The Foreign Policy of Mass Society. Part I
The “war on terror” is a failure. From the events of 9-11 to Obama's pull out of Afghanistan, successes have been rare. The reasons for this failure as so deep-seated and complex that any essay, never mind one as brief as this, can do it justice. The literature on Afghanistan from the beginning of the Soviet war in 1978-1979 to the start of American intervention in the Fall of 2001 is immense and growing daily. As of the Spring of 2015, the reports coming out of the country are uniformly negative. Words like “failure” and “farce” are coming out of even the mainstream press.
The thesis of this present paper is that not only is the war a failure (which in 2012 is not controversial), but that the group of variables that led to the defeat of “coalition” forces are of immense complexity. The simple argument is this – peace is not coming to Afghanistan because of its strategic location. She is a major pipeline source for oil going to the East, to China, and to the West and North. It is now uncontroversial that these motives are dominant and possible critical to the future of the indebted and weak US economy.
This essay will argue that American failure in the Middle East comes from several areas. In terms of public ideology, there is no evidence that the Taliban were part of the “al-Qaeda network,” nor is there any proof that Saddam Hussein was anything but an enemy of Osama or any fundamentalist leader in the world. The existence of such a network itself is a problem. If anything, there is no good reason to hold that the Taliban were interested in nothing else than consolidating power in Kabul. Using this group as a foil to justify intervention is an odd choice, but might have been chosen due to its obscurity.
There was no final goal other than guarding the pipelines, which means keeping the Russians away from them. Success could be defined in any way the administration wanted. These more “ideological” reasons are important because they have everything to do with the political will of the Americans. Once the media-charged anger faded after 9-11, the war had ground down to a standstill between green American soldiers and a seasoned Afghan resistance. There was no will and no money: this phrase will come up repeatedly throughout this paper.
The war itself was over too broad an area as American troops, mercenaries and CIA operatives were spread all over Central Asia. There was no overarching military strategy or even a goal. Modern armies from the advanced nations are not used to guerrilla tactics. Enemies not wearing uniforms and not being constrained by the traditional rules of war are enemies that cannot be defeated. Many guerrillas of the Afghan resistance are combat trained, with some receiving both their training and equipment from the CIA.
The overall argument here is that the purely economic considerations rule, as they must in liberal democracies (using the western sense of the term). Capital takes the guise of the “public good” when it becomes the “state” but hides behind corporate law when the costs need to be paid. Apart from the occasional reference to gas prices or the official “opposition” condemning a “war for oil,” the media images are meant to create a debate existing only in that virtual realm. The powers making decisions have no relation to this media charade. More specifically, they are to place a political cast upon the purely economic motives of the energy firms. The US government is not independent and not separate from capital. It exists to do their bidding.
Human Rights and US Interventions
The literature on U.S. intervention, whether in the Middle East or elsewhere, is huge and growing. In many ways, the literature is hostile to the nature of intervention in general, arguing, as does Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and George Downs, that intervention in a stressful national or regional situation increases the chances that the system will not develop democratically. In other words, their research on several regions where the US has intervened militarily has served mostly to bring the best organized, rather than the most legitimate, faction to power.
In fact, one reason why military forces have taken over is because they are often the only real organization that is capable of exerting legitimate power. In both Syria and Iraq, the best organized force has been the army, and has sought to create a domestic life where all social and religious groups can live in peace. That the Ba'athist states largely succeeded in this should not be ignored. American intervention in Iraq or Libya has shown that the organized, well funded and violent Islamic movements have benefited the most. Secular military governments have often relied on their Christian minorities for trade, banking and access to the western world. As of 2012, this minority is fleeing the relevant countries—Syria, Libya, Egypt and Iraq—for western shores.
Intervention in these states has removed powerful secular coalitions from power and, since “democracy” has been the official justification, ensured that Islamic movements can take advantage of the new “representative” system. Since these are the best organized movements (as the army is purged and rendered toothless), they are doing well in the newly minted democratic systems in these nations (Mesquita and Downs, 2006).
A huge element in Mesquita's thinking is that intervention in the Islamic world or elsewhere, if it is to happen at all, must occur in those areas where “democratic” systems are most likely to develop. As of 2015, American policy seems to be devoted to a) supporting Israel at all costs, and b) trying to destroy powers that have the greatest chance of mounting a credible military threat to Israel, which were Syria and Iraq. Since this is the main rationale for intervention, the development of democratic institutions is far from a fait accompli, and in fact, might bring the most Islamic and “reactionary” parties to power.
