Some people you should pay attention to: your parents, grandma and grandpa, your teacher, maybe your pastor or coach, because they have your best interest at heart. This astute columnist, Arnaud deBorchgrave, is one of those people. He is plugged in with contacts, respected and knowledgeable about world affairs.
In a previous post, the blog measured George Bush’s decision based on the current political situation in Iraq. This month Dubya will begin promoting his memoir. In doing so, like Peewee Herman and Jefferson Davis, who became a living martyr to the Lost Cause in the twilight of his life, the feckless Bush will rehabilitate his failed presidency: hollow economy and dismal foreign policy. Uninformed due to his lack of intellectual curiosity and a business failure, the Texas souffle, like Barack Obama, was unqualified to be a leader, though for different reasons. His invasion of Iraq was a Trojan folly as these two deBorchgrave columns prove. Why did he invade Iraq? What has been the chief consequence? Read on.
DE BORCHGRAVE: Managing decline
Pax Americana is winding down
By Arnaud de Borchgrave The Washington Times 6:15 p.m., Friday, October 29, 2010
Is the world’s balance of power shifting away from the West and moving over to India and China? That’s what a number of geopolitical sages are discussing in think tanks from Moscow to Beijing to London to Washington. In a joint SOS piece in the November-December issue of Foreign Affairs, former Deputy Treasury Secretary Roger Altman and the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, Richard N. Haass, warn U.S. leaders to curb “the current debt addiction – or global capital markets will do it for them.” An age of austerity and draconian belt-tightening – and sudden decline in U.S. power – is upon us. Gridlocked Congress, fiscal train wreck, climbing without a rope, all the stuff of headlines the world over.
The political move to center stage of satirical humorist Jon Stewart with his mass Rally to Restore Sanity is seen by the Globalist online as a throwback to the collapse of Germany’s post-World War I Weimar Republic.
But where can the United States afford to disengage and leave heavy geopolitical lifting to regional powers? In some key areas, U.S. power remains indispensable for the indefinite future. The Persian Gulf and its huge oil resources are at the top of the list.
North Korea, faced with total economic collapse, is unpredictable and makes a U.S. Army division-plus an indispensable tripwire in South Korea. Everything else is marginal – and debatable.
America’s global military footprint (outside of Iraq and Afghanistan) tops $250 billion a year. There are still 200 U.S. military facilities in Germany 65 years after World War II. U.S. military hospitals as an intermediary stage home for U.S. casualties in transit from Afghanistan and Iraq are important. All else is marginal. If U.S. Central Commandand Special Operations Command can be in Tampa, Fla., why not U.S. European Command in Norfolk, Va., where NATO’s Atlantic command is based?
World War II hastened the end of the British Empire, but it took several decades to manage its decline. The partition of India and the creation of Pakistan in 1947 triggered a bloodbath that took 1 million lives.
There were several more last gasps of empire before a British government decided in October 2010 to live within its means, slashing defense to where it no longer could be used to defend the Falkland Islands against another Argentine invasion, as it did successfully in 1982.
In the mid-1950s, British-controlled Aden, Yemen, was the world’s largest bunkering port, servicing traffic in and out of the Red Sea and Suez Canal. But in 1967, Britain took another drubbing as it exited Aden. Then, a year later, London, under Laborite Harold Wilson, gave up all of its commitments and obligations east of Suez, from the canal to the Persian Gulf to Singapore. It took another 10 years to turn over Hong Kong to its original owner.
From Oman, at the entrance to the Persian Gulf, all the way up to Kuwait, Britain kept the peace until 1972 with the British-officered Trucial Oman Scouts for a total annual outlay of $40 million. The Nixon Doctrine succeeded Pax Britannica in the Gulf, and the shah of Iran became America’s proxy.
The shah was overthrown in 1979, and a hostile, obscurantist religious dictatorship has kept the rest of the Gulf in psychological thrall ever since.
The French empire unraveled with 16 years of rear-guard fighting (1946-54 and 1954-62) – eight years in Indochina, followed by a six-month break before another eight years of warfare in Algeria. World War II hero Charles de Gaulle rode to the rescue and managed decline by putting France on the road to modernity – with nuclear weapons and a new high-tech vision of the future (which produced the Caravel and the supersonic Concorde).
Is the time at hand for a new leader to manage the decline of the modern American empire? Iraq clearly was an expensive geopolitical illusion, a weird concoction of motives inspired by neocons who thought they were making Israel more secure.
Precisely the opposite was achieved. Seven years and $1 trillion later, Iran has more influence in Iraq than the United States. Its agents are dropping off the occasional million-dollar bundle to keep Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s chief of staff sweet and compliant.
Psychologically, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is more beholden to Tehran these days than to Washington. After the United States coughed up $1 trillion it didn’t have to fight the Iraq war, Baghdad still has less electric power than it had under Saddam Hussein.
None of our modern knuckleheaded empire builders, who thought they perceived Israel’s interests more clearly than the rest of the country, understood that Saddam, albeit a cruel dictator, was our best defense against Iranian expansionism.
In 1980, Saddam had taken on the evil empire next door. But Iran’s obscurantist zealots used teenagers with golden keys to paradise to walk across Iraqi minefields, and a million dead and eight years later, the two Gulf giants fought themselves to a Mexican standoff.
The decline of the American empire may be hastened by another war in the Gulf – this time triggered by Israeli and/or U.S. bombs on Iran’s nuclear installations. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad appears to be pushing his luck by moving Iran’s frontiers to Israel’s borders – with Hezbollah to the north in Lebanon, Syria to the east and Hamas in Gaza to the south.
Iran’s medieval hawks have convinced themselves that an asymmetrical Gulf war would speed up the end of what they call “American imperial colonialism.”
