In This Edition: War and Delusion
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Sludge Report #108
War and Delusion
When US President George W. Bush, the Commander in Chief, returned from his weekend war retreat at the beginning of last week the talk was tough.
George junior talked of a crusade against evildoers. He talked of smoking the terrorists out of their holes and bringing them to justice.
Meanwhile, at the beginning of last week, even the more sober voices in the US administration were talking of imminent retaliatory strikes. Battle groups were dispatched and the Taliban were given an ultimatum. They had three days to decide whether to hand over public enemy No. 1, Osama bin Laden.
The deadline expired on Wednesday US Time (Thursday NZT). But there was no retaliation. In fact there wasn’t even much of a hint of such.
The US Ambassador to Pakistan appeared before the media on Wednesday local time and explained that not only were there no US service personnel in Pakistan, contrary to widespread rumour. In fact, the ambassador said, nor were there even any US technical negotiators in the country, and she didn’t know when they would be arriving.
In the world of real politik - as opposed to the world of CNN war, which has become our daily fare on TV - the odds of the kind of rapid-fire military strikes against the Taliban that we had all expected practically disappeared the day Pakistan’s President General Pervez Musharraf was summoned to the imperial table by US Secretary of State Colin Powell.
Powell was asked by the media at the time if Musharraf was trustworthy. He replied that the General - whose name G.W. Bush controversially could not recall during his election campaign - was considered completely trustworthy by the U.S. administration.
What this meant, to anyone who knew Musharraf, was that the chances of any knee-jerk military strikes had practically disappeared.
The U.S. could not at the same time enter into negotiations with Musharraf and at the same time completely undermine his authority by launching strikes against the Taliban.
On the timetable front Musharraf has paid lip-service to the U.S. demands for urgent action. However, as anyone might have told CNN had they bothered to ask, speed of action is not part of the makeup of diplomacy in this part of the world.
That the world’s greatest superpower the U.S. decided to in effect surrender its ability to make its foreign policy decisions in the wake of the World Trade Center attacks to Pakistan may at first glance seem remarkable. But in fact the US had no choice.
Any attack on the Taliban mounted by the US Air Force has to go through Pakistani air space. And without Pakistani intelligence cooperation on targeting any action at all would be wholly pointless.
General Musharraf appeared on TV early last week to explain his decision to cooperate with the U.S. Administration to the people of Pakistan. He explained his decision in largely practical terms.
Principal among the aims of the Pakistani regime at this time would appear to be obtaining concessions from the U.S. in return for any cooperation. In particular the Government of Musharraf is said to be seeking forgiveness of USD$30 billion of debt.
Musharraf however has not yet committed himself to any cooperation with US strikes against the Taliban, and whether he does so or not may ultimately be a decision that will be taken only once the pulse of his huge nation is fully assessed.
For Musharraf, and in fact for US too, the equation is simple. What profit would there be in winning the permission of Pakistan to mount a strike against Afghanistan, if the nation of Pakistan itself and its nuclear capacity is lost to extremists.
Meanwhile in the context of this judgment, in Islamic terms the deal that Musharraf is considering - debt forgiveness in return for cooperation - is far from attractive.
It will not be at all hard for anti-American hardliners to portray such a deal as a surrender to U.S. capitalism. Opponents will also be able to accuse Musharraf of accepting blood money, for the betrayal of an ally and a brother.
At about this point in the analysis of the U.S. attempts to form a “Global Alliance Against Terrorism” it starts to come clear that the White House, and Downing St, are living in a state of deep delusion.
As this column is being written UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw is departing for Iran where he intends to work on bringing the regime of Ayatollah Khomeini into this alliance.
Before he bothers, Minister Straw might be well advised to ring President Khatami and ask his opinion on the degree of flexibility indicated on such issues within Iran’s ruling mullahs. For this columnist the story of King Canute and the tide comes to mind.
The U.S. says it is seeking a global alliance against terrorism.
But in reality all they have achieved so far it is a global alliance of just two, or possibly three: the US, the UK and Australia. Interestingly these are the only nations presently backing the air war against Iraq. And even the UK is asking some fairly tough questions about the nature of President Bush's plans.
Other nations like Pakistan, France and Germany indicate support in theory for a US plan, but when it comes to the practical issues of who should be struck, by what and when, there is nothing that looks remotely like consensus emerging.
Perhaps more significantly for the US, in the Middle East where a broad alliance against Iraq was formed in 1991 by Colin Powell and his team, there is so far not a single nation signing on the bottom line to back strikes against either the terrorists themselves or the nations that harbour them.
And so, this writer thinks, it is not unreasonable for the peace movement to take some heart at this point in the aftermath of the horrendous events of September 11th.
On the other side of the debate however, spin masters will soon be working overtime in the White House, trying to extract the President from the risk of being hoist on his own petard.
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