Reuel Marc Gerecht asks in the instant's Campaign Standard
Are we safer now than we were before 9/11? Safer than before we invaded Iraq and toppled Saddam Hussein? Barack Obama insists we are not. Seeing Iraq as the crucible of our growing weakness, the Democratic nominee for president asserts that "we have now spent over $600 billion, thousands of lives lost, and we have not been made more safe .??.??. [and] al Qaeda's leadership is stronger than ever." According to the senator, moreover, George Bush's policies have also "made Iran stronger"; under his administration Iran has been "able to fund Hezbollah and poses the greatest threat to America and Israel and the Middle East in a generation." Joining Senator John McCain to the president, Obama assails the "Bush-McCain record on protecting this country" and the Arizona Republican for his intention "to double-down on" the "fear-mongering," "saber-rattling," and "failed policies" which endanger the nation.
Gerecht concedes many of the more obvious blunders: arrogance, clumsiness, the ignominious collapse of the post-Saddam Iraq, saying "Whether it is Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo, extraordinary rendition and the CIA's not-so-secret prisons, or the Patriot Act and the gargantuan Department of Homeland Security, there are many things that thoughtful critics could wish the United States had not done or had done better in the war on terrorism."
Mr. Gerecht, these are the very things which most endanger our country. Like a boy teased and egged on by his bullying tormentors, he's usually the one in the principal's office for throwing punches. Ends do not justify means.
When President Clinton launched missiles at Osama bin Ladin on 20 August 1998, the Republican scandalmongers rose to their feet and with one accord screamed "Wag the Dog! Monica! Monica!" As I recall, you were among them. Let us have none of your precious nonsense about Lethal Threats: Bill Clinton got the embassy bombers. He got the Blind Sheikh. He didn't get Osama bin Ladin because he lacked the mandate. George W Bush had the mandate and didn't get him either. No I don't feel safer. OBL is alive and kicking in Pakistan, and we can't go there for the same reasons Clinton couldn't go into Afghanistan.
The price of a free country is a certain amount of vulnerability. This is not a police state on the order of Syria or China, but we're rapidly approaching it. George W Bush had plenty of time to consider the threat on his watch and did nothing. Let us be more circumspect and narrow things somewhat. For every intelligence failure we know about there are a thousand successes of which we know nothing. Nine months into his presidency ought to be enough time to assume the reins of power. In NCO school I learned you can delegate everything but responsibility.
The Bush administration and its friends saw fit to expose the identity of a CIA operative working on nuclear proliferation within Iran for political retribution. Of this you have nothing to say, Mr. Gerecht. When it comes to Bureaucratic Seriousness and Political Will, we see how the Bush Administration dealt with its domestic enemies.
Has President Bush actually made Helpful Friends in the world at large? I would question this assertion of yours: the current regime in Pakistan, where the Taliban and Al Qaeda are now busily abolishing the authority of that nuclear nation-state, has not shown itself a friend. I, too, have friends within the intelligence community, and Pashtun friends for all that, and they have a different tale to tell: one of rampant paranoia and political incompetence within our intelligence agencies, of military generals now in charge of civilian intelligence gathering, of the driving away of valuable linguistic assets and nuanced interpreters. Gary Schmitt and you may have seen different things, but to crooked eyes truth wears a wry face: the CIA and especially the DO is in turmoil. Do not tell that lie: some of us know better. As for your little aside about the French DST: they have their own internal concerns, and the Israelis are aghast at the Abu Ghraib gulag. Not even they sink to that depth of depravity. Unlike the Americans, they treat their prisoners with more considerable respect, though they can hardly be called models of decorum in their treatment of Arabs. They, unlike Bush, recognize a public relations disaster.
Ahmed Shah Massoud was hardly anti-Taliban. Like other warlords, he fought for his own side, the Tajik. He periodically made alliances with various and sundry, including the odious and treacherous Gulbuddin Hekhmatyar and the equally detestable Rashid Dostum, men who should have long since been cornered and shot. Massoud Shir e Panjshir did not receive our military aid because the CIA was funneling everything through the Pakistanis, who continue to back the enemies of the Afghan government. But you knew that, didn't you, Mr. Gerecht?
