by Michael Hammerschlag 9/22/01
While the need for a strong response to the monstrous outrage of the WTC/Pentagon attack is obvious, even overdue, President Bush has been promising things that can’t be accomplished in the most hopeful estimation, worse- his moves and statements have been directly contradictory. On one hand he needs and has solicited cooperation from Pakistan, Iran, and other states; on the other he has promised to attack any country that supports, defends, or shelters terrorists. Pakistan, Iran, and Syria, have, did, and probably will do all those things- in fact Pakistan is probably a greater source of terrorism than Afghanistan itself, with 120 training camps for mujahadeen (most for the conflict with India), a huge and uncontrolled criminal element, an unstable government of limited support, a definite radical anti-American element, and most terrifyingly- nuclear weapons. In fact many Taliban themselves were trained and supported by Pakistan; the anti-Taliban Afghans considered them a foreign invasion. Iran, meanwhile, via Hezbollah, has supported multiple bombings against the US over the decades- from the Beirut Marine barracks to perhaps this latest horror- witness the FBI’s call for Farsi speakers. Iran’s tiny rich corrupt ruling Muslim clergy (only 2% of total) has waged a fierce war against the liberal President and vast majority of the exhausted and restive young population (the population exploded since the ’79 revolution to provide soldiers for Islam). With any luck and the correct application of force, the murderous mullahs of Iran can be consigned to the dustbin of failed ideologies.
Still, there is an essential disconnect- once you obtain a nation’s assistance, you can’t willy nilly attack them: President Bush, even in his superb recent speech, has been casting out John Wayne phrases like Mardi Gras necklaces- implying total victory, clear rights and wrongs, and obvious and total enemies. This has smacked up into America’s PC, ultra-sensitive, modern sensibilities- we are going to stomp bin Laden and his backers, but we must rename our military operation because it offends Muslim clerics’ sensibilities. How will they feel when we start killing the corrupt clerics that have promoted a religious bloodbath, without which the hatred couldn’t spread? If we don’t do that, we would be ignoring the source of the problem.
In another breath, Mr. Bush has talked of bringing him to justice, which implies a trial, and may be an easy way out- yet is inappropriate talk for a war, and far far short of the lofty goal of “eliminating evil from the world”. The cheap and easy solution of only killing or capturing bin Laden would convince the world that we are shallow, unwilling to stay the course or pay the price of a wide and murky war. Yet President Bush has just claimed we would not seek the overthrow of the Taliban, which calls to mind the errors of Desert Storm: embargoing a crushed enemy while leaving the evil mastermind in power.
Make no mistake about it: bin Laden and his entire crew need to die, as well the other anti-American killers of the Hezbollah, Hamas?, and perhaps the overlooked Eveready bunny Saddam. The Taliban too deserve a dark fate, if for nothing else than blowing up the millennium old Buddha statues. They convinced a battered and bruised populace that they would bring law and order- they brought religious fanaticism and brutally mandated orthodoxy. Afghanistan, though, is the graveyard of great powers, where the people’s toughness and ability too outlast all comers is legendary. The Soviets, in a decade of genocidal attacks, killed 1½ million and crippled 4 million- to no avail. One tactic would be to return to our magnanimous roots, and promise to rebuild Afghanistan as a carrot for cooperation against the Taliban.
Still, what seems to be in the offing: a concerted air war against Afghanistan, will be seen by much the world as piling on- pounding the most abused, poor, and damaged people in the world. Attacking the negligible Afghani infrastructure in lieu of bin Laden might do more harm than good. Only ground troops, or lightning strikes with accurate intelligence by Rangers and Delta forces against the actual leadership will achieve our ends and make the guilty pay. To do this we have to be willing to take casualties, be incredibly mobile, and steadfastly patient. Whether this can survive the pacifists, who have started the clarion call for turning the other cheek (so Osama can bash that one too), is another question. To ignore the monsters that turned our TV’s into a real life Schwarzenegger movie and scarred the NY skyline, is to invite their next act: a cargo ship or fast speedboat with a nuke into an American port or a smallpox/Marburg* release into a domed ball game.
*One of the nightmare concoctions of the Russians 3 decade secret biological warfare program.
Copyright © 2001 Michael Hammerschlag
Michael Hammerschlag has written commentaries for Seattle Times, Providence Journal, Honolulu Advertiser; Moscow News, Tribune, and + Guardian. He spent 2 years in Russia/SU , where he studied the multiple ongoing wars in the southern Moslem CIS republics. His website is http://mikehammer.tripod.com + e-mail email@example.com