Saturday, July 05, 2008

And the Answer Is...

There's something to be said for hearing from establishment figures who are loyal to the role of US as global hegemon. People like Richard Clarke are interesting in that they reveal just how radical and extreme the Bush administration is, but they are not usually critics of US military, economic, and political control of the world. This morning Linda Wertheimer interviews Clarke about the troubles that the US-NATO is experiencing in Afghanistan. Wertheimer asks, "Is there a way to turn the situation in Afghanistan around at this point?"

Now astute readers, what do you think the answer is? Any guesses? Maybe a regional solution? Come on, I think you can guess. Clarke says, "There is, but only by sending in MORE TROOPS, and keeping them there for a while...."

Now that is a smart idea, as the Soviets discovered. Clarke goes on to explain how the problem is also with Pakistan that and US unilateral action without Pakistani permission makes sense because, "any President has to act that way to protect the lives of Americans."

As Barnett Rubin notes in a post on Afghanistan, this flattening of the complex situation in Afghanistan to a rather stupid either/or proposition is common in the US media, but doesn't do anything to inform people, or suggest a way out of the morass of Afghanistan:
"As usual, the Times article presented the alternatives as do nothing, Predator missile strikes, or invasion by U.S. Special Forces, without any discussion of competing Pakistani and Pashtun political agendas for the tribal agencies. A successful and sustainable strategy has to be carried out together with allies in Pakistan and Afghanistan, within a political framework that they support."


Porter Melmoth said...

I hate to grandstand, but I have to say, I was personally opposed to 'taking' Afghanistan from the get-go, even though that mission was almost universally approved as a 'response' to 9/11 (token, I'd say, for the sake of the 'heartland').

Having examined Afghan history a bit, even an exclusively Wikipedia-literate student can put two and two together. Never mind all the medieval events. With no less than three British Afghan wars (yes, there was a third one in 1919 - a complete flop), not to mention the Soviet debacle, one might think, nobody 'takes' Afghanistan. Of course, the Neocons have publicly stated that 'history' doesn't apply to them. Well, we've seen what a smashing success that's been for them with Iraq. And Afghanistan's right up there, too. At least the British had the sense not to ever stay in the country. They realized that, at best, it would have to do as a buffer state between Russia and British India.

Now, these here Americans? Well, I'd wager that they're a tad bit in over their heads. Hubris and pride do not allow for a superpower to say, 'we didn't listen to history, and we should have...'

I'm afraid I'm not proposing 'answers', like Clarke's laughable 'more troops'. Sadly, I'm only pointing out blunders, probably because it's so easy to do in this case.

Flávio Américo dos Reis said...

I remember reading Chapter 72 of Mark Twain's autobiography, where the author was attending a banquet of bigwigs--civilians and military--an organization that, the author wrote, "called itself the Ends of the Earth Club" and whose chairman, a "retired regular army officer of high grade, proclaimed in a loud voice, and with fervency, 'We are of the Anglo-Saxon race, and when the Anglo-Saxon wants a thing, he just takes it.'"

That was during late 19th-century, early 20th-century United States, probably during the time of the Spanish-American War or the even more infamous Philippine War (Google "Moro Massacre").

Anyway, let me get on with my summary: Mark Twain noted that the retired officer's utterance was "applauded to the echo," much as at gatherings such as these today.

Twain, a famous early Anti-Imperialist, and mordant commentator on the decline of the republic, goes on to say:

"There were perhaps seventy-five civilians present and twenty-five military and naval men. It took those people nearly two minutes to work off their stormy admiration of that great sentiment; and meanwhile the inspired prophet who had discharged it-from his liver or his intestines or his esophagus or wherever he had bred it-stood there glowing and beaming and smiling and issuing rays of happiness from every pore, rays that were so intense that they were visible and made him look like the old-time picture in the Almanac of the man who stands discharging signs of the zodiac in every direction, and so absorbed in happiness, so steeped in happiness that he smiles and smiles and has plainly forgotten that he is painfully and dangerously ruptured and exposed amidships and needs sewing up right away."

