Osama bin Laden has always had a single objective. It is not to destroy the United States, but to gain political power. His objective, in directing his spectacular assault against the U.S., was to cause ferocious American reprisals that would outrage Moslem fundamentalists. He has as his objective the toppling of three governments: those of Pakistan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
To win the war we are now fighting, the United States should have done two things. The first would have been an immediate surprise attack on Iraq, with the twin objectives of the destruction of the infrastructure of Iraqi intelligence and the killing of Saddam Hussein. This should have been carried out immediately, without any warning to anybody. Second, a substantial ground force should have been assembled and sent into Afghanistan as quickly as possible, with the objective of killing as much of the leadership as possible, with particular emphasis on Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar.
There was no need to build a ?coalition? beforehand. Speed was essential. If we had one, we would have been able to do all the coalition building we wanted to later.
The entire war should have been concluded within a month. There should have been no attempt to wreck the Taliban government and install a ?legitimate? regime, for the simple reason that this is likely to be impossible. Whoever governs Afghanistan does so at the sufferance of about two hundred tribal leaders. These leaders, in turn, have the loyalty of their tribesmen. Thus, when American officials say that we are ?after the Taliban? and ?have nothing against the Afghan people,? they are speaking from a basic ignorance about Afghanistan, the same ignorance that defeated the Soviets and the British before them.
Government in Afghanistan is an organic process, and the Taliban have succeeded for a simple reason: they have an irresistible appeal to the tribal leaders. This appeal is that the Taliban are religious ascetics with no interest in getting a piece of the drug trade. In fact, they officially disapprove of it.
However, they are also practical, and their objections are only pro-forma. They do nothing to prevent the drug running activities of the tribes. The tribal leaders all know that no U.S. backed government will give them the same freedom. They will never support a ?legitimate? government, not as long as the welfare of their people is dependent upon commerce in heroin, which it most certainly is. The alternative to drug money is stark: it is starvation and death.
The United States cannot defeat the Taliban unless it accepts the drug trade, and it will never do that. At present, it is not giving the Northern Alliance sufficient support to enable them to make significant headway against the Taliban because it fears that they will govern the country in the same way that the Taliban are doing, with the difference that they will inject themselves into the drug trade in a way that the Taliban leadership has not.
The fact is that the Taliban and the Afghan people live by an unholy compact: the Taliban is a popular government, because it leaves people alone to do the business of raising poppy and purifying heroin, which moves into Western Europe via Iran.
Unfortunately, the longer we fight our war, the more compelling the argument of the Moslem fundamentalists in Pakistan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia becomes: throw off the corrupt pro-western regimes; take the country back to God.
This combination of drug trafficking and religion is not viewed as cynical or hypocritical among Moslem fundamentalists. What non-believers do with their bodies is of no importance. In fact, the more of them who are destroyed by drugs or whatever else, the better.
Next week is going to be a crucial one in Pakistan. Fundamentalists have declared a sit-down strike with the objective of toppling the government. They have a reasonable chance of success. And the longer our war goes on, the greater their chance becomes.
Right now, the United States is apparently planning to ?wait out? the Taliban across the harsh Afghan winter. The assumption is that the Taliban will have a much harder time getting supplies than we will. However, we have already dropped tons and tons of food into Afghanistan, much of which has been gathered up by Taliban forces. We are also assisting the U.N. in its logistical efforts as it prepares to feed Afghanistan across the winter.
In other words, the Taliban are not going to have a bad winter. On the contrary, they will be the first to be fed?by the Afghan people themselves.
There is a reason that the Afghan currency began to rise in value immediately after the U.S. began bombing. Local businessmen saw that this was not likely to be an effective means of war-fighting. They also saw that the reduction in policing and communications, and the increase in general chaos, would actually serve the drug trade well. As, indeed, it has: drug shipments out of Afghanistan have been increasing steadily since the bombing started.
Of course, we could get lucky and somehow cause the Taliban to fall with our bombing. It isn?t impossible. It?s just unlikely.
However, if we do indeed pursue a long war, it is likely that we will sooner or later lose Pakistan and then Saudi Arabia to Islamic fundamentalists. Later, Egypt will also fall. Osama bin Laden will then have achieved his real goal, which is to control the Moslem world, and most especially, to control the oil.
The United States should have begun an aggressive campaign to wean itself from the need for oil a long time ago. The oil embargo of the seventies gave us fair warning. But we allowed short-sighted oil companies to dupe us into believing that the crucial geopolitical issue was actually an environmental issue, and we dug our heels in and refused to do a thing about it.
Now we are facing a very dire prospect indeed. Osama bin Laden is a folk hero throughout a turbulent and truculent Moslem world, while the regimes that are our allies are despised, corrupt, and ready to collapse.
It is not likely that the strategy that the U.S. is pursuing in Afghanistan will be effective?not unless God is literally with us, and willing to produce a miracle. What is most likely to happen is that the Pakistani government will collapse, if not this week, then sometime in the next few months, and we will be left not only without a base of operations, but with a much larger enemy.
Pakistan, after all, has nuclear weapons. So Osama bin Laden, who has been attempting for years, to make his own bomb, will get theirs. His prestige among Moslems will rise higher than that of Gamal Abdul Nasser in the heady, early years of Egyptian independence. He will sweep the corrupt and hated Saudi Royal Family out of power with a flip of his wrist. And then he will not only have the bomb, he will control oil upon which most of Europe and Asia depends for very life.
Ironically, those who were so loudly preaching isolationism before the war will get their wish, at that point. The U.S. will be more profoundly isolated and deeply helpless than it has been at any time since the dark, early days of World War II, when Japan and Germany were winning battle after battle, and Britain and the U.S. were in danger of a defeat of world- historical proportions.
Make no mistake, we are in a clash of civilizations, and an ancient one. Moslem fundamentalists have not forgotten the toppling of the towers of Granada by the ascendant Spanish kingdom in the early fifteenth century. This long-forgotten episode in the history of the west has not been forgotten in the east. In the Wahhabite schools of Saudi Arabia, it is taught to every child as a central failure of Islamic history, a defeat that must be avenged.
As things now stand, Osama bin Laden has a reasonably good chance of exacting that long-awaited vengeance.
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