In the documentary film “The Most Dangerous Man In America,” Daniel Ellsberg tells about a fellow Rand Corporation war planner circa 1968 who described the US commitment to the war in Vietnam this way:
“We are 10 percent concerned about the Vietnamese; we are 20 percent concerned about the Chinese; and we are 70 percent concerned about saving face.”
The United States has now clearly arrived at the same insidious predicament in Afghanistan.
Sure, we are concerned about al Qaeda and other violent elements hostile to the United States. The threat from al Qaeda is real – as is the fact that a history of foreign, and especially US, intervention in Muslim lands is at the root of this hostility. This backstory, of course, is embargoed from mainstream American minds — as our military policies rely on yet more intervention in places like Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Last week an Americanized Pakistani who had lost his job as a financial analyst and whose $285,000 home had been foreclosed failed in a bumbling attempt to bomb Times Square. Already, demagogues like Senator Joe Lieberman are working the incident as a means of emasculating the Constitution, calling among other things for revocation of the man’s US citizenship.
Former CIA operative Bob Baer told MSNBC that Americans should not be surprised at attacks like this, given the killing of dozens of Pakistanis by remotely piloted drones each week in the Pashtun areas of northwest Pakistan. Former CIA European station chief Tyler Drumheller added this: “We cannot think that we’re going to attack them and they won’t attack us.”
Sure, the nations of the Middle East and South Asia have problems, and many people there are hostile to the US and its ally Israel. Sure, the Taliban are far from free-market westerners. But none of this justifies a military occupation of Afghanistan. The Taliban, at least up to this Time Square incident, have never attacked us and had shown no interest in doing so; and al Qaeda has reportedly moved on from Afghanistan.
Besides having no impact on the effort to defeat al Qaeda, supporting 100,000 very expensive US troops and a massive military infrastructure in Afghanistan is actually playing into al Qaeda’s hands, since the tremendous cost of supporting this military bootprint in such an inaccessible, rugged place furthers Osama bin Laden’s clearly expressed desire to drive the US to bankruptcy.
We can quibble about the percentages, but it’s clear the US government and the US military are, again, in the costly face-saving business. The face they are saving has to do with US military prestige and the policy, at a time of great domestic economic stress and need at home, of escalating war in Afghanistan and Pakistan instead of doing everything possible to ratchet hostilities down and pull the troops out.
SECRECY AND PUBLIC RELATIONS
Forget the PR. The decision to escalate has to do with the fact that the war is not going well and the hope that if they just keep it going long enough, a combination of our immense power and determination will somehow wear the insurgency down and disprove the old notion of Afghanistan as the “graveyard of empires.”
Meanwhile, it is difficult for critics to get at the truth about Afghanistan thanks to the incredible secrecy of our military operations and our wars. This is one side of a two-sided monster. The other side is the military’s powerful public relations capacity. There’s the secret world of managing the wars, and there’s the PR world of explaining them to the tax-paying public. And never the twain shall meet.
Back in 1971, Daniel Ellsberg blew the lid off this monster when he xeroxed and released the so-called Pentagon Papers. Unfortunately, what the government and the military learned was not to let such a thing happen again. The Obama administration is currently going after one New York Times reporter, James Risen, in court and is working in other areas to plug other leaks.