Thursday, June 4, 2009
Combating Extremism in Pakistan and Afghanistan
The Pakistani, Afghani and American governments claim a single, united force called the Taliban spreads through rural Pakistan bringing death, destruction and mayhem into Pakistan and Afghanistan, threatening to destabilize, if not extirpate, those two governments. The commonly accepted western rendition for the Taliban is portrayed as a hard-line, Islamic Fundamentalist group with links to Al Qaeda seeking to enforce an antiquated and despotic form of Islamic religious law called Sharia throughout the Near East through a theocracy they will impose replacing the so-called democracies currently governing Pakistan and Afghanistan, as well as attack and destroy American assets where ever vulnerable.
In Pakistan, the term Taliban applies to just about anything. For many Pakistanis, the term indicates those who are outraged by their corrupt government, the lack of justice emanating from Pakistan's system of jurisprudence and the dearth of social services and educational opportunities available. Many affluent Pakistanis see the Taliban as a lawless, criminal element which grows beards and waves guns as they rob, steal, loot, and commandeer property. Determining what the term Taliban represents has more to do with who is doing the assessment than who the Taliban actually is and what their aims may actually be.
The framing of terms by politicians in a manner consistent with the image they wish portrayed is a trend in international affairs which evolved over the last century to discourage consensus and cooperation while encouraging mutual distrust, antagonism and conflict. The resulting calamities rear the ugly head of clashes between cultures engulfing multiple continents in conflagration of world war. World war in the contemporary age poses stakes too grave to risk. An historical understanding of the dynamic, if shared among the world's population, should help avoid repeating past mistakes.
Since the events leading up to the start of WWI, world leaders and heads of states have found it all too convenient to brand events, along with the individuals and groups who influence or initiate events, in narrowly defined terms indicating polarized viewpoints of good versus evil. The practice evolved over the last hundred years to such a commonplace degree that the hubris endemic to the hyperbole of contemporary claims becomes lost in the heat of jingoistic rhetoric espoused by rah-rah, my-country-right-or-wrong politicians and pundits. The consequence reveals itself as politicians manipulate public opinion with claims that conflict is required to save democracy, to protect freedom, to deter megalomaniac despots, to preserve civilization or to defend and preserve a way of life.
Serbians who sought independence from the autocratic and highly discriminatory Austro-Hungarian Empire were cast as brutally inhuman terrorists who disrupted the order, affluence, tradition and grandeur of German and Austro-Hungarian imperial societies, but were seen as egalitarian freedom fighters in the Balkans. When Woodrow Wilson brought America into WWI, his propaganda arm, called the Committee on Public Information, painted the Austro-Hungarian and German alliance as modern Attila the Hun barbarians determined to eradicate freedom and democracy in Europe even though monarchies ruled Europe at the time with only England really evidencing any degree of democratic institutions. Wilson's ability to define WWI in black and white terms of freedom versus despotism was so effective that American born Germans denied their true nationality, referring to their national heritage as Pennsylvania Dutch to avoid incurring the retributive condemnation of the emotionally inflamed average American.
In Mein Kampf, Hitler characterized the struggle for world domination as being an ongoing battle between Aryans and Jews, to whom he referred as being parasitical, blood sucking middlemen. The combination of reducing Jews to scapegoats for the German plight and ingratiating himself to the German public through deferential flattery insinuating their rightful place as world rulers, led to his assumption of power and allowed him to initiate a war of retribution with full public approval.
Many Americans shared Hitler's disdain for Jews, seeing them as the banking elite who forced poverty on the world through the Great Depression. However, because Germany was allied with Japan, and because both governments operated through despotic regimes and were engaged in conflicts against democracies (Japan with the US, Germany with England and France), Americans who had been isolationist prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor were easily cajoled by FDR into enjoining WWII against the Axis powers.
In both WWI and WWII, American shipping and manufacturing interests took a beating from German submarine warfare. American corporate magnates thought they'd make a financial killing as America remained neutral while supplying Britain with weapons and other supplies. German submarine warfare exacted a huge financial toll because products were not delivered and sunken cargo ships had to be replaced at great expense. Industrialists pressured both Wilson and FDR to respond militarily against Germany in each respective war, but the Presidents were unable to act in the absence of public mandates. Wilson used the sinking of the Lusitania and FDR capitalized on Pearl Harbor as the means to enflame the American public into entering the wars, thereby placating the industrialists' demands. Those same industrial magnates realized once the US entered each war, even greater financial enrichment would accrue because of the added American war related expenditures.
The two world wars gave birth to what Dwight Eisenhower termed the military-industrial complex in his farewell speech at the conclusion of his second Presidential term. War related industries proved to be too profitable for American industrial capitalists to resist preserving. Military readiness and unprecedented might, Americans were told, provided the only real security against the newly christened, communist threat. In order to make that threat more real, more vital and more frightening, a rationale was developed to seduce American commitment to continued military expenditures. Jingoist American politicians like Joe McCarthy fabricated a communist threat to America's democracy beyond Russian and Chinese capabilities to deliver through the rhetoric of hate and fear. America built and maintained a standing army and military arsenal beyond the world's wildest imagination. The industrialists who profited from investments in military hardware never grew wealthier more rapidly. The Cold War proved to be Big Business.
