[Reader-list] Jon Carroll: Thinking the unthinkable

geert lovink geert at xs4all.nl
Fri Sep 14 02:51:34 IST 2001

Thinking the unthinkable

     Jon Carroll
     Thursday, September 13, 2001
     2001 San Francisco Chronicle


     WE ARE NOW pledged to destroy those responsible for Tuesday's
terrorist attacks and those who "harbor" them. It is probable that the
"harboring"  refers to a government that has, by active support or merely
by failure to act, allowed these thugs to operate unmolested within its

     So we begin the scenarios. We say, "What if . . ." and move from
there. Many are already doing it, because they are trained to do it or
because they find it a useful distraction from grief.

     So suppose the culprit is Osama bin Laden. Suppose the nation in
question is Afghanistan. What precisely have we have committed ourselves
to do?  Surely not merely more air strikes -- the Gulf War made us feel
good for a while, and then it made us feel bad about feeling good, and
still the same guy is in power and, as always, ordinary citizens are the
ones suffering.

     That is partly Saddam's fault, but it is partly our fault too,
because we wanted to have a war without having a war. I do not think,
morally or strategically, that a warless war would work in Afghanistan.
Even if we managed to hit bin Laden's SUV as it zigzagged from Kandahar to
Gardez, the Taliban would remain in place. If we allowed the Taliban to
remain in place, we would be breaking our own promise.

     Getting rid of the blight of the Taliban would be a service to the
world. Its perversion of the ancient and noble religion of Islam, its
attacks on personal freedoms, its indifference to suffering make it a
coven of tin-pot Pol Pots. Good riddance; hard riddance.

     THAT MEANS A land war in Asia. History suggests that this is not a
wise idea, because Asia usually wins a land war in Asia. Ask the Russians
about Afghanistan; they had a common border and still managed to make a
botch of it.

     We have no such border. Where would our staging areas be? Russia,
remarkably, is perhaps our strongest friend in this particular fight;
Putin's tearful message of support indicates precisely how weird the world
has become.

     The common border is no more -- Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and
Turkmenistan are there now. These are not exactly nations that scream
"appropriate infrastructure." Also bordering Afghanistan are Iran and
Pakistan, who are, well, not our little buddies.

     Indeed, the whole question of allies is a little dodgy. We've been in
a yearlong Father-knows-best mode with the world community, trashing the
ABM treaty, ignoring the Kyoto accord, boycotting the Durban conference.
Our arrogance is much noted in Europe. How many British or French or
German soldiers might be available to help us on our quest against

     People who feel suddenly vulnerable always wish they'd been a little
nicer to their neighbors.

     BUT SUPPOSE THIS: Osama bin Laden moves his traveling bad-medicine
show to Pakistan. Who, then, becomes the harboring nation? If it's
Pakistan, then our friend India would be more than happy to get involved
in toppling the regime.

     But if India got involved, then China would get involved, because
China is certainly not interested in having the balance of terror between
India and Pakistan resolved in either direction. Of course, before that
there would be a flurry of conversations and a cascade of
ever-more-difficult decisions.

     But if diplomatic solutions were not found, we'd have something like
a world war. Our skills at diplomacy have faltered as our skills at
intelligence have decayed. The virtues of speaking the language and
understanding the culture have been replaced by the virtues of working the
bureaucracy and telling Washington what it wants to hear.

     This is not a partisan issue; the Foreign Service corps has been on
the decline for two decades under five administrations. It didn't seem to
matter, because we were so strong we didn't need to be smart.

     Looking at the scenarios, I hope we can find some smart pills real
darn quick.

More information about the reader-list mailing list