Another Day, Another Gate of Hell Swings Open

This week another gate swung open in the multi-chambered hell that is the "War on Terror." George W. Bush has authorized the invasion of Pakistan by American ground forces, and the armed incursions have already begun. The implications of this move -- which largely corresponds with the strategy that Barack Obama has said he would employ in the region -- are disturbing in the extreme.

William Pfaff takes up this subject with his usual clarity and good sense in a new article at Truthdig. In a telling insight, he produces the historical analogy most relevant to the current situation:

The United States has just invaded Cambodia. The name of Cambodia this time is Pakistan, but otherwise it’s the same story as in Indochina in 1970.

An American army, deeply frustrated by its inability to defeat an anti-American insurgent movement despite years of struggle, decides that the key to victory lies in a neighboring country. In 1970, the problem was the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Cambodia. Today it is Taliban and al-Qaida bases inside Pakistan, which the United States has been attacking from the air for some time, with controversial “collateral damage.”...

Washington’s decision was made known just in time for the seventh anniversary of the 9/11 attacks that opened the first phase of the “war on terror,” after which “nothing could ever be the same.” We no doubt have now begun phase two.

Pfaff notes that the result of that previous "surge" was not a happy one:

The eventual outcome of the American intervention in Cambodia in 1970 was Communist overthrow of the American-sponsored military government in that country, followed by genocide....

In the Vietnamese case, the American military command held that it could win the war by invading Cambodia to cut the so-called Ho Chi Minh Trail, along which supplies and arms for the Viet Cong Communist insurrection were being transported. The argument made was that cutting this route would starve the Viet Cong of supplies.

Initially, the unhappy Prince Sihanouk of Cambodia, desperately trying to keep his country out of the Vietnam War, was persuaded to turn a blind eye to U.S. bombing of the trail. A military coup followed in 1970, installing an American puppet general. B-52 saturation bombing ensued, without the desired military effect, but killing many Cambodians.

The joint U.S. and South Vietnamese “incursion” to cut the trail came in April 1970; it simply pushed the supply operations deeper into Cambodia. Richard Nixon said he acted to prove that the United States was not “a second-rate power.” “If, when the chips are down, the world’s most powerful nation acts like a pitiful helpless giant, the forces of totalitarianism and anarchy will threaten free nations and free institutions throughout the world.”

Or to translate this into our modern idiom: "The terrorists would win." To forestall the terrible fate of looking like a "second-rate power" -- a persistent anxiety of our national leaders; which is not surprising, given how second-rate they are -- Nixon opted for the usual method employed by presidents in such circumstances: mass murder. As I noted in a piece written a few years ago:

It's 1970. Nixon is angry: The Air Force is not killing enough people in Cambodia, the country he has just illegally invaded without the slightest pretence of Congressional approval. The flyboys are doing "milk runs," their intelligence-gathering is too by-the-book: There are "other methods" of getting intelligence, he tells Kissinger. "You understand what I mean?" "Yes, I do," pipes the loyal retainer.

Nixon then orders Kissinger to send every available plane into Cambodia -- bombers, fighters, helicopters, prop planes -- to "crack the hell out of them," smother the entire country with deadly fire: "I want them to hit everything." Kissinger tells his own top aide, General Alexander Haig, to try to implement the plan: "He wants a massive bombing campaign in Cambodia," Kissinger says. "It's an order, it's to be done. Anything that flies on anything that moves."

That's how the system works, beneath the mask. A blustering fool issues an order, and thousands upon thousands of innocent people die. An entire country is ripped to shreds, and into the smoking ruins steps a fanatical band of crazed extremists -- the Khmer Rouge -- who murder two million more.

Years later, of course, George W. Bush -- another little second-rater anxious about his manhood -- would "crack the hell" out of Iraq: an operation that is already nearing Khmer Rouge proportions, with more than a million dead so far. The new Bush-McCain-Obama move into Pakistan could presage an even greater orgy of death and ruin, especially if Pakistan's nuclear arsenal comes into play. As Pfaff notes:

The future consequences in (nuclear-armed) Pakistan await. There is every reason to think they may include civil protest and disorder in the country, political crisis, a major rise in the strength of Pakistan’s own Islamic fundamentalist movement and, conceivably, a small war between the United States and the Pakistan army, which is the central institution in the country, has a mind of its own and is not a negligible military force.

Pfaff also references one of the most salient -- and almost universally ignored -- facts about the current crisis: Washington's direct hand in creating it:

Pakistan’s military intelligence services created the Taliban while they were collaborating with the CIA to form the mujahadeen that drove the Soviet Union out of Afghanistan. Many in the service still support the Taliban as a useful instrument against India, and to keep Afghanistan out of the hands of more dangerous enemies.