Writers like Dona Stewart have stressed the Republicans' concern with the imperial control over internal politics as both a matter of culture and economics. The Republican foreign policy establishment under George Bush the First stressed, as a matter of course, the internal reform of the Arab states. In this article, Stewart shows how cultural concerns are not only of immense importance to foreign policy, but they are also economic. A “democratic society” in Syria, for example, according to Bush's basic approach, is also a society that is pliant enough for capitalism, foreign investment and the integration into the globalized market for credit, capital and specialization. In other words, it is ready to become a minor pawn in the New World Order.
One of the questions has been the endless attempt to link both the Taliban Muslims in Afghanistan and Ba'ath movement in Iraq to the Twin Tower bombings. More than anything, it was assumed that these two political movements were “behind” the bombing, even though they are enemies with agendas almost always at odds. Public and elite ignorance here permits such basic errors to go uncorrected or unnoticed for years.
Economically speaking, Dan Wood writes in the American Journal of Political Science (2009) that there is a negative relation between an aggressive foreign policy and domestic investor confidence. This is an important paper because it does damage to the claim that these adventures exist to help distract attention from a poor economy. The point is that saber-rattling (let alone open warfare) actually harms the local economy through the sending of negative and risky signals to the investment elite. Threats of war often hurt the economies of both aggressor and victim, not help them.
Jonathan Renshon in 2008 is concerned with Bush Jr and his basic ideological position throughout the early periods of the war in Afghanistan. He reports that Bush did maintain a coherent system of public utterance, but this is only using offical pronouncements that deal with basic issues. There is a basic ideological consistency in the Bush Doctrine that holds that “rogue” states must be “rogue” from something. Rogue from what? The only rational answer is either a) that they are not democratic, or at least not liberally democratic, or b) that all states sponsoring terrorism against Americans are “rogue” from some broader liberal or democratic (elite) consensus. The problem with this article is that, since no one takes presidential press releases seriously, this ideological commitment has no bearing on policy. To believe that the public presentation of major foreign policy measures is even remotely connected to the truth is to exclude oneself from the world of scholarship.
Waleed Hazbun writes in 2008 that the US model of fighting in Afghanistan and the Middle East is flawed. He argues that popularity is more significant than actual military strategy. Hazbun stresses the building of alliances with states like Pakistan and China, rather than using military force to solve problems, is the key to victory. He admits that the US is unpopular in the region, and, even more, that locals do not see the “Taliban” as a terrorist group.
Nasreen Ghufran, writing in 2008, stresses a similar argument in describing the complete failure of the US-sponsored political system in Afghanistan. First, that there is no local support for the US in the region (which even amateurs can see as uncontroversial). Second, that the “democratic” constitution of the new Afghan state is not legitimate, at least in that it was imposed by force (which seems strangely paradoxical). Finally, that the violence, even in the city of Kabul itself, has not abated and has increased since the US presence there became permanent. This was written before the Obama pullout, of course, but describes a world that might well be the main cause for the retreat.
Olivier Roy in 1996 writes on the Taliban phenomenon long before the events of 9-11. He takes a hostile view of the Taliban, but does admit that they have the best chance of creating stability in the country. This paper is important because the Clinton administration took the same view and assisted that movement in a limited and quiet way.
Ali A. Jalali in 2003 takes a more practical approach to American failures in the region. He says that, from a military point of view, the American adventure has been successful. He defines “success” as the forcible removal of any anti-American force from Kabul. This is a manipulative definition of “success” but he still admits that the peace that allegedly ensued is lost. This means that the amount of money needed to rebuild the country is so massive (with the population being so poor) that there is no global political will to finance reconstruction. The question as to the ethics of extracting more billions from the middle classes in the west for this goal is not mentioned.
The Bush Doctrine and Distorted Perceptions
Nick Cullather's 2002 paper deals with modernization in the Islamic world: a stated goal of the American intervention. The question could only be asked concerning the American empire: Do the Afghans seek to adopt American values? They do not. “American,” in the way it is used in this paper and in the country itself, is really about the importation of feminism, capitalism, centralized governments and secular politics. The facts that have yet to dawn on the benighted republicans are that the US intervention is to spread liberalism. It is a revolutionary regime spreading a revolutionary ideology. This ideology is not popular in most of the world, and hence, the US should avoid pressing them. The fact is that this war is a “liberal” war in that it seeks to impose a liberal regime on the region so as to protect its financial interests. “Liberal,” especially when it modifies “democratic” is seen as a weak state easily manipulated by outside capital.
The concept of “democracy” an an ideological cover is very important. The term is not defined in most of these papers, but assumed. Even in essays dealing with the ideological nature of this crusade, there is no functional definition of “democratic” other than “pro-American.” In other words, if the Taliban were elected in a landslide in a free and fair election, the result would not be “democratic” in this sense. As it happens, the Taliban are banned from taking part in electoral politics under US control as are the Ba'ath party in Iraq.