Mr. Gerecht talks out of both sides of his mouth when he says "Post 9/11, under President Bush, the situation changed drastically". Nobody was sacked for the intelligence failures between January and September of 2001. In fact, praise and thanks was heaped upon the people who ought to have been cashiered. George Tenet, more politician than spymaster, was eventually given America's highest civilian award. The FBI's abject failure to Spot the Looney ought to have resulted in a thorough overhaul of that bastion of idiocy. More, not less bureaucracy was the answer to 9/11. But, 'twas always thus: the FBI was created to solve the problem of gangsters. The CIA was created to deal with the Cold War. NSA was created to cope with the proliferation of worldwide telecommunications and the rise of computer-strengthened ciphers. Bush's great addition to this bureaucracy is the Homeland Security Agency, a deplorable congooberation of ill-paid and ill-trained (and unprotected by a union) apparatchiki tasked with keeping a watchful eye on American citizens. Yet even as you read this, our borders remain insecure and our ports un-inspected. But rest easy folks: Homeland Security is on the job, keepin' us safe by having us take off our shoes at the airport. Mr. Gerecht may feel safer, I do not. Unlike Mr. Gerecht, I have seen real airport security in action, and they don't make you take your shoes off at Lod Airport.
Mr, Gerecht snidely observes: Most Europeans don't like the term "global war on terror," seeing counterterrorism primarily as a police exercise and are uncomfortable in their post-Kantian way with bellicose language. (But the Europeans know that without American assistance, they would have great difficulty striking terrorists abroad, as they don't possess the military means to do so.)
Unlike the United States, Europe has many decades of dealing with terrorism. Experience does count in these matters. And what, pray tell, is post-Kantian? Hegel, chief among Kant's critics, would give us thesis, antithesis and synthesis. It is demonstrably true to say the thesis of American meddling in wars far from its borders created the antithetical backlash seen on 9/11. The synthesis is a more nuanced foreign policy, one which understands backing tinhorn despots and cannibal warlords is counterproductive. As the Psalmist says, Mr. Gerecht has first walked in the counsel of the wicked and stood in the way of sinners. Now he sits in the seat of the scornful. Well, America must learn everything the hard way, as if such problems had not been seen before in human history.
It may well be that Senator Obama has written little of Europe, though in fairness, I cannot see that he would be much-exercised on the subject. Obama has called for a wholesale overhaul of American foreign policy, and he is widely cheered in Europe, if not in Mr. Gerecht's circle of friends. Mr. Gerecht's enumeration of intelligence agencies does not include INTERPOL, the most important of all international agencies tasked with identifying terrorist threats.
And while we are on the subject of sneering at Obama's supposed soft-pedaling of the Terrorist Threat, Iraq has ruined our national security, Mr. Gerecht. At Taji, American armored vehicles sit broken, awaiting parts. They've simply closed down the repair stations: pointless keeping men there to do nothing. Our military is in like manner broken down. Oh, to be sure, you'd never know how many miles you can get out of a given fan belt or radiator, even on your own car. While it still starts up, you'd seldom think about such things. But even you'd take your car in for periodic checkups and replace a worn fan belt on the advice of a good mechanic. Just how broken does our military have to get before you'd call this war in Iraq a threat to our national security?
Scorecard: Al Qaeda is winning. They've regrouped in Pakistan, and they're stronger than ever. We can't do anything about them. Care to dispute my commentary? It is the province of the Executive, specifically the State Department under Condi Rice, to deal with Pakistan. But then again, considering that Elliot Abrams, a man whose resume includes a stint as a professional liar to the US Congress runs Middle East policy at State, so I wouldn't be so quick to say we're All Cornfuzed about Pakistan. Things are AFU all across the Department of State.
Mr. Gerecht indulges in Woulda Coulda Shoulda about what Al Gore might have done. Then, in a disturbingly Calvinistic tone, Gerecht then pre-damns Obama for stacking up case officers in Kabul rather than the Green Zone in Baghdad. Mr. Gerecht should know Bush stacked up two-bit Republican political operatives in the Green Zone under the stellar leadership of that feckless moron L. Paul Bremer, who believes to this day he did the right thing by disbanding the Iraqi Army.
