sieve all over Washington the news that he more or less endorses the core of the McChrystal howling—more troops, more troops—even going so far as to bash his former boss, George II, claiming that the God-besotted Bush, what with his Dad-avenging detour into Iraq, permitted evildoers to run wild all over Afghanistan:
Gates suggested the failure of the United States and its allies to put more troops into Afghanistan in earlier years, when former U.S. President George W. Bush shifted resources to invade Iraq, had given the Taliban an edge.
“Because of our inability, and the inability, frankly, of our allies, (for putting) enough troops into Afghanistan, the Taliban do have the momentum right now, it seems,” Gates said.
Reserving for himself the power of the President of the United States, Gates further stated categorically that “[w]e are not leaving Afghanistan. This discussion is about next steps forward and the president has some momentous decisions to make.”
Then, just to make sure that all of us old enough to have heard the words the first time knew we were all in for a long and bloody showing of Vietnam Redux, Gates trotted forth the hoary old Vietnam chestnut about how We Can’t Leave because it will Empower The Bad People and give them A Propaganda Victory:
[H]e said the United States could not afford to give al Qaeda and the Taliban the propaganda victory of a U.S. retreat in Afghanistan, where mujahideen forced the Soviet Union to withdraw after a decade of bloody warfare.
“That country, and particularly the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, is the modern epicenter of jihad. It is where the mujahideen defeated the other superpower,” he said.
“And their view is . . . that they now have the opportunity to defeat a second superpower, which more than anything would empower their message and the opportunity to recruit and fund raise and plan operations . . . .
“What’s more important than that in my view is the message that it sends that empowers al Qaeda,” Gates said. “The notion that they have come back from this defeat, come back from 2002, to challenge not only the United States but NATO, 42 nations, is a hugely empowering message should they be successful.”
Arthur Schopenhauer said this:
Whoever lives two or three generations, feels like the spectator who, during the fair, sees the performances of all kinds of jugglers and, if he remains seated in the booth, sees them repeated two or three times. As the tricks were meant only for one performance, they no longer make any impression after the illusion and novelty have vanished.
Yeah, I saw this show. It’s long and bloody and stupid, and it ends in failure. Trust me: it’s a bad movie. It features a Democratic president, a civil-rights champion, who wants to use the federal government to help people. But instead he disappears up his own bunghole, because he doesn’t want to “lose” a war his country has no chance of winning. All his many hopeful helpful domestic programs are stunted and thwarted and diminished and derailed as Republicans trash the White House—and the country— for 20 of the next 24 years. In the course of his foreign misadventure a lot of people die, his former supporters start calling him names, and eventually they come by his house to screech through bullhorns and dump garbage cans full of live rats on his lawn.
Tim O’Brien, meanwhile, describes what it’s like for those assigned the front-line roles:
Not knowing the language, they did not know the people. They did not know what the people loved or respected or feared or hated. They did not recognize hostility unless it was patent, unless it came in a form other than language; the complexities of tone and language were beyond them. Not knowing the language, the men did not know whom to trust. Trust was lethal. They did not know false smiles from true smiles, or if a smile here had the same meaning it had in the States. Not knowing the people, they did not know friends from enemies. They did not know if it was a popular war, or, if popular, in what sense. They did not know if the people viewed the war stoically, as it sometimes seemed, or with grief, as it seemed other times, or with bewilderment or greed or partisan fury. It was impossible to know.
They did not know even the simple things: a sense of victory, or satisfaction, or necessary sacrifice. They did not know the feeling of taking a place and keeping it, securing a village and then raising the flag and calling it a victory. No sense of order or momentum. No front, no rear, no trenches laid out in neat parallels. No Patton rushing for the Rhine, no beachheads to storm and win and hold for the duration. They did not have targets. They did not have a cause. They did not know if it was a war of ideology or economics or hegemony or spite. On a given day, they did not know where they were, or how being there might influence larger outcomes. They did not know the names of most villages. They did not know which villages were critical. They did not know strategies. They did not know the terms of the war, its architecture, the rules of fair play. When they took prisoners, which was rare, they did not know the questions to ask, whether to release a suspect or beat on him. They did not know how to feel. Whether, when seeing the dead, to be happy or sad or relieved; whether, in times of quiet, to be apprehensive or content; whether to engage the enemy or elude him. They did not know how to feel when they saw villages burning. Revenge? Loss? Peace of mind or anguish? They did not know. They knew the myths about the place—tales passed down from old-timer to newcomer—but they did not know which stories to believe. Magic, mystery, ghosts and incense, whispers in the dark, strange tongues and strange smells, uncertainties never articulated in war stories, emotion squandered on ignorance. They did not know good from evil.
In Washington is a wall where 58,195 men and women live who didn’t make it out of that movie. They can tell you how it ends, though. Go ask them.
President Obama certainly should.
We Democrats got ourselves into this mess when, not wanting to appear “soft” on terror, we allowed our office-seekers to rattle their sabers over Afghanistan, even as they opposed the occupation of Iraq. John Kerry in 2004 was just as bellicose on Afghanistan and bin Laden and the Taliban and Al Qaeda as was Barack Obama in 2008. Thanks to Miss Ohio, Kerry was not forced to act. Obama now is.
America too once wanted this war. I remember David Letterman—derided among the wingers, amid the current uproar over his Clenis, as a “typical liberal”—sitting up there with his little flag pin, a week or so after 9/11, demanding to know from Dan Rather why the US hadn’t yet “done something” about Afghanistan. 9/11 triggered the national lizard brain—fight or flight—and there was probably no hope that any president would have behaved in a more evolved manner.
Yet the US was presented with a real and unique opportunity when the Taliban government of Afghanistan offered to try bin Laden, under sharia law, if the US provided evidence that bin Laden was indeed responsible for 9/11. If the US had said yes, the whole world would have changed. But it said no. And so all went on as before.
The last real chance for any quick and final conclusion to the Afghan/Pakistan clusterflub evaporated when BushCo stupidly elected to rely on the good ol’ American fallback—money—electing to bribe men, who regarded such bribes with contempt and scorn, to take bin Laden in the caves of Tora Bora. As was to be expected, they let him slip away. And here we are.
Hakimullah Mehsud, lounging at his ease on his blue blanket, jawing for seven hours with reporters in the mountains of Pakistan, untroubled by all the predator drones, infrared goggles, spy satellites, FISA intercepts, armored vehicles, cruise missiles, and helicopter fleets at our command, his continued corporeal existence, until that moment, not even known to all the president’s wo/men, he doesn’t care what we do. He’s already won. So has bin Laden. And all his merry men.