The Bush administration made no secret about how it will use military force. There is also no secret, as of 2015, that the Iraq war ended in failure. Foreseeing this, in the influential mouthpiece of the elite, the journal Foreign Policy, Strauss (2002) argues that any hasty move from Afghanistan into Iraq will lead to disaster. The main argument of the time, according to Strauss, was that Saddam's arsenal of “weapons of mass destruction” will soon be used on the west if the US appears to be pulling out of the Middle East. He argues further that the dumbing down of the “debate” ensures irrational policies benefiting a tiny group only. Violence is a tool to be used rather than something to be avoided. Saddam's Iraq was the one thing keeping so many of the Shi'ite groups on a tight leash, since his centralized authority and secular outlook ensures his stability. Finally, he argues that the coalition against terror, which at the time included Russia, will come apart as soon as this war reaches its inevitable anti-climax in a quagmire. Writing in 2001 and publishing in 2002, he was proven correct.
The National Security Strategy (or the Bush Doctrine) of that era claims the right to take any military action deemed appropriate against “rogue” states and any terror cells attached to them. This action is also unilateral, and hence does not require the sanction of any international body. Given that, the errors of the Bush administration in going to war can, in part, be traced to this doctrine. It gives the president immense power and a quick decision window to use military force that does not leave time for reasoned debate and the proper use of intelligence.
The Bush Doctrine, as this view has been called, leads to negative consequences. Robert Jarvis writes:
The beliefs of Bush and his colleagues that Saddam's regime would have been an unacceptable menace to American interests if it had been allowed to obtain nuclear weapons not only tell us about their fears for the limits of United States influence that might have been imposed, but also speak volumes about the expansive definition of United States interests that they hold (Jarvis, 2003: 386).
The problem here, of course, is that reasoned debate, rather than a rush to war made possibly by 9-11, would have raised the issue of what “interests” specifically are being menaced. It seems fantastic for a nuclear armed Saddam to attack the US, whose retaliation would be immense. That the communist Chinese have had the bomb since 1964 with a far more atrocious human rights record than Hussein should have dampened the utility of this argument. It did not.
One of the consequences has been that the Republicans, due to Bush's Iraq debacle, have lost their traditional hold of foreign policy. The population used to trust the Republicans more on these issues, but that too is gone. There is no question, according to Goble (2009) that the Iraq disaster has everything to do with this continual fall in credibility. It is also one of the main reasons for the victory of Democrats after his second term.
Part of the widespread initial support for this Iraq gambit came from a mass propaganda effort that essentially succeeded, at least at first. In the work of Altheide (2005), the Project for a New American Century (PNAC) is largely responsible for creating the argument that led to war, and that it also justified it afterwards. “War Programming” is that dubious discipline that provides both the affective and intellectual mechanism needed to convince the taxpayer that the war – Iraq in this case – was inevitable (if not just). Since Iraq was the most severe threat to Israel, the PNAC crafted a campaign of vilification of Saddam Hussein such that war fever was out of control by 9-11. Iraq had been a target of PNAC and Israel for decades. 9-11 was seized upon as a pretext, since the claim that “al-Qaeda” was somehow favored by the secular and social-nationalist Iraq required a tremendous shock in order to be believed. 9/11 was that shock that removed logic from its already precarious hold over the issue.
Speaking from a British point of view, Bluth (2004) says that the claim of Iraqi WMDs and the British preoccupation with the “oppression of the Kurds” in the north of the country tipped the scales in favor of following Bush into war. The real problem for him is that the creation of a no-fly zone near the Turkish border almost guaranteed war. Hussein could not exercise sovereignty in that part of Iraq when an imminent threat of NATO strikes on his infrastructure hung over his head. This was almost a provocation too great to be ignored. This maintained a permanent state of war with Iraq in such a way that only a single incident was needed to move forward with an invasion.
The same argument is made by Dunne (2004), where Bush's total rejection of multilateralism was one of his great errors. Not having the open support and commitments of many allies made it easy for this “coalition” to break apart with its inevitable failure. The speed upon which the decision was made and the clear and cynical utilization of 9-11 brought the EU on board, only to defect in substantial numbers as the war dragged on.
The research of Nyhan (2004) is an in-depth analysis about Bush's tainted perception up to the Iraq invasion. The point here is that over time, a certain lens filtered all information about Hussein and Iraqi politics such that war was nearly inevitable. Nothing positive or good ever seemed to penetrate the Republican establishment about Hussein's policy. Thus, all perceptions of Iraqi life were based around the stereotype “dictator” sort of oppression. Further, that this was a threat to the US and Britain was also a part of this.
