War Has Been Bungled
by Jack Rabbit
The war on terrorism has been bungled. If the Bushies were
straight about it, they would come out and say so. However,
they simply send their spinmasters out before us to tell us
that the war is going according to plan. As long as Mr. Bush
has approval ratings close to ninety percent, they'll just
keep spinning the war; it falls in the "you can fool
all of the people some of the time" department. But,
as Lincoln said, you can't fool all of the people all of the
Seymour Hersh reported in the New Yorker magazine that the
October 20 raid on the compound of Mullah Mohammad Omar by
US commandos went badly. It ended with twelve Americans wounded,
three seriously. Omar, the spiritual leader of the Taliban
in such a theocracy, that makes him effectively head
of state is still at large. So is Osama bin Laden.
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld now states that perhaps
he won't be caught at all. The need to capture Osama and bring
him to justice was the rationale for the war in the first
place. To suggest that he won't be comes close to admitting
Administration spokesmen have been spending a great deal
of energy denying that the incident was as bad as is being
reported. "That's not true," said Joint Chiefs of
Staff chairman General Richard Myers on NBC's Meet the Press.
"My guess is and my belief is that every soldier that
came back from that particular raid is back on duty today.
None of them seriously injured. Certainly, none of them injured
by the Taliban."
General Myers is in a real pickle. The administration's policy
is to limit access of the press to the theater of war. Journalists
are getting the scoop at the Pentagon from the Secretary of
Defense. And Rumsfeld wouldn't lie to us, would he? Of course,
a Pentagon official told the Washington Post "We're going
to lie about things." Poor General Myers! He can't help
but to have a credibility problem. This credibility problem
manifested itself again a few days later when the Times of
India quoted the pro-Taliban Afghan Islamic Press report that
a US helicopter was shot down and four US crewmembers were
killed. Of course, a pro-Taliban press agency is no reliable
source, but the Times also quoted Pakistani officials as confirming
that a US helicopter had crashed in the Chaghi district of
Baluchistan, just inside Pakistan near the Afghan border.
However, the Pentagon denied that any helicopter crashed at
all. With the Pentagon's credibility problem, there is no
more reason to take their denial at face value than there
is to assume the facts as given by the Taliban press. Nobody
can say with any certainty what happened. However, if no helicopter
crashed, one should wonder why officials in Baluchistan would
confirm that a helicopter had in fact crashed.
Of course, the administration might not have this problem
if they would allow independent journalists on the ground
to verify that the war is going well or poorly. On the other
hand, that would take away their control over the spin. Spin
is the name of the game. The administration controls the information.
We will know only what they want us to know.
Unfortunately for the Bushies, in the age of the Internet,
alternate sources of news are available and there is little
they can do about it. If the war is going badly, then sooner
or later we will find out and ask some hard questions and
watch Dubya fumble about for some lame answers.
The raid on Mullah Omar's compound is only one incident in
Afghanistan. It would be wrong to judge the entire war effort
on one failed mission, no matter how disastrous. The helicopter
crash is another. Even assuming that they are true, we cannot
judge from these reports how the war is going; indeed, to
be fair, as this is being written the BBC Online is reporting
battlefields gains by the United Front against the Taliban
near Mazar-i-Sharif. However, we do know that the Taliban
is well prepared to resist and no one knows where Osama is
hiding. This is likely to be the case for some time, even
if Mazar-i-Sharif falls to the United Front before the onset
of the infamous Afghan winter. There is also the open question
as the whether or not the United Front could withstand a counter-attack.
Stated objectives, such as they are, are not being met. This
is bungling by any definition. Another aspect of the war that
is being bungled is in the destabilization of the South Asia
region and Middle East. This is especially true of Pakistan,
where General Musharraf faces a hostile public. Before the
September 11 attacks, Musharraf was shunned in Western capitals;
The US and other Western nations openly called for the military
dictatorship to end and free elections to be allowed. Since
September 11, Musharraf has given assistance to the United
States by allowing Pakistani air bases to be used for support
operations in Afghanistan. This has silenced his critics abroad,
but angered many Pakistanis who support the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Large anti-government demonstrations are frequent and not-to-subtle
calls for Musharraf's removal come from fundamentalist mullahs.
