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The acid test for Washington’s beltway experts

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Is WikiLeaks the antidote to the Washington K Street Kool-Aid?

By Elizabeth Gould & Paul Fitzgerald

Since the end of the cold war, the U.S. had been looking for an enemy to match the Soviet Union and came up empty handed until 9/11. Refocusing the efforts of the world’s largest and most expensive military empire on Al Qaeda would provide the incentive for a massive re-armament,  just the way the Soviet “invasion” of Afghanistan had done two decades before.  According to a Washington Post report within nine years of America’s invasion of Afghanistan, hunting Al Qaeda had become the raison d’être of the American national security bureaucracy employing 854,000 military personnel, civil servants and private contractors with more than 263 organizations transformed or created including the Office of Homeland Security.  The sheer scope of the growth and the extensive privatization of intelligence and security was so profound that it represented “an alternative geography of the United States, a Top Secret America hidden from public view and lacking in oversight.”

But the report admitted that after nine years of unprecedented spending and growth, the labyrinth of secret bureaucracy put in place after 9/11 was so massive and convoluted that its ability to perform its stated function to keep America safe was impossible to determine. Even worse, it was becoming clear that the bureaucratic monster had taken on a life of its own with the U.S. lost in a maze of its own creation, trapped in an expanding web of spies and counter spies that far surpassed the worst paranoia of its old nemesis, the Soviet Union. The logic train of the war on terror and its fundamental rooting in Afghanistan had finally become clear. The perpetual Taliban/Al Qaeda threat fueled a perpetual war that could never be won, justifying an endless string of restrictions on civil liberties and governmental transparency, which then prevented Americans from seeing how their money was spent. Locked out of this “alternative geography of the United States,” Americans have become helpless to stop their democracy and their economy from being lifted right out from under them.

Thanks to the revelations the word was finally out that whatever impact the “war on terror” had made on terror worldwide ( which many claimed it made only worse)  it was above all, a spectacular boondoggle.

The shocking, Sunday July 25, WikiLeaks release of 92,000 documents by the New York Times Der Spiegel and The Guardian, was the acid test for Washington’s beltway experts to square themselves with the fatal collapse confronting them and who was to blame for it. According to the New York Times , “Some of the reports describe Pakistani intelligence working alongside Al Qaeda to plan attacks.”  The documents also revealed numerous embarrassing specifics that had either been downplayed or avoided entirely by the U.S. military in the 9 year old war including: that the Taliban have used portable heat-seeking missiles against NATO aircraft; that the U.S. employs secret commando units to “capture/kill” insurgent commanders that have claimed notable successes but have at times also gone terribly wrong by killing civilians and stoking Afghan resentment; that the military’s success with its Predator drones has been highly over-dramatized. Some crash or collide forcing Americans to undertake risky retrieval missions before the Taliban could claim the drone’s weaponry.  In addition, the reports reveal that retired ISI chief, Lt. General Hamid Gul, “has worked tirelessly to reactivate old networks, employing familiar allies like Jalaluddin Haqqani and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, whose networks of thousands of fighters are responsible for waves of violence in Afghanistan.” If anything was a guide to who’d been drinking the Washington K Street Kool-Aid, it could be measured by the degree of acceptance to the new information. According to the Boston Globe, Congressman James McGovern, a Worcester Mass. Democrat maintained, “that the documents show a far grimmer situation than members of Congress have been told about in classified briefings,..” Mass. Senator John Kerry initially declared that the documents raised “serious questions,” about policy. But under pressure from the White House, by Monday, Kerry was echoing the official line, defending Obama administration policy while insisting there was little new in the documents. The reasons for Kerry’s second thoughts were obvious. Matt Viser of the Boston Globe writes, “Kerry has what is seen as a special relationship with Pakistan; he has welcomed the country’s army chief to his house for dinner and accepted flowers from the country’s president. ‘There’s no question that Senator Kerry was instrumental in leading the initiative to triple our economic assistance to Pakistan,’ said Molly Kinder, a senior policy analyst at the Center for Global Development, which tracks US aid to Pakistan.”

Left out of the release,  the Washington Post hissed and fumed, editorializing dismissively that the 92,000 documents contained little of interest while citing counter terrorism expert Andrew Exum as comparing the importance of the documents to the discovery that “Liberace was gay.”  Had the documents amassed an equal amount of evidence that Iran or Syria were working with Al Qaeda to carry out attacks on American troops in Afghanistan, the bombers would have been warming up on the flight decks by sundown. But when it came to Pakistan, there was only restraint. To the beltway insiders the actual revelations disclosed by the leaked documents were less important than the exposure of systemic failure they represented. The disclosures had taken the floor out from under the assumptions of the war on terror imposed following 9/11.  But to the beltway it was business as usual and reality had little if anything to do with it.

Little wonder that the world’s population had lost faith in the American enterprise in Afghanistan. Even the Afghan people themselves had come to believe the United States wasn’t really there to fight the Taliban, but pretended to fight as an excuse for remaining in the region. The WikiLeaks reports are the raw data from American troops fighting in the field.  But the reaction from official Washington was as if the U.S. had come to be ruled by a city of isolated mandarins from another planet, completely detached from the world they governed and dismissive of any efforts to bring them down to earth.

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