Nyhan attempts several simple experiments about human perceptions of misleading news. As with so many other attempts like these, the results were all the same: facts do not matter. These experiments showed one disconcerting idea: even when the misinformation about a political or historical idea was corrected, the initial response of the person did not. In the Iraqi case, that Saddam was “responsible for 9-11” was asserted by the Republicans from the start. Once it became clear that Hussein had no part with al-Qaeda and that they were opponents, even this widespread correction did not penetrate that stereotype. It gets worse as Nyhan shows how the very existence of a corrective can increase, rather than decrease, the caricature the first misleading impression created. This mocks the very root of liberal democracy and parliamentarism in the most significant way. People are indeed irrational after all.
This misperception idea is preceded in time by a similar article by Dunn (2003). His argument is that Bush sought to re-impose the Reagan foreign policy idea of regular intervention to protect American “values.” Realizing that high risk brings high rewards, his decision to invade Iraq had as much to do with domestic images than foreign priorities. As always, the shock of 9/11 was indispensable.
One of the concepts employed by Dunn is “Threat Inflation.” This is the idea that any potential enemy is to be depicted as being very powerful, but not too powerful to make war seem impossible (Dunn, 2003: 294-295). A “Threat Conflation” is important in this approach because it takes one threat and makes it so broad as to apply to numerous targets. In Iraq, the Administration and media saw all “terrorists” as alike. It mattered not that al-Qaeda was an opponent of Iraq, nor that destabilizing Hussein's nationalist government would unleash terror groups suppressed by Baghdad. Therefore, the error committed by Bush in invading Iraq comes partly from “Threat Conflation.” Iraq had nothing to do with 9-11 and could not benefit from it (as no one in the region could). Yet, attacking it in the name of 9-11 still works when conflated since Iraq, Islam, anti-Americanism and all the rest are thrown into one cognitive pot and mixed into a vague stew easily manipulated by the Regime. The significance of public ignorance, the ease of their manipulation and the total mockery of “democracy” can not be made clearer.
Fisher's (2003) work deals with the institutional failures concerning the decision to invade Iraq. Congress authorized war against Iraq for political reasons, and the Democrats did not want to be seen as “soft on terror.” The shock of 9-11 made war seem perfectly justified to even die-hard liberals. The real problem was the failure to deal with the doctored intelligence reports and the constant caricaturing of Iraq and Saddam in general. Failing to establish a connection between Baghdad and al-Qaeda, the administration switched to the WMD issue. Congress refused to do its job in overseeing these major White House decisions. They feared a public backlash and ended up taking Bush's word for it against their better judgment.
Fisher writes: “Rather than proceed with deliberation and care, the two branches rushed to war on a claim of imminent threat that lacked credibility. The Bush administration never made a convincing case why the delay of a few months would injure or jeopardize national security” (Fisher, 2003: 410). Even when UN inspections revealed no such weapons, Bush then condemned the report (and that of others) and warned of the dire threat of a nuclear Iraq. Democrats should have forced the president to logically make a case that did not depend on emotion and poorly digested intelligence. The war was unnecessary and destructive to the US and most of all, to Bush himself.
In Naim's (2004) essay in the elite Foreign Policy journal, he argues that Bush was “enabled” by many institutions to make his rapid and ill-advised attack on Iraq. The real enabler, that which permitted all others to come together, was 9-11. The disorientation that the attack that day caused made it possible to easily justify the use of violent force. He writes, “In the United States, the attacks fed the widespread notion that 'business as usual' in U.S. foreign policy was no longer an option” (Naim, 2004: 95). Like Fisher above, Bush's enablers include especially the House and Senate Democrats who refused to criticize Bush's intelligence so as to appear tough on this war. They paid for it, but not as much as the Republicans did. The argument, especially for this paper, is that reckless foreign policy is abetted by shocks that force quick action. This disorientation produces suggestibility such that ill-advised actions can occur without criticism.
The powerful argument of Polsky (2010) is not unlike the Nyhan above. In this case, however, the issue is not so much the decision to engage in warfare, but the decision to maintain it even after it has failed. Because of the Bush Administration's inflated rhetoric over the issue, withdrawal was impossible. An increase of forces and general mobilization were likewise out of the question, since neither the public support nor the resources were available. Thus, the war just dragged on out of inertia, becoming a war of attrition that Bush could not escape. Support waned, resources became scarcer and costs soared because escape and escalation were already ruled out.
