Freethought San Marcos: A column
by LAMAR W. HANKINS
Every now and then I have what I call a “let me get this straight” moment. I never know when one will hit, but I had one today as I was thinking about the WikiLeaks postings, President Obama’s earlier statement that we had no choice but to attack Afghanistan (to justify his escalation of that war), and the recent effort to extend some provisions in the USA PATRIOT Act.
About 9 1/2 years ago, a small group of militant, suicidal jihadists succeeded in killing about 3,000 people in the US (some weren’t Americans, but their lives are as important as are American lives). Our leaders, in order to be seen as leaders, attacked Afghanistan, the country where the jihadist leaders of the terrorism of 9/11/01 were believed to be living.
The attack on Afghanistan occurred after President Bush demanded that the Afghan government, controlled by the Taliban, turn over to us Osama bin Laden and his henchmen. Such demands had been made for several years by the US because of earlier acts of terror believed to have been perpetrated by bin Laden. The Afghan government responded to the 2001 and earlier entreaties with several offers. They were willing to prosecute bin Laden if we would supply the evidence that bin Laden was responsible for the terrorist acts. In another gesture indicating a willingness to cooperate, the Taliban offered to turn bin Laden over to a neutral, Muslim third country for prosecution. Another proposal was for bin Laden to be prosecuted before a tribunal of Islamic jurists. Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United States would each choose one of the jurists. A subsequent proposal called for only one Islamic jurist on the panel. Other proposals included one to rely on some Saudi clerics to approve turning over bin Laden for prosecution. None of the proposals were acceptable to the US.
Diplomatic efforts to prosecute bin Laden in this country began under Clinton in 1996 after bin Laden was suspected of terrorist activity. Efforts were renewed in 1998 after bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were attributed to bin Laden. In 1999, the UN demanded, at US insistence, that bin Laden be surrendered so that he could be tried somewhere else besides the US. These and other efforts never bore fruit before the bombing started about four weeks after 9/11 because Presidents Clinton and Bush would not provide the requested evidence of bin Laden’s transgressions.
Part of the problem was the lack of appreciation by US diplomats of the Afghan culture, dominated by the Pashtuns. Taliban leader Mohammad Omar told US officials that bin Laden was a guest and they were honor-bound to protect him unless just cause was shown to expel him; even so, over several years of negotiations, the Afghans may have provided opportunities to get bin Laden that US officials missed. Twice Taliban officials indicated that they were not then protecting bin Laden, but the hints that these were openings to allow the US to get bin Laden without Afghan interference were missed by the State Department probably because of cultural insensitivity, normally a requisite for diplomatic work.
On other occasions, the Taliban wanted documentary evidence of bin Laden’s responsibility for 9/11 to be reviewed by Islamic legal scholars, a reasonable desire for those attuned to Islamic sensibilities, but rejected by the Bush administration.
Reports about these activities appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the Guardian, and elsewhere before the bombing of Afghanistan began. But most Americans did not read or learn of this information, or care about it, at a time when the Bush administration wanted desperately to go to war to take advantage of the appetite for revenge that permeated the country. Bush’s attitude was that there was “no need to discuss innocence or guilt (because) we know he’s guilty.” Even after the bombing started, the Taliban was willing to negotiate turning over bin Laden to a third country that could not be controlled by the US.
So, if I have this straight, in retaliation for the deaths of 3,000 people on US soil, the impatience of our President, and the failure of our diplomatic corps, President Bush started a war with Afghanistan that has resulted in the deaths of over 2300 coalition military service men and women, over 300 contractors, 19 journalists, over 8800 Afghan civilians, and over 8500 Afghan troops. All together, the Afghan War has resulted in nearly 20,000 deaths (and I have omitted the “collateral damage” in Pakistan) to avenge the killing of 3,000 people, and Osama bin Laden has not been killed or captured so far as we know. All of this has cost the American taxpayers in borrowed money about $380 billion.
And before we forget, we have President Ronald Reagan (along with Donald Rumsfeld, Reagan’s Special Envoy to the Middle East) to thank for creating the terrorist capability of Osama bin Laden and the fighting capability of the Taliban as Reagan fought a proxy war with the former Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Reagan trained, armed, equipped, and funded Islamist mujahidin fighters to oppose the Soviets, giving them top-secret intelligence and sophisticated weapons with the help of the Pakistani intelligence service. Osama bin Laden became a prominent mujahidin commander during the Soviets’ Afghan war. Reagan even continued the war after the Soviets were ready to retreat so that he could cause them additional economic and military damage, a move that increased bin Laden’s prominence in Afghanistan and throughout the Muslim world.
In the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorism, some of our political leaders pumped up the patriotic emotions that are never far below the surface for most Americans. It was reminiscent of what President John Adams did in 1798 during some conflicts with France as he pumped up support for the Alien and Sedition Acts, which banned opposition to government policies and forbade speaking ill of the president. He used a series of slogans: “National dishonor was a greater evil than war!” – “It was cowardice to shrink from war!” – “The national character would be ruined if the populace failed to resist tyranny!” – “This generation would betray its colonial forefathers if it proved to be spineless!”
The same intensity of propaganda was used by the Bush administration to take us to war in Afghanistan and secure the passage of the USA PATRIOT Act, an act that severely curtailed our rights to be free from unreasonable search and seizure and to enjoy the benefits of privacy that we the once took for granted.
President Obama is now in the midst of an escalation of the Afghan War at a time when documents obtained through WikiLeaks indicate most military leaders involved with the Afghan War realize that it is a lost cause, an impossible mission. Brian Becker, the Director of the American anti-war A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition, explained the significance of the leaked documents: “In its broadest context these documents prove that the war in Afghanistan cannot be won and that the leaders of the US government know that it cannot be won, but they don’t want to tell the American people the truth because they don’t want to take responsibility. They don’t want it to be known in history that, on our watch – Obama or Petraeus – the great United States lost a war against an armed insurgency in Afghanistan.”
In a real sense, the Afghan War is yet another war begun on false pretenses because we could have solved the problem of Osama bin Laden and his group if we had been better diplomats and had restrained our desire for revenge. Once again, we chose war, partly to satisfy the desire of George W. Bush to fulfill his dream of playing a Commander in Chief role, and partly to satisfy the American appetite for war–the dark, camouflaged part of the American character that we don’t like to acknowledge.
© Lamar W. Hankins, Freethought San MarcosEmail | Print