And let's get a few things straight about how you'd use an English-only CIA operative in theater. That boy or girl doesn't have to talk to locals, unless he speaks the language, and most of the time the SF uniform speaks the language better than he does. He reads sitreps and debriefs US troops and dumps cameras. That CIA operative then shacks up his traffic, turns his radio on, and bursts it up to the satellite. The folks at DI get it, piece it into other such transmissions, and compose the intel summary. The MILINT people think differently than the DI people, MILINT thinks about the strategy and tactics of the war. DI thinks about who's doing the fighting and why, and if this part of the problem escapes you, then I question your sanity. You are entirely correct to state Pakistan is the real battleground: CIA should be advising State, who then deals with what's known in terms of the politics. Mao Zedong: politics is war without bloodshed. I should not have to tell you such things. I say this only that others may not be deluded by your mendacious assertions. This ain't Hollywood, Gerecht. Intelligence gathering is sometimes reporting the fact that one village just emptied out for no apparent reason, stuff the military looks at one way and DI sees another way.
What does it matter what Obama now believes about Al Qaeda or its concomitant threats, the Jameat al Islam, or Hizb'allah, or the Harakat al-Ansar or any of the other jumped-up Islamic terrorist agencies? The real question is this: what will the world think about a man named Barack Hussain Obama. We already see a desperate hope in the rhetoric of foreign countries (you do read the papers in Arabic, Mr. Gerecht – or do you?) that the USA might at last be led by a president who sees himself and our nation as more kindly disposed to their problems, especially those of Muslims. I repeat myself in saying the Fourth Amendment has not yet been repealed in the USA, and the price of living in a free country is a certain amount of vulnerability. It does not matter what we say or do, Mr. Gerecht, what matter is what the world hears and sees. You can stop the shrieking about Habeas Corpus already: nobody needs the protection of law more than the guiltiest of the guilty. Those protections define us as a free people, and don't you forget it.
Once again, Mr. Gerecht indulges in his Calvinist philippic, pre-damning Obama for what Obama might do after giving Al Qaeda a well-deserved bashing within Pakistan, something beyond the powers of GWB. Al Qaeda does not strike often: the periodicity of their attacks is something on the order of seven to eight years. For all we know, a plot is afoot even now. In the cockamamie astrology of Reuel Marc Gerecht, we should have long since seen a plague of frogs and the seas turn'd redde as blude by now. The simple calculus of terror, from the time of Bakunin (the father of modern terrorism) dictates that any strike will only have political impact when it arrives where and when least expected. Do not expect Al Qaeda to do anything on schedule, but even by their schedule, the time is not right.
Gerecht presumes Al Qaeda is pissed at Musharraf. So pissed are they – they murdered his political opponent, Benazir Bhutto. Mushie was shocked, shocked, to find gambling and terrorism, but he collected his winnings by signing the most ignominious of cease-fires with the Taliban, thereby allowing the terrorists enough time to rearm and seize complete control of the Swat Valley. This is hardly working hard to achieve a workable Modus Vivendi. This is rank capitulation.
Mr. Gerecht lies damnably when he says "Afghanistan and the Coalition forces will face renewed attack as Pashtuns increase their support of the multiheaded Taliban movement". The Taliban recently shot up a meeting of the Pashtun elders at a jirgeh some months back. Do not look for the ordinary Pashtun to rise up in rebellion against Baitullah Mehsud any more than the ordinary Czech could have risen up against the Nazis after the Munich Accords. The parallels between Chamberlain at Munich and Musharraf are excellent, and Mr. Gerecht loudly proclaims Peace in Our Time. The bravest people in the world have been crushed down by the cruelest of modern warlords, and we can do nothing. Mr. Gerecht mendaciously draws a parallel between Pashtun identity and the rise of the Taliban. It would be Herr Goebbels who said the press is the government's keyboard, and Gerecht has carried enough water for these neoconservative maniacs to qualify as George Bush's personal Gunga Din.
Diplomacy, as Will Rogers once said, is saying "nice doggie, nice doggie" until you can find for a fair-sized rock. Will the clerics continue their search for a nuke, despite the earnest diplomacy of the Obama Administration? Of this we may be certain, these clerics saw what happened to Iraq, a country without a nuke, and compare it to North Korea, a country with a nuke. The math of that comparison is obvious.
War has done nothing to stop the rise of another Islamic republic in Iraq. Let me be blunt: Iraq will eventually collapse, as Iraq's 1920 rebellion against the British collapsed. The Shiites will once again engage in murderous infighting and in its wake will come another Sunni-dominated regime. The British imported a Hashemite king. The Sons of Iraq, the bozos on our payroll (not the Iraqi payroll) will eventually topple this feckless do-nothing regime in Baghdad, probably with the connivance of one or another Shiite political party, very likely several, perhaps all of them except SCIRI/Dawa, the group now in power, and another Strong Man will appear. The old tribal powers, especially al-bu Fahad will again exert control over their territories, especially in the west of Iraq, where vast new reserves of oil and especially natural gas have been discovered. As in the time of Saddam, the New Ba'athists will enlist the support of many and strong-arm the rest into submission. Now that's my prediction. My every prediction about this war has come true, I am batting 1000 over seven years. Mr. Gerecht's chasing a losing bet, believing this current regime will last two years after the Americans leave.
