September 6th, 2006

Voted for Dean

No Shame

White House officials like Donald Rumsfeld and Tony Snow have been saying, for more than a week now, that anybody who so much asks the Bush administration any critical questions, let alone opposes giving them everything they ask for, is guilty of appeasing Osama bin Laden. President Bush joined in the "discussion" in person, this week, going further and saying that not only is anybody who shows the least skepticism about the White House's competence or about which side of their law they're on is guilty of appeasement of bin Laden -- a villain that he insists is more dangerous to the United States than either Hitler or Lenin were. So, let's talk about appeasement, shall we?

As recently as a week ago, comparing Osama bin Laden or any other Islamist fanatic to Hitler or Lenin not only should have invoked Godwin's Law, it was silly on the face of it. It would say something genuinely dangerous about the competence of the Department of Homeland Shampoo-Confiscation if an elderly, moderately poor, increasingly ineffective diabetic holed up in a cave in some of the most inhospitable terrain on the planet was as big a danger to the US as the heads of state of vast, wealthy, industrialized nations used to be. It would also be worth noting that having the full power and wealth of the state behind them didn't save Hitler from us, and didn't save Lenin's heirs from the Russian people; both "threats" ended up in the trashcan of history. Only the most craven of cowards and the most ignorant of fools would suggest that a couple of thousand widely scattered, mostly unorganized, poorly funded criminals could do, now, what the Wehrmacht and the Soviet Red Army couldn't. Even bin Laden was only able to pose a serious threat to us when he had state sanction, when he had access to the wealth and power and protection that came from being the deputy defense minister of Afghanistan. So who, exactly, are we supposedly "appeasing" when we ask if the Bush administration has suddenly miraculously become competent or if they're going to keep screwing up both the War on Terror and the Iraq War as much as they've screwed up on Bush's promise, five years ago next week, to bring down bin Laden "dead or alive."

Now, to be fair, even this "gang who couldn't shoot straight" could have brought down bin Laden any time they wanted to in the last two, maybe three years. Journalists from all over the world have been reporting, for at least that long, that al Qaeda has been operating openly in several states inside Pakistan, and that bin Laden commutes along known routes from there to the plainly-labeled, ask anybody where they are recruiting offices for al Qaeda in Karachi and Islamabad. So the Bush administration, and not a few of the American press, have looked the other way for a long time now, and pretended not to know where bin Laden was. They've repeatedly flip-flopped on whether or not they even wanted to arrest him, any more, and instead have concentrated on eavesdropping on his communications and his financial flows whenever they could. In other words, they've done exactly what they still criticize anybody else for suggesting we might do, they've downgraded it from a military matter to a law enforcement matter ... for the one terrorist that it's most important that we not do that with, the one who's already killed almost 3,000 American civilians.

But if you read the policy journals, or even the newspapers of record, Republican and right-leaning policy makers and opinion leaders are quite open among themselves as to exactly why we don't give Pakistan the same ultimatum we gave Afghanistan when they were the ones who were sheltering bin Laden. Some years ago, responding to widespread allegations (probably false) of corruption in the elected government and (more importantly) to head off fears of an Islamist revolution fueled by anger over how fast President Bhutto was secularizing and modernizing the country, General Musharraf of the Pakistani army invoked the traditional right of the army, in Ataturk-modeled societies, to step in, eliminate the incompetence or treason or corruption that's threatening the survival of the state, try the offenders in independent military courts, and soon thereafter call new elections -- basically the modern Islamic version of impeachment. But that was a long, long time ago, and the Pakistani people have been waiting for a long time for those elections. But Musharraf doesn't dare allow wide-open elections any time soon. He knows that the Islamists would win. He knows that they'd ally themselves with bin Laden, and that they'd turn over the Islamic world's first (official) nukes to terrorists. He knows that what we'd do in retaliation for that would make what we did (or at least tried to do) to the Taliban in Afghanistan look kind and gentle. And we know that if we bagged bin Laden inside Pakistan, either because he helped us or even just because he failed to stop us, he'd be dead by the end of the week and his worst fear, an officially government-sanctioned nuclear terrorist group operating out of Islamabad with the approval of a popular Islamist government ... followed shortly thereafter by the US and NATO (and probably India, too) nuking of Islamabad into a glowing green crater after that first nuke went off. So we haven't twisted his arm, because we wouldn't like what came next if we did.

But that was last week. And what did we find out over the weekend, and get confirmed today? Musharraf surrendered at least one state, and probably a whole region, to al Qaeda control. He granted bin Laden a blanked safe-conduct pass. He agreed to funnel buckets and buckets of Pakistani government money directly to al Qaeda officers -- ostensibly to fund social programs, but we know how that money's going to be used, don't we? He probably felt that he had no choice. The army lost control over that part of Pakistan years ago, and al Qaeda's been using that terrain to organize the locals to attack towards the rest of Pakistan just as often as they attack across the border into Afghanistan. His only alternative to surrender was a civil war that he might well doubt if, even with whatever aid the US would hold its nose and give him, he could win. After all, we couldn't keep Diem in power in South Vietnam, and Diem probably had a bigger power base at home than Musharraf does now.

But if the Bush administration continues to lie that Iraq is the central front against al Qaeda, and turns the other way rather than confront the country that's really sponsoring al Qaeda, the one that created the Taliban in the first place, who's the appeaser? You tell me.