Drake: In Pursuit of Osama Bin Laden

Richard Drake writes in a guest book review for IC, reprinted by the author’s permission from The Great Falls Tribune, 7 September 2008 :

In Pursuit of Osama Bin Laden

Barack Obama’s early and consistent critique of the war in Iraq gave him high standing during the Democratic primary campaign. On this crucial issue, he succeeded in contrasting himself favorably with his foremost rival, Hillary Rodham Clinton, who initially had gone along with the Bush administration’s plans for that country.

As the war turned into a costly and bloody fiasco, with the deepening enmity of the Muslim world materializing as the chief return on our estimated long-term three-trillion-dollar investment, he pulled ahead of her and now holds the Democratic Party’s nomination for the presidency.

Other factors played a role in his victory, not the least his superlative political gifts. Nevertheless, except for the Iraq War, the differences between the two candidates never amounted to much. Her belated recognition of the war’s futility only added to Obama’s prestige as a candidate of superior judgment.

At the recently concluded Democratic convention in Denver, Obama repeated his campaign pledge to end the war in Iraq responsibly and to redeploy American troops against our real enemy, Osama Bin Laden. Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, not Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath regime in Iraq, had killed nearly 3,000 of our citizens. We mistakenly had left the war in Afghanistan unfinished before invading Iraq. The Democratic Party now promises to correct the mistake of the Bush administration.

We may be permitted to wonder, in the light of Ahmed Rashid’s Descent into Chaos (2008), if the proposed correction will touch the fundamentals of the problems that we face in Afghanistan.

Rashid, a Pakistani journalist and historian, has covered the politics of Afghanistan for the past twenty-five years. In his international bestseller, Taliban (2000), he criticized the failure of the American government to develop a comprehensive policy of nation-building in Afghanistan. Rather than invest in the renewal of the country’s agriculture, educational system, and infrastructure, the Americans had decided to trust entirely to a military solution against al-Qaeda.

Rashid lamented that Washington had a policy for Bin Laden, but not one for the country as a whole. On the eve of 9/11 he predicted that with the misguided policies of the Clinton administration in Central Asia, the United States only could expect the worst.

Events soon confirmed the prophetic power of Rashid’s writing.

Now, with his new book, he reiterates the warnings of Taliban and implores the United States to pull out of its nosedive. Rashid provides a detailed account of the Bush administration’s policy failures in the war on terror. Because of decisions made in Washington since 9/11 the Taliban and al-Qaeda are on the rise. Hatred of the United States has spread in a rank growth across Afghanistan and Pakistan, where the war on terror will be won or lost.

Our crucial failure lay in the decision to invest in war lords and dictators, who were thought to be trustworthy agents for a Pax Americana. Instead the United States should have summoned the strength, wisdom, and courage to break with our Cold War habits of relying on authoritarian regimes. It is very difficult for Rashid to take seriously American claims about our concern for spreading democracy in Central Asia. Our contentment in allying with egregious dictators in Pakistan and Uzbekistan make such claims look like camouflage for our actual motives in the region: oil, gas, and imperial control.

If a Predator drone were to deposit its payload directly on al-Qaeda headquarters and incinerate the organization’s command structure, what would change? Rashid thinks that we would be facing essentially the same situation as before. A dozen Bin Ladens would be there to take the martyred leader’s place in giving expression to the fury that millions of Muslims feel worldwide in opposition to American policies and actions.

That Bin Laden has survived this long is less the fault of the Bush administration than evidence of the broad and deep support that he enjoys in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Crisis in a country’s social and economic systems invariably produces ripe conditions for extremists. In Descent into Chaos, Rashid furnishes searing eye-witness reporting on the bestial conditions in which the people of Afghanistan live. Billions have gone to the Pakistani military and trillions will end up going to the will-o-the-wisp in Iraq. For the people of Afghanistan, however, the corrupt American-dominated status quo there has been helpless in providing an alternative to the frighteningly resurgent Taliban and its ally al-Qaeda.

If we can get our leaders to read it, Rashid’s new book might give them pause before they entrust the Pentagon and the CIA with the fate of American foreign policy in Central Asia. These agencies perform splendidly in advancing the well-being of their constituents in the military-industrial complex, but the American people as a whole have a different and higher set of requirements.

Richard Drake
Missoula, Montana

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