|Al-Ahram Weekly Online
22 - 28 November 2001
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875||Current issue | Previous issue | Site map|
Let's (all) go fly a kite
Don't hold your collective breath, comrades. There'll be no Vietnam in Afghanistan -- Kandahar is no Stalingrad and the Sierra Maestra hilltops have about as much to do with the widely advertised caves of Afghanistan as Havana does with Kabul. The two are different as Fidel and Che from Mullah Omar and Osama Bin Laden.
So this particular party is, for all practical purposes, over.
And we might as well admit it; it's been very neatly done. The much dreaded ground war was finished almost before it began; it involved a mere spattering of American and British forces -- basically directing aerial bombardment (allied soldiers, we've been told, have sustained "a few light injuries"). For what it's been worth, the "fighting" was mostly done by "friendly forces" -- the self-same Afghan "mujahidin" who have been busy butchering each other, and tens of thousands of their people, for the past ten years.
Now, "the curtain has been lifted," announced US Secretary of State Colin Powell in his much-hyped address at the McConnell Center for Political Leadership, in Louisville, Kentucky, on Monday. He drew his audience's and the world's attention to "the joyous pictures of liberated Afghans, of women throwing off their burqas, children happily flying kites." Less joyous images of the liberators' assorted lynchings are easily blocked out of the larger picture -- after all, these are bearded, pyjama-clad, burqa-bedecked Afghans, and, even worse, Arab Afghans; they're not American soldiers in Somalia, or Israeli undercover agents out to create mayhem at a Palestinian funeral. Indeed, the war in Afghanistan has far outdone Iraq as a collateral damager's dream, what with the major networks waving the flag even more frantically than their governmental/corporate masters, the Taliban keeping the media out of the country, and the Afghans having, in any case, killed each other with admirable consistency for as long as anyone can remember.
Certainly, the Taliban are not finished yet. But then, they're not supposed to be finished. Back in the caves or the madrasas, from this point on they are destined to play a very similar role to that which Saddam Hussein has been playing in Baghdad for the past ten years: keeping a low-grade conflict alive, and US or allied forces in the region.
So let's not fool ourselves. This war was never about "eradicating terrorism," whether or not Bin Laden and a number of his Qa'eda generals are captured and/or killed. From the very start, anyone who is not blinded by official and media rubbish has recognised the war in Afghanistan for what it is: a matter of using one stone to kill a whole host of big, small and medium-sized birds, none of which is "international terrorism." Assuaging the American public's rage over the 11 September attack has certainly been a major motivation, but so has asserting the US's global hegemony and power: a terrorist is whoever we decide is a terrorist. The devil take definitions, and who needs evidence?
Overnight, Dubya became a war president, the powerful and estimable leader of the free and civilised world. Totally forgotten are the Third Worldish elections that brought him into office (chads? what chads?). Europe, which was smarting over Kyoto and various other slights by Washington, has been brought smartly into line, as has Russia (so much so that, this week, the American media declared themselves "charmed" by Putin, who is possibly second only to our very own Yasser Arafat on the world's most charmless political leader list). And "oh, what a lovely war for profits" to borrow the title of a New Statesman article by its US editor, Andrew Stephen, who asks pointedly: "What patriotic American could say no" to the Economic Security and Recovery Act? This, Stephen explains, provides for $100 billion worth of tax breaks, three-quarters to major corporations, with only $14 billion going to poor and middle-income families.
The US armed forces are sitting pretty (and, I would hazard, enduringly) on yet another petroleum-strategic region while, back at the military-industrial complex, they're most likely guzzling champagne by the crateload. After all, consumption for its own sake is every capitalist's dream, and what more can an armaments manufacturer hope for than an enduring war without targets, and hence with unlimited targets?
All this in the midst of a frenzied revival of patriotism, jingoism and racial hatred that would warm the heart of a Krupp von Bohln. Not since the Jews -- it is safe to say -- has modern Western capitalism revelled in such a wonderfully unifying enemy as the Arabs and Muslims after 11 September. It might get embarrassing domestically, and awkward from a foreign policy perspective, but the rewards are beyond belief: emergency law in Britain; secret military trials in the US; laws for citizens and laws for non-citizens; different standards for law enforcement according to citizens' ethnic and religious identity; 1,000 people (both citizens and non-citizens) held in America without charge or trial for over two months; appeals to loosen legislation prohibiting torture; a free hand for the state to invade everyone's privacy through unrestrained surveillance; docile legislatures; imperial presidencies and autocratic premierships; a war-drum-beating media that openly and slavishly boasts its self-censorship -- and this while waving the flag of "our democratic values."
The quagmire of Afghanistan has been smooth sailing and, all in all, "the war against terror" -- boasted as the most significant military operation since World War II -- has been a tremendously successful enterprise. So successful, indeed, that it has achieved a hitherto elusive, and to me unfathomable, American scholarly invention, "the win-win situation." For, lo and behold, the "terrorists" have won too. On the ground, it may have been nothing but a sordid little war; one set of cutthroats (in new American-supplied uniforms) replacing another, thanks to American carpet bombing. But it's billed as World War III; and it's being fought on a virtual terrain that has set "our values" against "theirs," the civilised against the uncivilised, the good against the evil; ultimately, the West against Islam. Bin Laden, if they do catch him, will die with a beatific smile on his face.
On both sides of the battle lines in this war of civilisations, however, democracy is being put to the slaughter.
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