Originally published on 25 January 2011
A Frontline in the New Cold War against Islamic Extremism or
Crucial Part of the oddly shaped Eurasian chessboard?
Last week, the new U.S. Congress convened for its first session. The newly-elected Republicans and Tea Party favourites started the new year with a stunt: reading the complete U.S. Constitution, that semi-sacrosanct document of yesteryear many swear by but few appear to know . . . On the sidelines, another somewhat overlooked speech took place as well. California Democrat Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey took the floor for a short address. Woolsey is the co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and gained notoriety as a result of her outspoken stance on the war in Iraq. She was one of the 133 members of the House who voted against authorizing the invasion of Iraq on October 10, 2002. Since then Woolsey has taken an active role in urging U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq, and has been a vocal critic of the Bush administration’s foreign policy. Last week, however, Lynn Woolsey showed that she was beyond party politics in criticising America’s active military involvement in the Hindu Kush mountains and Afghanistan: “This war represents an epic failure, a national embarrassment, and a moral blight on our nation”.
In contrast to Woolsey’s words, the White House appears to view the war in Afghanistan in quite different terms. In the first half of December 2010, it released a new report on America’s war in the Hindu Kush mountains, publishing a 5-page summary for public consumption: Overview of the Afghanistan and Pakistan Annual Review. The short document shows that the Obama administration remains beholden to the Bush rationale for the war saying that the “core goal of the U.S. strategy in the Afghanistan and Pakistan theater remains to disrupt, dismantle, and eventually defeat al-Qa’ida in the region and to prevent its return to either country”. Repeating President Obama’s alliterative mantra, the White House presents the hostilities in Afghanistan as part of the War-on-Terror meant to safeguard the U.S. homeland as well as the rest of the Free World. Rather than taking account of the reality on the ground that sees U.S. and ISAF troops battling “insurgency” or rather resistance fighters known as Taliban, the White House document continues to portray the enemy as al-Qa’ida, a shadowy network of Islamist terrorists bent on destroying the Free World. But already in December 2009, a senior U.S. intelligence official told ABC News that there were only about 100 al-Qa’ida members left in Afghanistan, basing himself on the conclusions of American intelligence agencies and the U.S. Defense Department. In June 2010, CIA director Leon Panetta went a step further, telling ABC News: “I think at most, we’re looking at maybe 50 to 100, maybe less. It’s in that vicinity. There’s no question that the main location of al-Qaeda is in tribal areas of Pakistan”. As a result, the Overview of the Afghanistan and Pakistan Annual Review now confidently talks of the “Pakistan-based leadership and cadre of al-Qa’ida”, thereby offering justification for the U.S. drone attacks in Pakistani territory. But the Pakistani army has for the past years been fighting the Pakistani Taliban (TTP or Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan) in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan who, in response, have unleashed a campaign of terror throughout the whole country.
The Obama administration seems adamant to stay the course, having recently committed “1,400 more Marine combat forces to Afghanistan”, as reported by the Associated Press on 6 January. In a way, the War-on-Terror, renamed the Overseas Contingency Operations, is the 21st-century incarnation of the 20th-century Cold War that saw many proxy conflicts and an escalating nuclear arms’ build-up (the could only have led to MAD or Mutually Assured Destruction). As I have indicated in an earlier piece, the NATO establishment already predicted, or maybe rather presaged, such a development in the mid-1990s. Then-NATO secretary-general Willy Claes at the time said that “Islamic militancy has emerged as perhaps the single gravest threat to the NATO alliance and to Western security”.
In the absence of a Soviet threat, the Obama administration has now declared al-Qa’ida and its by now more than legendary and possibly defunct leader Osama bin Laden to be America’s main military adversary. While making sure not to declare an outright Crusade against Islam and Muslims worldwide, President Obama continues Cold War policies that ensure that the “military-industrial complex”, to use President Eisenhower’s famous 1961 phrase, is kept busy, happy, and well-fed. Quite some time ago, the independent journalist Pepe Escobar declared that “Osama bin Laden may be dead or not. ‘Al-Qa’ida’ remains a catch-all ghost entity”. In other words, his contention is that the name al-Qa’ida is used by the U.S. to suggest the presence of a threat that is then employed to justify military intervention. The flipside of that stance is now that terrorists and like-minded individuals opposing U.S. dominance and interventionism equally cite the name al-Qa’ida to gain credibility, notoriety, and media exposure.