In a similar argument, Mintz (1993) is dealing with the first invasion of Iraq under George Bush Sr. Critical thought is deliberately blocked through a “cognitive shortcut” to circumvent the complexity of international politics (Mintz, 1993: 598). A President might “restructure” the definitions of policy options to avoid the appearance (or even the idea) of a compromise (Mintz, 1993: 606). Even in elite circles, ignorance and intellectual laziness is the norm. Profits and power are all the matter, facts are problematic and can be used selectively. Withdrawal was clearly eliminated while a war of attrition was only a second best option in that it might work militarily but become a domestic liability. A quick strike was the best option because it would minimize casualties, send a message to “the world” and avoid the mess of attrition. In short, it was a cheap option that ultimately meant nothing.
The very evocative article by Boettcher and Cobb (2009) uses the idea of “investment frames” to deal with both decisions and justifications of warfare. An “investment frame” is the idea that certain costs, especially sunken costs, that have already been made, justify a bit more sacrifice to compensate for the earlier loses and costs. In other words, since the US has already sacrificed so much, to stop now would be irrational. In the presidential rhetoric dealing with the second Iraq war of George Bush Jr., he argued that the sacrifices the US has made since his father's war justifies further sacrifices. It is because casualties were higher than expected that the war cannot end. If withdrawal was the option now, it would mean that a) defeat has been admitted, and b) those killed or maimed died for nothing.
While their results are not surprising, the use of “frames” increases the popularity for the war among hawks that are becoming disillusioned. It means even less support for the war from the earlier skeptics who were opposed it from the beginning. So hawks, whose support might be fading as the war drags on, will be buoyed by the “frame” of earlier sacrifice. Those who are opposed to the war from day one find the war even more repugnant when the “frame” method is used.
These articles and arguments have much in common. Knowledge is in short supply and can become a liability. Sloganeering and images are the preferred means of making decisions, even at elite levels. The economic goals of the Regime are constantly invested with a faux-moral or political content that is of no interest to decision makers. It comes down to the use of shocks like 9-11, tainted perceptions and a simplistic model of international politics. In other words, ignorance is far more useful then knowledge. 9-11 was critical in that it permitted this “short cut” to function as “intellectual debate.” Regardless of the interests of international capital in this war, the political problem is the fact that mindlessness seems to be a necessity in foreign policy. Public ignorance and mass-society are the norm in both elite and popular outlets as knowledge is just now synonymous with “trouble making.”
The Mass Mentality of Imperialism: Regime Change, 9-11 and the “Human Rights” Industry
How was it that US intelligence did not predict 9-11? This question remains highly controversial. The “standard” answer is in the structure of the intelligence community prior to the rearrangement of their administration in 2004 was irrational and too fragmented. Prior to that, the CIA was an independent head of all intelligence gathering. This was a problem, since each branch of the service, the departments of State, Justice and Energy, as well as police bureaucracies such as the DEA or Customs, all had their own intelligence services. This does not include state police intelligence and the intelligence units of the major cities. Each element in intelligence world fought a multi-layered war with the others for budget money, recognition and credit, so these agencies worked against each other.
Now, Richard Clarke, head of the NSA's intelligence unit, accused the CIA of deliberately withholding intelligence concerning the possibility of a terrorist hit on the US as early as July of 2001. Whether or not this concerned “al Qaeda” is another matter, since this organization, to the extent it exists at all, is a Cold War creation of US intelligence. John Ashcroft was warned a month before 9-11 to avoid all commercial aircraft transportation, but that was never made public. While familiar territory in 2015, the early work of French journalist Thierry Meyssan has not been surpassed. He put forward the following arguments to the Arab League in the Spring of 2002, showing the intelligence confusion just prior to and just after the attacks.
First, he argued that a Boeing 747 could not merely invade US airspace over the Pentagon and white house without triggering numerous missile batteries that would have taken it out quickly. No one is entirely certain how these automated systems could have failed, all at the same time and on the same day.
Second, that there was no trace of the jet left that hit the Pentagon, and yet, the bodies left behind were not burnt beyond recognition. Some were identified by fingerprints. The air traffic controller who first saw the “jet” heading to the pentagon said it was traveling at “800 miles per hour” and was not a jet of any kind.
Third, that Secret Service testimony claimed that the “terrorists” used highly classified intelligence code words in their communications with the White House the morning of the attacks. These very exclusive codes are meant to give the president secure communication lines to various intelligence agencies. It was shocking that these people, whoever they were, had access to such codes.
Finally, Osama bin Laden denied involvement in the attacks. This is quite unlike any terrorist cell, dozens of whom claimed responsibility as soon as the explosions occurred. Osama was undergoing dialysis in a Pakistani hospital the morning of the attacks. Yet, within 10-15 minutes after the first plane hit the towers, bin Laden was blamed for the attacks (Meyssan, 2002).