Twain continues:

"The soldier man’s great utterance, interpreted by the expression which he put into it, meant in plain English, 'The English and the Americans are thieves, highwaymen, pirates, and we are proud to be of the combination.'"

"Out of all the English and Americans present, there was not one with the grace to get up and say he was ashamed of being an Anglo-Saxon, and also ashamed of being a member of the human race, since the race must abide under the presence upon it of the Anglo-Saxon taint. I could not perform this office. I could not afford to lose my temper and make a self- righteous exhibition of myself and my superior morals that I might teach this infant class in decency the rudiments of that cult, for they would not be able to grasp it; they would not be able to understand it."

My friends, I have to continue quoting this chapter, because it sheds light into this, our--that is, the world's--predicament with the US at the helm. Please bear with me:

"lt was an amazing thing to see, that boyishly frank and honest and delighted outburst of enthusiasm over the soldier prophet’s mephitic remark. It looked suspiciously like a revelation, a secret feeling of the national heart surprised into expression and exposure by untoward accident, for it was a representative assemblage. All the chief mechanisms that constitute the machine which drives and vitalizes the national civilization were present-lawyers, bankers, merchants, manufacturers, journalists, politicians, soldiers, sailors-they were all there. Apparently it was the United States in banquet assembled, and qualified to speak with authority for the nation and reveal its private morals to the public view."

"The initial welcome of that strange sentiment was not an unwary betrayal, to be repented of upon reflection; and this was shown by the fact that whenever during the rest of the evening a speaker found that he was becoming uninteresting and wearisome, he only needed to inject that great Anglo- Saxon moral into the midst of his platitudes to start up that glad storm again. After all, it was only the human race on exhibition. It has always been a peculiarity of the human race that it keeps two sets of morals in stock-the private and real, and the public and artificial."

As you are reading these excerpts from Twain, ask yourselves, has anything changed? Couldn't this have been the annual White House Correspondents Association Dinner sans a Colbert (Twain told his executors not to publish some of his more mordant "stuff" until 50 years of his decease had elapsed...)?

"Our public motto is 'In God we trust,' and when we see those gracious words on the trade-dollar (worth sixty cents) they always seem to tremble and whimper with pious emotion. That is our public motto. It transpires that our private one is, 'When the Anglo-saxon wants a thing he just takes it.' Our public morals are touchingly set forth in that stately and yet gentle and kindly motto which indicates that we are a nation of gracious and affectionate multitudinous brothers compacted into one-'e pluribus unum.' Our private morals find the light in the sacred phrase, 'Come, step lively!'"

As bright as Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are, they will never have the knowledge of US history--or world history, for that matter--that Sam Clemens had. They will never be able to hold a candle to his acerbic wit, or untie the shoelaces of his prophetic vision.

I am not an Unitedstatesian. Likewise, the term American is at least ambiguous to a Latin American like myself, or at worst a theft, since the entire continent was named after a Venetian cartographer by the name of Americo Vespucci, and even the founders of the US called their country the United States of America--which meant the Founders were much better versed in geography than Unitedstatesians today. At least they recognized that the term America encompassed a geographic span stretching from Alaska to Cape Horn.

This 4th of July, I celebrated the Independence of the United States (a work, I believe, still "in progress") at a picnic and fireworks display on the banks of the Mississippi with a good group of friends, some naturalized, some—like yours truly—not. I mourned the passing of George Carlin, but not Jesse Helms—may he rot in Hell. I mourned the passing of Molly Ivins, but not that of William F. Buckley, Jr. I meditated on how Carlin and Twain were so much alike in their absolute irreverence: I think it was Carlin who said, and I’m probably not telling it correctly, that it’s called “the American Dream” because “you have to be asleep to believe in it.”