Indeed. As we noted here a few months ago:

Those Taliban and al Qaeda sanctuaries that threaten American forces would not exist if Afghanistan was not a massively failed state, ravaged to pieces by 30 years of sectarian war. And that sectarian war would not have raged so long and so virulently if the American government (and its allies in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia) had not decided to arm, train, fund and organize the world's most violent, retrograde religious extremists into a worldwide movement. And why did Washington do such a "notably wrong-headed" thing? Because the American elite -- stung and emasculated by their defeat in Indochina -- wanted to "give the Soviets their own Vietnam," in the words of Zbigniew Brzezinski. And so Jimmy Carter -- yes, mild-mannered ole Jimmuh -- greenlighted the covert op to build up a jihad army that would destabilize the secular government of Afghanistan and provoke the Soviets to intervene to save their clients there.

The fact that America's support of violent religious extremists in Afghanistan pre-dated the Soviet invasion there -- and was actually a cause of the invasion -- is of course virtually unknown in the land of the free (free of any useful information about what their overlords are getting up to, that is). At almost every turn, American policies have created more violence and more extremism in the region, either by design, or through neglect, or as the inevitable result of heavy-handed, blood-sodden massive military intervention.

Expanding the war to Pakistan...would certainly be in keeping with the long, bipartisan tradition of American policy there. And it would undoubtedly produce the same bitter fruit: more decades of hatred, extremism, poverty, ruin and suffering.

Now that expansion has begun. It will doubtless continue no matter who is president next year, for both major candidates and their running mates have enthusiastically pledged their allegiance to the Terror War -- despite the fact, as I wrote more than two years ago:

...What matters most now is ending the so-called "war on terror," this dance of death led by two small factions whose ambitions and principles are depraved, inhuman and obscene.

Naturally, we should apprehend anyone who commits a crime--murder, destruction, looting, extortion, intimidation--and subject them to the rule of law. And this should of course be done no matter what kind of organization the criminal belongs to: a religious sect, a mafia clan, a corporation--or a national government. All such criminals should be subjected to the judicial process--either domestically, in the countries where they commit their crimes, or internationally--no matter what grand abstraction they claim as "justification" for their misdeeds: "freedom and democracy," "national security," "defense of the ummah," "God's will."

"Stateless criminals" like the terrorists of al Qaeda are just that: criminals. They should be dealt with as criminals, and not inflated and glorified into gigantic figures of world-historical import. The perpetrators of state terrorism are somewhat different, because they are far more powerful and wreak far more damage than the freebooters on the fringe of society. But of course they too should be held accountable, as individuals, not only for the crimes they commit, but also for the crimes they order to be committed, and the crimes that arise indirectly from circumstances they have deliberately created with their great power.

Both sides need the other in this insane global conflict--but ironically, only one side can actually stop the "war." Only the United States can cease to respond with massive military force all over the world to provocations from criminals on the fringe. Only the United States can say, "We are not fighting a war; we are dealing with criminal actions as they arise--while working feverishly on the diplomatic, social, political, cultural and economic fronts to address the conditions in which the particular set of crimes known as 'terrorism' are apt to arise. It is a complicated business, to be sure: hard work, often unrewarding, full of pitfalls and reverses--but we are wise enough and strong enough as a nation to see it through."

But this course--the only sensible, and only genuinely effective response to criminal actions of extremist groups -- will never be undertaken by the Bush Faction, no matter who heads it. Nor by anyone else, of whatever political stripe, who buys into the militarist philosophy of an American dominance imposed on the world by force (either directly or through the more subtly implied but ever-present threat of force favored by "liberal" advocates of "soft power").

As long as the Bush Regime -- or some other permutation of "Bushism" [which, as we can see in 2008, includes the Obama-Biden Terror War ticket] -- is in power, the "war on terror" will never end. It will go on spawning new wars, real wars... This blood-dimmed tide will keep rising: thousands, perhaps millions (if the hard-Right's dream of nuking Iran comes true) will be struck down by death and grief, and we will all keep falling deeper into the pit of a lamed and brutal life.

So when they ask why you are so "angry," why you are so "strident" and "shrill," tell them you've been vexed to nightmare by the foul embrace of the "war on terror" factions. Tell them you've had enough of the blood and filth, the power games, the talk of God from murderers' lips. Tell them the war is over -- the war is over -- and you'll have no more senseless killing in your name.