This claim, well known to all who followed the news on September 11, made little sense for several reasons. First, since the claim that it was “Osama's al-Qaqda” seemed awfully early to be true. At best, it was speculation that this organization, considered terrorist, put together this very complex terror operation in America. Second, that bin Laden had any substantial contacts in Afghanistan, let along with the Taliban, representing only one faction of the country's Muslims, was another speculative truth widely reported in the western press. Even if all of that was true, the media and US policymakers failed to link the attacks to al-Qaeda, Afghanistan or Iraq.
The assumptions were just too great. All of these attacks needed then to be connected to Saddam Hussein in Iraq, though his secular stance and distrust towards Islamic movements seemed to place him outside of the inner circle that may have planned the attacks. But whatever the motivation or whoever the culprits, the US war both Afghanistan and Iraq was dubbed “the war on terror.” After a time, the actual blame for the attacks was not significant, and the general blanket “Middle Eastern terrorist” label was used in the casting of this great net. At least in the major press, there was no attempt to be precise as to who a) had an interest in the bombings, b) who had the resources to plan these with such prevision or c) how secular nationalists and extreme Islamists would be working together on a project that, at best, would give the west the pretext it needed to invade the region.
It is not outrageous to make the claim that 9-11 was not all that significant to the decision to attack the region (again). It only provided a great degree of rhetorical and emotional cover for the imperial gambit. Initially, Osama bin laden denied any involvement in the 9-11 attacks, and his organization seemed too weak to create such an immensely complex set of attacks all at the same time. The previous attack by bin Laden had been a raft-borne bomb sent out to explode near the USS Cole (PBN, 2001). The difference between these two attacks is immense, suggesting that 9-11 required far more intelligence than previous attacks from al-Qaeda.
It also makes little sense for terrorists to blow up the trade towers. It is fairly clear that, if anyone, 9-11 served the interests of Zionism, since it gave the US the leverage it needed to destroy Israel's worst enemy – Iraq (Wertheimer, 2012: 55ff). The twin towers attack did not seriously hurt American interests, but it served them, especially in justifying the escalation of the long-time US involvement in the Middle East and Central Asia (Lee, 2007: 4-5).
The fact remains that the US intelligence community has no idea which agency or foreign cells were responsible for 9-11. While bin Laden was always considered a suspicious character, no one in the major branches of US intelligence thought the evidence against him conclusive. The Clinton Administration was concerned that there was contradictory evidence against bin Laden concerning previous attacks, as well as the fact that he had vehement disagreements with the governments of Afghanistan and Iraq long before the events of 9-11.
Some of the facts that suddenly dropped out of consideration in the days immediately following 9-11 were that the Islamic movement in the Mideast is and was deeply divided and largely incapable of concerted action. The Taliban were weak, small in numbers and not in charge of all of Afghan territory. Nor were Taliban, Iran and/or Osama's movement allied at the time.
The Afghan Circus
There can be no missing the point here – the military failures in Iraq can be traced, in part, to the fact that the entire political and ideological agenda in American, elite circles was always unclear, tightly bound to private interests and, worst of all, based on a set of poorly thought-out public assumptions that show, apart from other problems, that incompetence in these more obscure areas of the world is immense. Putting it in simpler terms, the war was based on no clear agenda and the term “success” was never defined for any length of time (Hayden, 2012).
Nasreen Ghufran (2007) writes in Asian Survey:
The year 2006 in Afghanistan began with the functioning of a democratically elected parliament—a bold and positive step forward in institution-building. Development and reconstruction have continued at a slow pace. Security has sharply deteriorated, and the Taliban insurgency has become more violent in spite of the enlarged International Security Assistance Force. Opium production has increased to record levels, leading to a boom in the drug trade (Ghufran, 2007: 87).
In 2015, nothing has changed. While the US as largely pulled out its forces from parts of Afghanistan in 2014, violence is a daily, endemic concern. The establishment of power in Kabul does not reach outside the city limits, and ethnic clans continue to vie for power, often seeking outside help from China, Russia or the US. Other than mere revenge for the attacks on the Towers, no definition of success can cover this disastrous consequence.
Few took the Afghan elections of 2010 seriously. Few believe that Karazi and his group are even remotely representative of the Afghan population. Further, probably no one believes that secular liberalism would ever be the natural choice for Afghans in general. It has been imposed by force. Concerning the military perspective, this mission has been damaging to US interests and has gone far beyond NATOs original mandate, a mandate that has long been obsolete. Regardless, NATO is largely a code for “American” anyway.