My prayer, whilst the makeshift bombs were bursting in air and the flag—a small, neon one—was still there, on the opposite side of the river, was that this great nation—and it is a great nation—shed its colossal hubris, its martial ardor, its militant ignorance of history and the world, and join the rest of the world in brotherhood. I don’t believe that this is a fantasy.

Other nations have done it.

The Vikings were once terrible and feared, and now they hand out Nobel Prizes for Peace, and have some rocking welfare societies—be it granted that their sense of humor falls rather flat when they hand it to the likes of somebody like Henry Kissinger…but…I forgive them, is what I’m saying. It was probably a backfire like when some of their academics suggested awarding 43 the Nobel Peace prize to thwart Gulf War II.

Spaniards were once into Autos-da-fe, and I’d like to think that most of them have grown out of that, though they need to work the fascist streak out of them. I suggest they ditch the European Union directive criminalizing illegal aliens since their birth rate—as Catholic as they are—is rather pathetic, and they need some priming for their exchequer. [Hey!, that goes for you Brits, Unitedstatesians, Italians, Germans and French, too. You wouldn’t’ve had your trente glorieuses had it not been for all those West Indians, Latin Americans, North Africans, Portuguese, Turks, etc. West Indians and Africans rebuilt Great Britain after WWII, just as North Africans and Portuguese rebuilt France (your gardiens d’immeubles), and the Turks helped rebuild—and re-populate—Germany), and the Mexicans boosted the US economy as far back as the Bracero Program in the 1950s and 1960s. You couldn't have done it without us, the rest of the world. That means you Spaniards have to tear down la Valla de Melilla, and you Gringos have to do away with that stupid wall on your border. I'm not saying that you shouldn't have any "controls," which would be foolish for any country--north or south--but you will only be hurting yourselves when you put up such barriers.]

All I’m saying is that if we are truly Americans—from Alaska to Cape Horn—we need desperately to stop playing what Mark Twain aptly called “The Game,” the “European Game,” that is, and the United States needs to stop playing “Europe Junior,” in George Carlin’s parlance.


Excerpts from Mark Twains autobiography are from:

The Autobiography of Mark Twain. New York: Washington Square Press, 1961, pp. 376-378

Anonymous said...

Afghanistan is a very complicated country. Pashto, tajik, uzbek, hazara, turkmen, baloch, nuristani, all those "ethnies" are in touch with other countries and different cultures, but they will all "unite" against a common ennemy, ie, any country trying to conquer Afghanistan. Shias and sunnis, they are usually "ennemies", but they'll be as nationalists as an iraqi shia had been during the war between Iraq and Iran.
In each and every ethnic system, you'll have tribes (especially in pashtos groups), and families, all of these elements blended in an inextricable system, something that evolve with each event, local, regional or national...

As long as foreign nations will try to act directly in Afghanistan, they'll face opposition. Influence in Afghanistan is only possible by proxy. Back in april 2001, when Massud warned western antions about terrorist network in Afghanistan, he wasn't followed, because pakistanese didn't want him as their "puppet". he wasn't a puppet...
Taleban were pakistanese puppets, but they tend to have their own life since a year or two...

Today, Pakistan is always the key actor for Afghanistan, and there is not that much to do against that. the only way to counter balance pakistanese influence is for western countries to leave the country, and give financial back up to opposition forces to taleban, something they should have done back in 1994/1996 and 1996/2000.
It is easy for those backed by Pakistan to explain they're fighting foreign occupation. If they fight afghans, only afghans, the masks could fall...
Western countries can prevent terrorists for creating bases in Afghanistan without being present in the country.

big!pink!fuzzy!bunny! said...

That was a great entry, Flavio. I went to retire the night before, and had to reflect on your words - how nice it is that our utter contempt for the target media (dis-)service can reap such excellent reactions.

Pity that Twain wasn't just a wee bit more daring to be mouthy at the time.