Robert Scheer is the editor of Truthdig, where this article originally appeared. His latest book is The Pornography of Power: How Defense Hawks Hijacked 9/11 and Weakened America (Twelve).
True, he doesn’t seem a bit like Lyndon Johnson, but the way he’s headed on Afghanistan, Barack Obama is threatened with a quagmire that could bog down his presidency. LBJ also had a progressive agenda in mind, beginning with his war on poverty, but it was soon overwhelmed by the cost and divisiveness engendered by a meaningless, and seemingly endless, war in Vietnam.
Meaningless is the right term for the Afghanistan war, too, because our bloody attempt to conquer this foreign land has nothing to do with its stated purpose of enhancing our national security. Just as the government of Vietnam was never a puppet of Communist China or the Soviet Union, the Taliban is not a surrogate for Al Qaeda. Involved in both instances was an American intrusion into a civil war whose passions and parameters we never fully grasped and could not control militarily.
The Vietnamese Communists were not an extension of an inevitably hostile, unified international communist enemy, as evidenced by the fact that Communist Vietnam and Communist China are both our close trading partners today. Nor should the Taliban be considered simply an extension of a Mideast-based Al Qaeda movement, whose operatives the US recruited in the first place to go to Afghanistan to fight the Soviets.
Those recruits included Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attack, and financier Osama bin Laden, who met in Afghanistan as part of a force that Ronald Reagan glorified as “freedom fighters.” As blowback from that bizarre, mismanaged CIA intervention, the Taliban came to power and formed a temporary alliance with the better-financed foreign Arab fighters still on the scene.
There is no serious evidence that the Taliban instigated the 9/11 attacks or even knew about them in advance. Taliban members were not agents of Al Qaeda; on the contrary, the only three governments that financed and diplomatically recognized the Taliban–Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan–all were targets of bin Laden’s group.