Dropping names and factoids does not save Gerecht's argument. Moktada Sadr is an interesting topic: he's both more and less powerful than the West truly understands. He's not an ayatollah, for one, he's far too young. For another, his followers are fractured, as are all Shiite factions, see paragraph above. Of course he's largely persona non grata in Qom: he's an Arab, not Farsi. SCIRI/Dawa cannot eat into his support: SCIRI is tacitly backed by Iran. The Persians have little use for Moktada but the Arabs have plenty of use for him. He represents the poor Shiites of Baghdad, a rabble only he controls. Iran isn't backing Sadr's Mehdi Army, they're backing factions in the south, lands far outside Sadr's sphere of influence.
I really had to laugh when I read "The age-old Arab-Persian split in Mesopotamia can flair up suddenly, even among Iraqi Shia who have Iranian family members. In its history, the Iranian clerical regime has never had to deal with such a situation, where some of the most respected Shiite jurisprudents are in opposition and the Iranian ruling elite can neither shut these opponents down nor even criticize them too severely." What idiocy. First, proofread your galleys, the phrase is "flare up" The Savafid Empire burned Baghdad to the ground, twice and the Iran/Iraq War had its critics within Iran as well. During that dreadful decade, Iran had every significant Arab Shiite cleric within its borders, and they had plenty of time to talk: ass biting is raised to an art form among them. No sooner had the moderate Ayatollah Khoei and the Keeper of the Key Haidar Raifee reappeared at the Tomb of Ali than a mob killed them, with Sadr approving of the whole disgusting incident. Iran's been dealing with its Arab dissidents in the south along the shores of the Persian Gulf since they came to power, murdering them by the score. The Baha`i have come in for special persecution. The Arabs have always retained possession of the holy cities and the Persians have always been mere visitors.
We need not fear much from Al Qaeda in Iraq, which was never really a franchise of the Real McCoy now found in Pakistan. In the words of the Hausa proverb, they shat under their own shade tree and were rousted out by the Sunni tribes they had offended. Divinely inspired violence is an ecumenical phenomenon. It appears in every religion save only Buddhism, which isn't really so much a religion as a philosophy. Conjoining Morality to Law seems to be the special province of the Republican Party in the USA, and I do not see Gerecht casting aspersions upon this would-be Taliban. The word "Taliban" is the Pashtun pluralization of "talib", a religious student, and nobody has kissed more religious ass in modern times than the Bible Thumpers over at Republican Central. The message of Jesus Christ was 70% by volume directed against the religious aristocracy of his day: let all who utter the name of Christ in the course of their political views keep that in mind. Jesus of Nazareth was strictly apolitical and his salvation extends to the meek and lowly, the rejected and despised and sinful of this world. Among his final words and his final miracle were directed to the incident where one of his followers struck off the ear of an arresting officer: "those who live by the sword shall die by the sword." The perversion of the message of Jesus Christ, a Friend of Sinners can be overlaid with the perversion of Islam by political entities within our own government. The fit is very good. It has been seen in all times and in all places: Deus Vult.
We do not know how Obama will treat Iran, for he is only a senator at present time. We do know this much: he will turn over a fresh leaf in the book of history. Perhaps he will reformulate American foreign policy to reflect the realities of present times. We do not live in the world of Metternich and Kissinger. In these parlous times, the nation state is rapidly losing relevance. Ancient grievances are given voice again: the procrustean borders laid out in colonial times create internal rifts. Kurds and Pashtuns, people long denied sovereignty are beginning to achieve some measure of autonomy, though the Pashtuns are being crushed down horribly by a threat as real as Adolf Hitler in Germany. The Chechens, the Basque, the ungodly horror story that is Africa, all these ugly brushfire wars have their roots in the obscene butchery of the ancient world, pencils applied to maps in the drawing rooms of Europe. Here and there, one sees flickers of hope, but the world has grown beyond Gerecht's puerile visions of Grand Alliances against Iran. Our enemies are not demons. They are merely men, grown paranoid and suspicious in the wake of American invasions and occupations. At the end of the First Gulf War, a Pakistani general was asked what the surrounding nations had taken away from the outcome. "Now they will all seek a nuclear weapon. America never invades anyone with a nuclear weapon."