Although Musharraf has purged the government and the army
of many fundamentalist sympathizers, the US cannot count on
Pakistan's loyalty. Among the theories surrounding the death
of Afghan opposition leader Abdul Haq at the hands of the
Taliban a couple of weeks ago is one that suggests that fundamentalist
sympathizers within the Pakistani intelligence agency, the
Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), are responsible for betraying
Haq. Pakistan is of particular importance because it possesses
the Bomb. The prospect of Musharraf being overthrown by a
fundamentalist junta that would then control Pakistan's nuclear
arsenal should not set well with anybody.
For his part, Musharraf makes it clear that the US should
aim for a short war. This is not out of humanitarian concerns,
but more for his own health. However, Musharraf's concerns
are brushed aside in Washington. Administration spokesmen
come out and tell us that it will be a long war (or perhaps
that it won't take years, after all). They talk as if Musharraf
is having no difficulty and has widespread support. But we
If an open revolt were to break out in Pakistan, the US would
be in an awkward position. The war would only become wider.
Then we'll really know that war has been bungled.
Now let's turn to the air war. We started attacking Afghanistan;
although it is a country that had little left to destroy,
we went ahead and destroyed it. Concerns about civilian casualties
were brushed aside with "well, some of that can't be
helped and we'll be as careful as we can." It is true
that no smart bomb is smart enough and no one wants to kill
Afghan goatherds who perhaps don't support the Taliban, perhaps
wish Osama and his thugs would leave their country and certainly
had nothing to do with the September 11 attacks.
However, where the war on terrorism is to be fought not only
to bring Osama to justice but also to alleviate public support
in the Islamic world for that for which he stands, it is impossible
to be too careful about civilian casualties. One does not
have to be an Islamic fundamentalist to ask whether or not
Mr. Bush is at all concerned about death and destruction in
Afghanistan. Images of dead village children suggest that
he is not, and all the spin about how careful we are to strike
only military targets will have no effect on the cab driver
in Cairo or the longshoreman in Karachi to whom Osama is also
making his appeal. That is now; this is to say nothing of
the images of starving Afghans that will be seen this winter
because the war is preventing humanitarian relief from getting
to those at risk of starvation.
The war has been bungled. Insofar as the military action
in Afghanistan to bring Osama to justice frustrates any effort
to end popular support for him in the entire region, the very
policy of war certainly war as a principally American
action, as it is at present was a bungle from the start.
If Bush and his people were straight with us, they would
admit that the war is being bungled and that it cannot but
help to be bungled. Then he would call for the Security Council
of the United Nations to convene and discuss a multilateral
approach to the September 11 attacks. This approach would
recognize that Osama's crimes are crimes against all humanity,
not just America; accordingly, all humanity, not just America,
must share the responsibility of bringing Osama to justice
and dismantling al-Qaida. This would entail establishing an
international tribunal for this purpose, with judges from
all nations, including Islamic nations. The evidence that
Osama is the mastermind behind the attacks must be presented.
It must be convincing to common people in the Islamic world.
That Mr. Bush may have a concern about a source of intelligence
is noted, but if blowing somebody's cover is what is takes
to expose Osama for the wanton, vicious mass murderer that
he is, by all means blow the cover.
Finally, the administration should completely change the
purpose of US foreign policy. The reason that we are so hated
is that while the US government preaches grand ideals, it
stands in its actions for plutocracy and tyranny imposed from
the top down. We need to practice the democracy and justice
that makes America the great hope of mankind that so many
say that it is. We must broker a two-state peace solution
between Israel and Palestine; we must support the principals
of self-government in Arab states rather than the brutal dictatorships
and monarchies that have serve at our pleasure up to now.
Meanwhile, the administration is preparing to send ground
troops to Afghanistan just in time for the Afghan winter.
Military objectives are not being achieved, allies are destabilized
and the criminal we must pursue successfully masquerades as
a hero and a prophet. The war has been bungled. The administration
should come clean about it and try something else.
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