Fear of Clowns

"Faith may be defined briefly as an illogical belief in the occurrence of the improbable."
- H. L. Mencken
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Thursday, September 30, 2004

Two articles about Bush's "War on Terror" 

A recent issue (October) of the Atlantic has two must-read articles on Bush's war on terror.

The first is Peter Bergen's "The Long Hunt for Osama", also found here.

Bergen made two trips to Pakistan and Afghanistan while writing the article - It's the story of what has been known about bin Laden since 9/11. It's a good reminder of what has happened over the last several years - an example,

When I returned to Jalalabad, I spoke with Commander Muhammad Musa, who said he had led 600 Afghan soldiers on the Tora Bora front lines; with grudging admiration he recalled the tenacity with which some of al-Qaeda's fighters resisted to the end. "They fought very hard with us. When we captured them, they committed suicide with grenades. I saw three of them do that myself. The very hardest fighters were the Chechens." Musa praised the U.S. Air Force but was dismissive of American forces on the ground. "They were not involved in the fighting," he said. "There were six American soldiers with us, U.S. Special Forces. They coordinated the air strikes. My personal view is if they had blocked the way out to Pakistan, al-Qaeda would not have had a way to escape. The Americans were my guests here, but they didn't know about fighting."

And therein lies the crux of the problem. With only a small number of American "boots on the ground," the U.S. military chose to rely on the services of local Afghan proxies of uncertain loyalty and competence--a blunder that allowed many members of al-Qaeda, including Osama bin Laden himself, to slip away. The blunder meant that, as a senior U.S. military official told me, "we don't know for sure when bin Laden disappeared."

The second article is James Fallows' "Bush's Lost Year", also found here. Through extensive interviews with named and unnamed sources directly involved, it reveals this administrations' decision to shift the focus away from al Qaeda in Afghanistan towards Hussein in Iraq,

James Dobbins, who was the Bush Administration's special envoy for Afghanistan and its first representative in liberated Kabul, told me that three decisions in the early months "really shaped" the outcome in Afghanistan. "One was that U.S. forces were not going to do peacekeeping of any sort, under any circumstances. They would remain available to hunt down Osama bin Laden and find renegade Taliban, but they were not going to have any role in providing security for the country at large. The second was that we would oppose anybody else's playing this role outside Kabul. And this was at a time when there was a good deal of interest from other countries in doing so." A significant reason for refusing help, according to Dobbins, was that accepting it would inevitably have tied up more American resources in Afghanistan, especially for airlifting donated supplies to foreign-led peacekeeping stations in the hinterland. The third decision was that U.S. forces would not engage in any counter-narcotics activities. One effect these policies had was to prolong the disorder in Afghanistan and increase the odds against a stable government. The absence of American or international peacekeepers guaranteed that the writ of the new Karzai government would extend, at best, to Kabul itself.

...The Administration later placed great emphasis on making Iraq a showcase of Islamic progress: a society that, once freed from tyranny, would demonstrate steady advancement toward civil order, economic improvement, and, ultimately, democracy. Although Afghanistan is a far wilder, poorer country, it might have provided a better showcase, and sooner. There was no controversy about America's involvement; the rest of the world was ready to provide aid; if it wasn't going to become rich, it could become demonstrably less poor. The amount of money and manpower sufficient to transform Afghanistan would have been a tiny fraction of what America decided to commit in Iraq. But the opportunity was missed, and Afghanistan began a descent to its pre-Taliban warlord state.

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