But does al-Qa’ida as a worldwide terrorist network aiming to deceive, disrupt and destroy the Free World really exist? Already in 2004, the British film-maker and writer Adam Curtis suggested in his documentary The Power of Nightmares that al-Qa’ida as an international terrorist network was basically an American invention to secure the prosecution and conviction of guilty parties and individuals in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. As such, even the guilt of Osama bin Laden, as the true instigator of the “9/11” attacks, arguably also remains a somewhat open question. On 28 September 2001, Bin Laden was interviewed by the Urdu-language Pakistani daily Ummat: “I have already said that I am not involved in the 11 September attacks in the United States. As a Muslim, I try my best to avoid telling a lie. I had no knowledge of these attacks, nor do I consider the killing of innocent women, children and other humans as an appreciable act. Islam strictly forbids causing harm to innocent women, children and other people. Such a practice is forbidden even in the course of a battle . . . Whoever committed the act of 11 September are not the friends of the American people. I have already said that we are against the American system, not against its people, whereas in these attacks, the common American people have been killed”. Was Osama bin Laden merely trying to deflect attention and building up an alibi against a possible U.S. attack? As for the famous video confession so conveniently stumbled upon in the Afghan city of Jalalabad in November 2001, the theologian-turned-9/11-debunker Prof. David Ray Griffin maintains that “bin Laden experts have called this later video a fake, and for good reasons. Many of the physical features of the man in this video are different from those of Osama bin Laden (as seen in undoubtedly authentic videos)”. The fact that the FBI last year used an image of the Spanish lawmaker Gaspar Llamazares to create an up-to-date picture of an aging Osama bin Laden proves that U.S. institutions do indeed dabble in creating fakes and make-believes. The incredible story of the digitally enhanced image of Bin Laden using Llamazares’ “hair and facial wrinkles” was broken by the Associated Press.
President Obama entered the world stage on an unprecedented wave of goodwill and optimism, relying on his message of “change we can believe in” to affect a serious alteration in the way the U.S. conducts foreign policy and treats other nations. Now that he has been in office for two years, disappointment and disillusion in his actual track record seem widespread. Obama’s continuation of the Bush administration’s championing of the TAPI pipeline project, that would Turkmenistan and India, and his seeming reliance upon Brzezinski’s legacy in pursuing the New Great Game on the “oddly shaped Eurasian chessboard” have transformed him into a proponent of a New Cold War against Islamic Extremism, as personified by al-Qa’ida. Even though many Conservative and Tea Party Obama opponents have cast doubt upon the U.S. President’s religious and political affiliation, referring to him variously as a Nazi-Socialist-Communist-Muslim, his grounding in the Christian faith remains beyond doubt. In particular, Barack Obama is much attached to the work of the American Protestant exponent of “Christian realism,” Reinhold Niebuhr’ (1892-1971). Back in April 2007, then-Candidate Obama told the New York Times columnist David Brooks: “I take away [from Niebuhr’s work] the compelling idea that there’s serious evil in the world, and hardship and pain. And we should be humble and modest in our belief we can eliminate those things. But we shouldn’t use that as an excuse for cynicism and inaction. I take away . . . the sense we have to make these efforts knowing they are hard, and not swinging from naïve idealism to bitter realism”. And now in 2011, Obama is not wavering in the face of evil as personified by al-Qa’ida, present in the Af-Pak Theatre and providing the U.S. with a pertinent reason to stay the course.
During the Cold War, Niebuhr was a public intellectual, or rather theologian, who took an active part in the fight, as a virulent defender of the U.S. and an outspoken opponent of the Communist threat. He regarded Communism as a position claiming “to embody a social system in which [the] miracle [of achieving an ideal society] has actually taken place”, a society where a “’vanguard’ of ‘class-conscious’ workers, the members of the Communist Party, whose purposes were so identical with the very purposes of history that every weapon became morally permissible to them and every vicissitude of history was expected to contribute to the inevitability of their victory”. Niebuhr’s words appear easily applicable to the 21st century, one would only need to replace the words Communist Party and Communism with the terms al-Qa’ida and Muslim extremism. Politicians and newscasters alike continuously remind the public that al-Qa’ida wants to turn the world into an Islamic welfare state ruled by a new and all-encompassing Caliphate, “a social system in which [the] miracle [of Islamic providence or Shariah] has actually taken place”. Al-Qa’ida operatives are 21st-century versions of “members of the Communist Party”, who were bent on undermining and ultimately destroying the Capitalist world in the 20th century.
President Obama proves to be a crafty proponent of ‘Niebuhrianism’, which Harry R. Davis and Robert C. Good define as a “constellation of perspectives, Biblically derived and validated by experience”. As a Christian Realist, the U.S. President is fighting the “good fight” in the Af-Pak Theatre, while keeping a close eye on China, the new superpower in the making. On Monday, 10 January, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates went to Beijing to “begin regular strategic security talks” between the U.S. and China, a year after the latter cut military ties in protest to American arms sales to Taiwan. Gates stated that military relations between the world’s two biggest economies shouldn’t be “subject to shifting political winds”. Even while the U.S. is busy opposing China on the “oddly shaped Eurasian chessboard”, pitching the TAPI natural gas pipeline project against the Kazakhstan–China oil pipeline connecting the Caspian shore to Xinjiang in Wild West China, President Obama is easing the climate for Chinese President Hu Jintao’s planned trip to Washington, D.C. later this month.