A Dire Warning from an Old Liberal.
The Pashtun people are currently in serious trouble. Their tribal leadership is being subjugated by Baitullah Mehsud, a man who makes Osama bin Ladin look like a kindergarten teacher. Pakistan is a nuclear nation, currently led by a weak and facile regime, undercut by many axes. Pakistan's intelligence agency, the ISI, is in league with many terrorist organizations and operates at cross-purposes to the stated will of the Pakistani government. Pakistan's government is completely corrupt. It has heretofore demonstrated the will and ability to export nuclear technology to hostile regimes. Furthermore, Pakistan has ceded control of western Pakistan to Mehsud and his Taliban. Therefore, it is well within the realm of probability to believe the Taliban might gain access to a nuclear weapon. Mehsud has become enormously wealthy: he controls much of the world's heroin trade.
Mehsud commands more than Pashtun, he also has an extensive Uighur and Chechen mercenary wing, and many others besides. Every would-be jihadi now flocks to him from around the world. The Pashtun chiefs have no love for these mercenaries and therefore little love for Mehsud. Mehsud has murdered off every chief who spoke up against him and his mercenaries. There is no substantive opposition left: Mehsud is the Taliban and the Taliban is Mehsud.
It is an absolute fact to say Mehsud is protecting both Osama bin Ladin and Mullah Omar. It is no secret both men travel constantly within the cities of Peshawar and Quetta. It is therefore of paramount importance to world security for Mehsud their protector to be removed from power, with overwhelming force.
At a geopolitical level, the Chinese have no love for the Uighur insurgency, for the Uighurs fall under their sphere of influence. Uighur terrorism within China does not appear on Western radars, but the Chinese are privately furious with Pakistan for tolerating the Uighur jihadis on their soil. While the Uighur insurgency grows within Pakistan, American foreign policy is therefore in congruence with Chinese security interests. This congruence could be exploited to good effect.
Russia, too, has little love for this training ground for Chechen jihadis. Barack Obama would face little resistance in the UN Security Council were he to reach out to the Chinese and Russians for some tacit if not explicit support against Mehsud.
More importantly, the Pashtuns themselves have no love for Mehsud. When the Americans overthrew Mullah Omar's Pashtun Taliban in Afghanistan, a million ethnic Pashtuns within Pakistan voted with their feet and returned to Afghanistan. Hamid Karzai, an ethnic Pashtun himself, has granted his Pashtuns astonishing levels of autonomy. NATO has shown itself incredibly tolerant and merciful to the Pashtuns of Afghanistan, and this has not gone un-noticed among the Pashtuns themselves. To be sure, every Pashtun resents foreign soldiers in their hills, and NATO is not much loved, for the Pashtuns are proud, and rightly so. But neither is NATO hated, and if we are not winning the war of hearts and minds among the Pashtuns of Afghanistan, NATO is respected and widely admired for its forbearance in the face of terrible provocation, itself a virtue of the Pashtuns themselves.
Were NATO and the UN to offer the Pashtun people a degree of autonomy on both sides of the border, as a prelude to the overthrow of Baitullah Mehsud, it would be the end of Mehsud's hegemony. Mehsud's Uighurs and Chechens would be thrown out, as the foreign jihadis were thrown out of Iraq by the outraged tribes of al-bu Fahad and the Sammari, once the victims of Al Qaeda violence. The Pashtuns would take care of this problem themselves, if the prize was a degree of autonomy and world recognition. Pakistan would be relieved of the burden of policing the area: they have already granted the Taliban autonomy under the humiliating treaties already signed. Surely the speechwriters and spinmeisters could put a good face on all this. NATO flying the UN flag would be seen as liberators. I would be sure to include the Russians and Chinese on the victory podium, themselves victims of Islamic terrorism. Yes, put the Pakistanis on the podium, too, for they have suffered terribly from Taliban terrorism. At last, the Pashtuns would have a de-facto if not a de-jure nation of their own.
The world has outgrown Gerecht and his rhetoric. It has outgrown the nation-state. The world has grown too small for all of us. In this unfolding horror, we must not lose hope, nor surrender to the paranoid rants of Gerecht or the short haul satisfaction of retribution.
The poets always say it best. In the words of W H Auden:
All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die
Defenseless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.