Democratic Underground

The War Has Been Bungled
November 12, 2001
by Jack Rabbit

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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 time.

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 defeat.

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 know better.

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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