[Reader-list] Who's Bin Smokin' What?
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Fri Dec 21 01:46:36 IST 2001
December 21 - 27, 2001
Who's Bin Smokin' What?
Their blowback . . . and ours
by Marc Cooper
As I watched bin Laden yukking it up with those other cherubic imams
on that grainy Pentagon video, I thought I was having an acid
flashback. I hadn't heard so much giddy rapping about dreams, visions
and hallucinations of wild running horses and flaming, falling
buildings since a certain acid-laced after-hours party following a
Captain Beefheart concert back in the summer of '67.
But of course psychoactive drugs play no role in the Technicolor
reveries of Osama and friends. Their delusional psyches seem
hard-wired. At least, that's the principal conclusion I draw from
viewing that video a dozen times or so.
In that one grubby room, presumably in Kandahar, two completely
different worlds met and melded: a primitive obscurantism mixed with
superheated, iron-melting 21st-century jet fuel. That cocktail, in
turn, produced the equally bizarre event of September 11: one that
leveraged a couple of medieval-age tools - box-cutters - into the
most futuristic of holocausts.
What I didn't see in that video was any trace of what you might call
politics. "There were no politics present," agrees Hisham Melhem,
U.S. correspondent for the Lebanese paper As-Safir. "What we saw was
only terror, absolute and metaphysical . . . a purely atavistic
view." There was no remorse for the human toll of the airplane-bombs
that bin Laden gleefully illustrated with his graceful, effeminate
hand gestures. No second thoughts. Not even an argument of political
expediency as to why the selected target was a soft hive of civilians.
On that tape I saw no "aggrieved parties" - as some of my peacenik
friends have dared to call al Qaeda. I saw no victims of American
imperialism. I saw no champions of the poor or oppressed. (On the
contrary. On another video, we saw Taliban capo Mullah Omar's
personal palace to be appointed with crystal chandeliers, pink tile,
imported bathroom faucets, and discarded and emptied bottles of very
All of which brings us to the question posed by the "know-nothing"
faction of the anti-war movement. Did our foreign policy - past or
present - play a role in provoking the attacks on New York and
The answer is unequivocally no. Unless, that is, one wants to argue
that American policy is so evil that it literally drove bin Laden
bonkers. That's not to say that there isn't, indeed, much wrong with
the course of U.S. foreign policy. Nor that Americans should have
been so self-indulgent as to believe they were immune to such
violence. Those who have opposed this war have failed to understand
that, to paraphrase Che Guevara: Two, three or many evils can coexist
simultaneously and never quite intersect.
They have also failed to understand that blowback is a malaise that
afflicts not only the powerful. U.S. funding and training, two
decades ago, of some of the very same Islamo-fascists who attack us
today has its undeniably ironic aspects. But on the anti-war side of
the fence, continued ideological investment in timeworn and ossified
nostrums has also come back to haunt - and with a vengeance. Looking
at every use of American military power as an echo of Vietnam makes
about as much sense as the State Department having once declared bin
Laden to be a freedom fighter.
In that vein, it was barely a month ago that my colleague Charles
Rappleye wrote in these pages: "Our current military misadventure in
the hostile environs of Afghanistan is bogging down on the eve of the
holiest days of the Muslim calendar . . . The U.S. should seize the
high ground and stop the bombing for Ramadan." Which means that the
bombing would have been halted for 30 days - right up until last
The U.S. military, fortunately, ignored his advice. Instead of a
bombing pause, we have collapsed the Taliban, driven them from power
and wiped out their military. Al Qaeda's operative base in
Afghanistan has been dismembered, and its fighters have been defeated
in their last holdouts.
Just about every other dire prediction made by the anti-war folks has
also failed to materialize: Fundamentalist demonstrations in Pakistan
have withered, not grown, and that country's fragile government has
not collapsed. The fabled "Arab street" has not erupted, and there
are no new legions of pro-Osama fighters mushrooming in the region.
Nor did the Afghan people rally to unite and defeat the American
invaders. Instead, they came into the streets flying kites,
unearthing their Tali-banned radios and phonographs, and sending
their daughters to re-register in the medical schools from which they
had been barred. So much for predictions of a "U.S. genocide." For
the first time in more than a decade, the Afghan refugee flow seems
to be reversing as the diaspora starts trickling home and sensing a
scintilla of hope - or at least improved European and American
The collateral damage inflicted by this war is nevertheless real, and
it surpasses mere body counts of civilian deaths (numerous and
lamentable but nowhere near the bogus figure of 3,700 being
circulated by some activists). Riding high in the polls, the Bush
administration has recklessly ripped up the ABM treaty and - with its
military tribunals - has taken a bite into the Bill of Rights. Both
parties have joined in passing an inflated military-spending
appropriation, and the Democrats continue to play dead on Bush's
boondoggle star-wars missile defense. The mutual terror on the West
Bank escalates, and the U.S. continues to tilt too far in the
direction of Ariel Sharon. All of these issues demand not only our
attention but also our firm opposition to the Bush administration.
But none of them impeaches the basic justice of the American military
response against those who insouciantly dreamed of collapsing the
Twin Towers and incinerating as many innocents as possible.
Public adoration of patriotic symbols - flags and flattops - even in
time of war is, as George Carlin says, an activity that should be
reserved only for the "symbol-minded." But likewise, resorting to
knee-jerk ideological sloganeering in the face of terribly complex -
and lethal - threats, should be left to . . . well . . . jerks.
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