Making matters worse, even fewer hold that there has been any measurable success in training an Afghan security force. Unpopular and viewed as agents of a foreign and hostile power, Afghan police and soldiers trained by the infidels are targets for attack. Yet, on June 13 of 2011, the collective NATO defense ministers held that by 2014, the Afghan security units will be ready to take over, and the commitments from foreign powers will be much smaller than today. Of course, this was wildly optimistic.
Michael Meacher, Labor party MP, said on September 6, 2003:
Until July 2001 the U.S. government saw the Taliban regime as a source of stability in Central Asia that would enable the construction of hydrocarbon pipelines from the oil and gas fields in Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, through Afghanistan and Pakistan, to the Indian Ocean. But confronted with the Taliban's refusal to accept U.S. conditions, the U.S. representatives told them 'either you accept our offer of a carpet of gold, or we bury you under a carpet of bombs (Guardian, 2003).
Much of this history is outside the ken of the average American, even the average educated American. The life of Afghani Islam and tribal division are not exactly well known in the west, and therefore, the latitude that media has in reporting things is wide (Hayden, 2012).
The destruction of the Soviet-led government in Afghanistan was led by Islamic soldiers being funded by the US through Pakistan. Given the eternally important pipeline issue, to have a Soviet government in this strategic country was out of the question. The Soviet defeat in that country should have given US policymakers a clue about the chances of a successful war there, yet, the oil money and its pipeline system was too much of a temptation. If the USSR was to lose a bloody war against a country bordering them, what sort of a chance did the US have? Whatever window of opportunity available during the emotional heights of September 11 of 2001 has long been squandered.
Writing in the Middle East Report in the Winter of 2001, Patricia Gossman states concerning the Taliban forces:
The Taliban also had extensive social links to the religious schools throughout the Northwest Frontier Province, and quickly attracted the support of local trucking cartels whose business had suffered as a result of the chaos in the country and saw in the Taliban a way to secure trade routes to the Middle East and Central Asia. After the Taliban defeated Hikmatyar in 1995, Pakistan threw its weight entirely behind the movement. The Taliban took control of Kabul in 1996, and much of the north in mid- 1998. Over the next five years, the ISI [Pakistani intelligence – MRJ] provided the Taliban with arms, ammunition, spare parts, fuel and most importantly, military advisers and assistance during key battlefield operations. The Taliban's opponents turned increasingly to Iran and Russia for military aid. In the meantime, Pakistan continues to play reluctant host to over 2 million Afghan refugees
This was written several months before the events of 9-11. As Meacher wrote above, the US was willing to deal with the Taliban because it was thought they were the only force with the power, popularity and organization to rebuild the country. After 9-11, with no hard evidence against them, Afghanistan became a target of US carpet bombing. It became clear that the Islamic movement was not moving quickly enough for Big Oil's taste, and that they showed signs of “independence” relative to the destination of those revenues.
What Gossman suggests is that the Taliban might not be all that unpopular in their own country. If they were involved heavily in education and the rebuilding of the shattered infrastructure of Afghanistan, the assumption of unpopularity may well have been a poor one. At the very least, it is well established that the US is seen as an occupying and not a liberating presence (Hayden, 2012).
What is clear is that the Taliban, after the final defeat of the USSR, were the only organized group with the ideology, strength and dedication to govern this war torn country. They engaged in one of the most successful drug eradication programs in global history. Since the fundamentalist movement rejects all forms of intoxicants, the burning of huge swaths of poppy crops was a major priority of the Taliban government. In 2006, Michel Chossudovsky wrote in Global Research:
The United Nations has announced that opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan has soared and is expected to increase by 59% in 2006. The production of opium is estimated to have increased by 49% in relation to 2005. The Western media in chorus blame the Taliban and the warlords. The Bush administration is said to be committed to curbing the Afghan drug trade: 'The US is the main backer of a huge drive to rid Afghanistan of opium. . . .'
Yet in a bitter irony, US military presence has served to restore rather than eradicate the drug trade. What the reports fail to acknowledge is that the Taliban government was instrumental in implementing a successful drug eradication program, with the support and collaboration of the UN.
Implemented in 2000-2001, the Taliban's drug eradication program led to a 94 percent decline in opium cultivation. In 2001, according to UN figures, opium production had fallen to 185 tons. Immediately following the October 2001 US led invasion, production increased dramatically, regaining its historical levels (Chossudovsky, 2006).
The Bush administration, in no uncertain terms, connected the poppy trade with the Taliban, without the smallest bit of evidence. That is an optimistic statement, since it might have also been to cover up the US involvement in that trade. The Taliban were the greatest enemy of the drug lords, and it is an unavoidable conclusion that either the US occupation or the allied tribes of the north have profited from the resumption of the heroin trade. Either way, the US is responsible for the resumption of this squalid trade and is part of what the “men and women” of the US armed forces are “fighting for” in Central Asia.