The Truman Doctrine promised economic and military armaments to Greece and Turkey to stem the alleged threat of Russian communism's advance into those nations, thus setting the first wheels in motion for American Post War industrial profiteers' enrichment. George Kennan then articulated the idea of communist containment, arguing against allowing the creation of communist nations in so-called buffer zones outside Russia and China even if elected and supported by the citizens. The containment principle resulted in the Korean and Vietnamese conflicts. While national security was promoted as the foundation for the containment argument, it is hard to fathom just how America was threatened by nationalist movements in Vietnam or Korea. Consequently, the so-called Domino Theory was advanced by Eisenhower who suggested the "falling domino principle," and JFK who suggested America intervene to prevent the South Vietnamese "domino from falling." The primary uses of the term were promoted by LBJ and Richard Nixon as both Presidents referred to it as the rationale for continued US intervention amid mounting losses and an inability to defeat a weaker opponent.
Closer scrutiny reveals an even bigger business than Cold War arms production was discovered when military hardware was put to use on the battlefields of Korea and Vietnam. America invested heavily in research and development for new military technology. Weaponry was used on the battlefield, and when destroyed it had to be replaced. Advancements made in military machinery demanded mass production of the innovations. Spent ammunition had to be replaced. The arms race required a never-ending commitment to arms design, testing, production and use. All these factors further enriched American military-industrial complex magnates. Wealth accrued to them in greater proportions, stoking the flames of ever-increasing greed.
After the emancipation of Eastern Europe, the Clinton Administration used the "windfall" of the so-called "peace dividend" to pay down the accumulated national debt from the Cold War, the arms race, the space race and the wars in Korea and Vietnam along with the War on Drugs in South and Central America. While the debt reduction improved the American financial condition, average Americans' financial security, and helped stem the rise of tax consequences, the incomes of American military-industrial complex magnates decreased.
Ironically, almost as soon as George W. Bush (who had been financially backed by military-industrial complex magnates) assumed the Presidency, a surprise attack on the symbols of American economic and military pre-eminence occurred as the World Trade Towers were destroyed and the Pentagon was damaged by commercial aircraft commandeered by "terrorists." Adding to the irony, the perpetrators of the terrorist acts were former allies of Bush Administration members. Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney had funded and armed Osama bin Laden's mujahedeen as it battled the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. The Bush Administration demonized the terrorists as ruthless thugs determined to destroy civilization and eradicate freedom, eliciting an American determination for revenge. Further increasing the irony, when the American military had bin Laden cornered in Tora Bora, Bush ceased military operations leaving bin Laden and his network alive.
The Bush Administration refocused on Saddam Hussein and Iraq. Saddam had been an ally of Rumsfeld and Cheney in their scheme to impede the spread of the Iranian Revolution. However, Saddam used WMDs, which had been provided to him by Rumsfeld and Cheney, against Iran and Iraqis. The Bush Administration sought revenge for those forbidden acts. Bush created the specter of a mushroom cloud over New York City and suggested Saddam would arm Al Qaeda to create such a scenario. The fear and hatred Bush inculcated in Americans for Saddam and Al Qaeda resulted in not only a commitment for war, but also a severe anti-Islamic sentiment at home leading to the perpetration of hate crimes. An attack on Iraq also proved a far more financially rewarding windfall to Bush's military-industrial complex cronies than a continued pursuit of bin Laden would have.
America's new President, Barack Obama, recently redefined American objectives in Bush's War on Terror. While Obama claims to have refocused American military sights on Osama bin Laden and the Al Qaeda network, so far American military targets are claimed as being Taliban assets but only seem to increase Afghani civilian casualties. The Pakistan military claims to have focused its efforts on the Taliban, but refuses to permit media reporters to accompany missions, verify body counts or conduct investigations into the likelihood of Pakistani civilian casualties.
Pakistanis see the Taliban and Al Qaeda as having been created by America. They do not feel a responsibility to eradicate the Taliban. They believe this is America's war. For the last few years, the Pakistani public expressed a strong anti-American sentiment. The current climate has risen to out and out American hatred. Few Pakistanis believe that real Muslim Taliban are the perpetrators of violence, but subscribe to the opinion that the so-called Taliban with guns are part of an American sham.
Many Pakistanis explain the real problem is poverty. Nothing is being done to create jobs, provide the appearance of stability or enforce the rule of law. Teenagers gravitate to the Taliban because there are no jobs while the thrill of riding around in vehicles waving weapons at least provides a sense of excitement. There are no profits for American military-industrial complex magnates if poverty is attacked instead of alleged military targets, so America focuses on military intervention instead of a humanitarian course of action.
The military response to terrorism only breeds more terrorists, assuring continued military activity and continued profits for American military-industrial complex magnates, whereas the real threat to Al Qaeda and the Taliban resides in affluence, jobs, security and a sense of participatory government which is responsive to the needs of the people. Investing in infrastructure and schools while breeding good will and inclusive participation are far better tools for waging war against extremism than guns and bombs and bullets and civilian casualties caught in the crossfire brought on by economic interests and the desire of military-industrial magnates for increased profit margins.
My article, titled "Combating Extremism in Pakistan and Afghanistan," has been published in the Summer 2009 issue of The Glasgow Review.