Sunday, August 02, 2015

Wayback machine: was the Afghanistan war ever avoidable?

Jon Lee Anderson reacted to the news that dribbled out last week of the death of Taliban leader Mullah Omar.

The international conflict that Mullah Omar helped to start in 2001 is still going on, having cost, thus far, the lives of an estimated ninety-one thousand Afghans, twenty-six thousand of them civilians. Three thousand three hundred and ninety-three soldiers from twenty-nine different countries died, too, the majority of them—two thousand three hundred and sixteen—Americans. The financial cost to U.S. taxpayers alone has been around a trillion dollars, with billions more to come, in the years ahead, in medical bills and other long-term costs for Afghan-war veterans. Although the American combat role in the Afghan war officially ended last December, about ten thousand troops have stayed on as advisers and as a counterterrorism quick-reaction force within a reconstituted NATO mission, and will remain at least through the end of 2016.

Afghanistan is still at war. The same article reports that one of its many warlords seems to have signed on to operate as a branch of the Islamic State; meanwhile the U.S.-backed Afghan government is in talks with the resurgent Taliban that Omar once headed.

In October 2001, ten percent of us in this country didn't think we should be bombing and invading Afghanistan, despite our grief about the 9/11 attacks. In the most recent poll I can find, from December 2013, 66 percent of us say the Afghanistan war was "not worth it."

Looking back on 2001, we should remember how ill-served we were in the men who exercised executive power in Washington that unhappy autumn. After the 9/11 attacks, there was some back and forth with elements of the Taliban about handing over bin Laden for trial. Mullah Omar was adamant about safeguarding bin Laden:

Ten days after 9/11, the Voice of America radio service interviewed Mullah Omar, asking him: "So you won't give Osama bin Laden up?" Omar replied, "No. We cannot do that. If we did, it means we are not Muslims, that Islam is finished. ..."

On the other hand, Wakil Ahmad Muttawakil, Taliban’s last foreign minister, told Al Jazeera there had been some communication:

Even before the [9/11] attacks, our Islamic Emirate had tried through various proposals to resolve the Osama issue. One such proposal was to set up a three-nation court, or something under the supervision of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference [OIC] ...

According to the Guardian on October 14, 2001, President George W. Bush wasn't having any of it:

"There's no need to discuss innocence or guilt. We know he's guilty ..."

Bush and his men would be judge and jury, overriding any procedures or protocols. Not for them, cultivating international legitimacy. We and the Afghans are still paying for this arrogant hubris.

It's obvious, but still worth mentioning, that the opponents of the P5+1 agreement to restrict an Iranian nuclear bomb program are the same cowboys who couldn't take a few weeks to negotiate for a handover of bin Laden for trial, somewhere, in some court. Maybe it would never have happened, but they sure weren't about to find out. They thought they could impose their fantasies on the whole world. They have failed miserably and will continue to fail. Their greatest fear is that there might be another way.

A Wayback machine post is about something I've dug into that is tangential to E.P.'s new book project.

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