Defending American intervention is usually based around some sort of vague, abstract and hackneyed “human rights” rhetoric. Both the American mind and the political elites realize that all intervention, especially in the cauldron of the Middle East, must have a “liberal” component to it – it must be about human suffering and ultimately, the protection of human rights.
The protection of human rights has, at least in official rhetoric, been the main goal of foreign policy. While the list of what “counts” as human rights may be perpetually controversial, the general cause remains easily defended by both voters and elites in America so long as the terms remain vague. One significant cultural element here is that domestic policies and foreign policies have merged. The distinction between domestic concerns such as the alleviation of poverty or the promotion of free trade and foreign issues such as overthrowing dictatorships are closely connected. In other words, American intervention in the Islamic world must always be centered around the political system of the target country in order to be accepted (Dietrich, 2006). That these abstract considerations have no relation to reality is not important in the postmodern world: image is everything.
Targeted countries are usually caricatured in the western press. One tell-tale sign of total Regime control is when all newspapers and TV news outlets are saying the same thing. When ostensible “enemies” agree on the need to “instigate change” in country x, this is the smoke that bespeaks of the fire of external control.
The pattern is familiar. Riots suddenly emerge, often based on strangely obscure issues. The government is immediately painted as “authoritarian” or even “totalitarian” and any attempt to squash the violence is described as “heavy handed” or “oppressive.” Immediately, all news outlets are totally informed as to the reasons for the demonstrations and their agenda. They are able to, without much lapse of time, penetrate into both the government and the protester's purpose, agenda and end game. It is suspiciously simple and generalized. The government's view is never stated, but might occasionally be “interpreted” for the viewer or reader who – chances are – never heard of the place before.
Most obnoxiously, the media becomes replete with the sloganeering of a phenomenon known only to postmodern liberal mass-democracy, the “instant expert.” This is a group of startlingly conformist talking heads shuffled from network to network, saying the same thing over and over again with no opposition. Actual knowledge of the issue or region is not required, since vague catchwords and a fidelity to the official narrative is the new definition of “expert” or “critical scholar.”
Common names here are George Will, Frank Gaffney, Keith Olberman, Ted Cruz, Cathy Young, Charles Krauthammer, Ronald Beiner, David Brooks, Bret Baier and Tony Snow. There are also “types” that appear, making the same claims and arguments ear after year. These seem almost ritualistic at this stage in the process. Some include the attractive neoconservative woman, the blaring feminist, the black professor (could be either radical or neoconservative), the “offbeat” Hispanic, the distinguished-sounding-guy-with-the-accent, the lofty university professor and the rest of the regular and not-so-regular “experts” and “scholars” ritually appearing on the talk circuit.
The above list can change depending on the issue or outlet, some being “experts” in Asia, others, on Israel. Some, like Gaffney or Snow, are everywhere no matter what the issue, having almost a pipeline to the guest slots on CNN or MSNBC. What matters most seriously, however, is that this is a deliberate means to destroy actual debate, subvert and marginalize all opposition and completely recast the reality of the nation or leader concerned. Its purpose is solely to justify capital's desire to install or overthrow a party, leader or movement. Curiously, these “instant experts” never seem to deviate from the media's official line, the State Department or the press releases from the Open Society Foundation. This itself is to stamp the official opinion as that “of the experts” and stigmatizing all other views as “extreme” or “conspiracy theories.”
While technically a democracy, Israel has been part of the repression of millions of Arabs since 1948. One can also point to Lebanon, where a strong democracy and a wealthy society was brought to the pit of destruction by religious, ethnic and ideological warfare. In the Mideast today, Turkey and Lebanon are democracies. While Saudi Arabia is not a democracy, the royal government there has no real record of domestic oppression relative to the values and expectations of the Islamic population. While uncomfortable to Americans, the basic moral goods of Islam remain popular throughout the Middle East.
The sheikhdoms are not democratic, but the citizen of Saudi Arabia or Qatar pay no taxes, receive free education and medical care, and can go to a local university for nothing. The oil pays for it all. This places the cultural concept of intervention on shaky ground, since there is no reason to hold that the political system (whether democratic or authoritarian) is non-representative.
Several conclusions can be drawn. First, that democratic political systems are procedural only. Authoritarian Syria and Saudi Arabia have two very different sets of domestic policies. While democratic, Lebanon, Israel and Turkey also have three very different sets of domestic priorities. Since, at least according to Dietrich (2006) U.S. policy is based largely around human rights justifications, the uncomfortable problem arises that these strictly procedural forms that make up a political system are not tightly connected with any specific outcome. At best, the human rights argument is weak, vague and transparent.