The acid test for Washington’s beltway experts

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.

America’s DNA Profile Has Been All Over Afghanistan Since 1973

Boiling Frogs Post

By Elizabeth Gould & Paul Fitzgerald

In the two years since the publication of our book Invisible History: Afghanistan’s Untold Story we have had the chance to address dozens of forums and radio audiences around the United States about Afghanistan. It has been an illuminating exercise, not so much in terms of what Americans understand about the Afghanistan/Pakistan region (which unfortunately isn’t very much) but by the way it reveals how Americans are struggling to catch up with a world that seems to have left them behind. A morning-drive-time radio talk show host in Chicago wanted to know whether a nuclear bomb dropped on the Hindu Kush wouldn’t solve the problem. When we replied that using a nuclear weapon to kill a few thousand suspected terrorists would kill millions of innocent people, he responded abruptly before cutting us off: The Japanese got the message when we dropped it on them.

Most people are confused about the America they find themselves in, in the 21st century. They wonder where “their” America went. According to the popular mythology, the U.S. started the decade as the world’s lone hyper-power, beholden to none. It ends the first decade of the new millennium as a debt-hobbled-capitalist shell, beholden to a rising communist China and a host of oil-rich medieval Middle-East Sheikdoms.  Americans are frustrated and resentful, denying any responsibility for the ongoing Afghan fiasco while expressing anger and often disbelief that our leadership has refused to learn the lessons of Vietnam and taken us on yet another mindless ride into a hopeless quagmire.

When we are asked why the U.S. is still in Afghanistan after a decade, we explain that America’s DNA profile has been all over that country since 1973. While no one was looking, the CIA’s secret mission became entangled with Pakistan’s support for Afghanistan’s small core of foreign-trained right wing Islamic extremists. Thanks to President Jimmy Carter’s national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, this entanglement blossomed into a marriage following the 1978 Marxist coup and a full-blown commitment to holy war and the Islamization of Pakistan – long before the Soviet invasion of 1979.

The United States continued to support the right wing extremists all through the 1980s and then (in order to serve the interests of Pakistan’s military and Saudi/American oil conglomerates) the CIA helped Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) to establish the Taliban. The Taliban’s inability to totally conquer Afghanistan and their close relationship with the Arab extremists known as Al Qaeda challenged this American relationship. But it was the 1998 bombing of the U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Nairobi and the near sinking of the U.S.S. Cole in Aden harbor in 2000 that strained U.S./Taliban relations to the breaking point.

We then explain that for very much the same reasons that the Soviet Union overreacted to extremist provocations on their southern border in December 1979, the United States invaded Afghanistan following the events of 9/11. The intention was to drive the Taliban out of power and root out, intercept, kill or capture Al Qaeda terrorists and their leader Osama bin Laden, the reputed 9/11 architect.

This information usually produces audible groans and looks of profound despair, followed by the question, why has none of this happened? That answer we now believe has been revealed.

In A June 24, New York Times article titled, Pakistan Is Said to Pursue a Foothold in Afghanistan,[1][1] the authors maintain that according to Afghan officials, Pakistani Army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani personally offered to broker a deal between Hamid Karzai and the Taliban leadership including Sirajuddin Haqqani’s terror network and his Al Qaeda allies. The report also maintained that Kayani and his spy chief, Lt. General Ahmad Shuja Pasha agreed with Afghan president Karzai that the U.S. effort in Afghanistan was doomed to fail “and that a postwar Afghanistan should incorporate the Haqqani network, a longtime Pakistani asset.”

Wiretaps long ago revealed General Kayani as an extremist sponsor playing a double game, who referred to the Haqqani network as a “strategic asset.” Both Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh have publicly linked Pakistan’s ISI to terror activities. Reports of Pakistani complicity in the events of 9/11 linger unresolved.  But does the Times’ revelation of an active Pakistani military collusion with Al Qaeda-conduit Haqqani and Washington’s admitted “nervousness” about it, mean that the U.S./Pakistani relationship has finally been pushed to the breaking point?

The United States has spent a decade and hundreds of billions of dollars chasing Osama bin Laden and his mysterious organization known as Al Qaeda around the world. It has given billions more to Pakistan’s military to fight Al Qaeda terrorism. The U.S. continues to trample standards of international law by executing suspected terrorists (including Americans) without trial and at the same time suspends civil liberties at home.  Pakistan’s offer and Hamid Karzai’s receptiveness to it represents a checkmate move. Whether anyone in Washington can admit it or not, Kayani has exposed the “war on terror” and its Bill of Rights-busting USA Patriot Act, as a tragic deception. A recent study by the Institute for the Study of War’s Jeffrey Dressler picked up on the glaring incongruities of the rapidly devolving scenario.

“The Haqqanis rely on Al Qaeda for mass appeal, funding, resources and training, and in return provide Al Qaeda with shelter, protection and a means to strike foreign forces in Afghanistan and beyond. Any negotiated settlement with the Haqqanis threatens to undermine the raison d’etre for U.S. involvement in Afghanistan over the past decade.”

But if the raison d’etre for American involvement over the last ten years has made the Haqqanis and Al Qaeda even stronger than they were before, then perhaps the time has come to consider that the raison for the war on terror has been revealed as a double-cross.

A May 31st 2010 article in the London Sunday Times reports that $1½ billion dollars of Saudi Arabian money has flowed into Afghanistan from Haqqani and Al Qaeda controlled territory in North Waziristan over the past four years and the U.S. government knows it. In the 1980s the U.S. with Saudi Arabian backing went out of its way to finance and train the Haqqanis under the auspices of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and warlords like Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. According to numerous sources, a good part of the ISI/Hekmatyar operation involved assassinating Afghan nationalists to ensure that a moderate coalition government in Kabul could never be achieved. According to declassified U.S. government documents from the early 1970s, the focus on controlling Afghanistan even then was viewed as centered on a “Chinese-Iranian-Pakistani-Arabian peninsula Axis with U.S. support.” Thanks to Pakistani General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, there is little reason to think that the Taliban, Haqqani network and Al Qaeda are any less connected to their ultimate goals today than they were forty years ago

Copyright © 2010 Gould & Fitzgerald All rights reserved

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