Thank God for the Whistle-Blowers
This article orginally appeared at Truthdig.
What WikiLeaks did was brilliant journalism, and the bleating critics from the president on down are revealing just how low a regard they have for the truth. As with Richard Nixon’s rage against the publication of the Pentagon Papers, our leaders are troubled not by the prospect of these revelations endangering troops but rather of endangering their own political careers. It is our president who unnecessarily sacrifices the lives of our soldiers and not those in the press who let the public in on the folly of the mission itself.
What the documents exposed is the depth of chicanery that surrounds the Afghanistan occupation at every turn because we have stumbled into a regional quagmire of such dark and immense proportions that any attempt to connect this failed misadventure with a recognizable US national security interest is doomed. What is revealed on page after page is that none of the local actors, be they labeled friend or foe, give a whit about our president’s agenda. They are focused on prizes, passions and causes that are obsessively homegrown.
Our fixation on Al Qaeda has nothing to do with them. President Barack Obama’s top national security adviser admitted as much when he said last December that there were fewer than 100 of those foreign fighters left in Afghanistan. Those who do remain in the region are hunkered down in Pakistan, and as the leaked documents reveal, that nation is just toying with us by pretending to cooperate while its intelligence service continues to support our proclaimed enemies. As Gen. Stanley McChrystal made clear in his famous report, the battles in Afghanistan are tribal in nature and the agendas are local—be they about drugs, religion or the economic power of military blackmail. The documents contain a steady drumbeat of local hustles that are certainly deadly but rise to the level of a national security threat against the United States only when we insist on making their history our own.
It has ever been so with the Afghans, and our continued attempt to bend their passions to our purposes will always lead to horrid results. That is, in fact, just how their nation came to be the launching pad for the 9/11 attacks, which is the ostensible purpose of our occupation. We meddled in their history in a grand cold war adventure to humble the Soviets by attacking the secular government in Kabul with which Moscow sided.
When presidential press secretary Robert Gibbs intones, “We are in this region of the world because of what happened on 9/11,” he is mouthing a dangerous half-truth. The opposite is the case: 9/11 happened because the United States was in the region, and not the other way around. Entanglement with Afghanistan has been based on a tissue of lies since day one, when Jimmy Carter first decided to throw in with the religious fanatics there, as current Secretary of Defense Robert Gates revealed in his 1996 memoir. Gates had served on Carter’s National Security Council and in his book exposed what the publisher touted as “Carter’s never-before revealed covert support to Afghan mujahedeen—six months before the Soviets invaded.”
Our government recruited terrorists from the Arab world to go to Afghanistan and fight in that holy war against godless communism with even greater enthusiasm during the presidency of Ronald Reagan, who proclaimed the Muslim fanatics “freedom fighters.” As the 9/11 Commission report stated, those freedom fighters included Osama bin Laden and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged architect of the 9/11 attacks.
Three years before that attack, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Carter’s national security adviser, was asked in an interview with Le Nouvel Observateur if he regretted “having given arms and advice to future terrorists,” and he answered: “What is most important to the history of the world? Some stirred-up Muslims or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the cold war?”
One of Carter’s advisers back then was Richard Holbrooke, now Obama’s top civilian adviser on Afghanistan. Clearly he knows quite a bit about stirring up Muslims, and someone should ask him about the brilliant decision to give heat-seeking Stinger rockets to those same fanatics who then turned them against our side, according to the recently disclosed documents. They never learn. It was Holbrooke who helped design the Vietnam-era assassination programs exposed in the Pentagon Papers and now replicated in the Afghanistan documents.
Thanks to Daniel Ellsberg, who risked much to make the record of the Vietnam War public, we learned about the madness that Holbrooke and others were creating. We should be grateful to the whistle-blowers who gave us the Afghanistan war documents for once again letting us in on the sick joke that passes for US foreign policy.