The burdens of a global Pax Americana have shunted domestic priorities off center stage. Long postponed and now increasingly urgent infrastructure projects are pending.
Bridges, roads, railroads, airports (from runways to terminals to air-traffic control), schools and hospitals all have deteriorated to what author Arianna Huffington’s new book describes in the title – “Third World America.” One trillion dollars’ worth of urgent infrastructure is in arrears.
The once-acclaimed Acela Express in the Eastern corridor is an embarrassing joke next to the high-speed trains of Europe, Japan and China. A bullet train that covers the equivalent mileage of Washington to New York in 90 minutes made its debut last week on China’s rapid-rail network of 2,869 miles.
At the same time, the United States is awash with unemployed – pushing 18 million if one includes those who have given up looking and whose benefits have run out. Surely this points to a domestic Marshall Plan for a high-tech renaissance. But the current political rumblings – from the Tea Party to ultraliberal kibitzing – leave little hope for a quiescent phase of historical reawakening.
Meanwhile, China continues to spread its worldwide influence – without the military. Its new supercomputer just beat America’s, with a speed of 1.4 quadrillion operations per second.
DE BORCHGRAVE: Afghan peace solution
Mullah Omar’s deal is still on the table
By Arnaud de Borchgrave The Washington Times 5:53 p.m., Tuesday, October 26, 2010
America’s 17 intelligence agencies have spent more than half-a-trillion dollars – more than $500,000,000,000 – since Sept. 11, 2001, most of it on the global war on terror, and the Obama administration still believes that if Taliban supreme Mullah Mohammed Omar were to return to power in Kabul, al Qaeda would be back, too – “in a heartbeat.” And this despite much evidence to the contrary.
Recent weeks have produced a number of reports about “negotiations” between some Taliban elements and the Kabul government as well as with U.S. and NATO intermediaries. There were contacts but no negotiations and none of the Taliban participants was authorized to speak on behalf of the reclusive and secretive, Mullah Omar, in hiding since the U.S. invasion collapsed his regime in October 2001.
Judging from Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke’s appearance on Fareed Zakaria’s “GPS” program on Sunday, there is still little knowledge of what has been in the public domain since June 14, 2001.
UPI consultant Ammar Turabi, a Pakistan-born American, and this reporter, sat cross-legged on the carpeted mud floor of Mullah Omar’s spartan adobe house on the west end of Kandahar and listened to the reclusive war leader’s list of complaints about Osama bin Laden.
The world’s most wanted terrorist – and the scion of a wealthy Saudi family – was expelled from Sudan under Western pressure in 1996 and decided to return to the country of his wartime exploits against the Soviet Union. Mullah Omar, still consolidating his civil war victory, was paid handsomely by bin Laden, who then began setting up terrorist training camps. But it soon became apparent that bin Laden was overplaying his hand.
The 1998 terrorist bombing of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania had been planned while bin Laden was living in Khartoum. But the bombing of the USS Cole in Aden harbor was clearly planned from Afghanistan.
The ideological and personality differences between the two leaders have long been misunderstood. Taliban is an indigenous movement made up of mostly ethnic Pashtuns, midwifed by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency to put an end to the civil war and fill a vacuum left by the Soviet retreat from Afghanistan in February 1989.
Mullah Omar consolidated his power with the title of Amir-ul-Mumineen (supreme commander of the faithful) in the “Islamic Emirate” of Afghanistan, a medieval theocratic dictatorship and pitiless inquisition that deprived women of all rights – except to stay home to cook and take care of the children and to go to market covered head to foot in a burqa.
Mullah Omar and his immediate entourage made clear to Mr. Turabi, a multilinguist, and me that any fatwa issued by bin Laden declaring jihad, or holy war, was “null and void.” He explained that bin Laden hadn’t completed his 12 years of mandatory Koranic studies to qualify for the position of mufti.
The Afghan supreme leader also told us bin Laden isn’t allowed any contact with the media or foreign government representatives. And bin Laden himself had finally sworn fealty to Mullah Omar in a statement published in April 2001, two months before our trip – “Amir-ul-Mumineen is the ruler and legitimate amir who is ruling by the Shariah of Allah.”
Bin Laden, the ambitious global braggadocio, was not what Mullah Omar the recluse had in mind. Some intermarriage between the two families was arranged. Between the two leaders, it was a shotgun wedding. Mullah Omar resented the worldwide publicity bin Laden was getting from invited foreign journalists, including CNN’s Peter Bergen, from 1996 through 1999, and warned him to cut it out.
The one-eyed, 6-foot-6-inch, five-times-wounded guerrilla leader against the Soviet occupation, made clear to us the Taliban regime would like to “resolve or dissolve” the bin Laden issue. In return, he expected the United States to establish a dialogue to work out an acceptable solution that would lead to “an easing and then lifting of United Nations sanctions that are strangling and killing the people of the emirate.”
Afghanistan, according to Mullah Omar’s entourage, has suggested to the United States (via the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan) and to the United Nations that international “monitors” keep bin Laden under observation pending a resolution of the case, “but so far we have received no reply.”
Aides said they had also informed the United States they were putting bin Laden on trial for his alleged crimes and requested that evidence be presented. The court allegedly sat for 30 days without evidence being presented against bin Laden. It extended its hearing for another 10 days, according to the same aides, to give the U.S. side time to act. But nothing materialized, said the aides.
Bin Laden, for his part, swore on the Koran he had nothing to do with the terrorist bombings in Kenya, Tanzania and Aden and that he isn’t responsible for what others do who claim to know him.
All our interlocutors kept telling us “the Koran forbids the taking of the lives of women, children and old people in strife, conflict and war.” Mullah Omar said the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, which the United States says bin Laden ordered, are “criminal acts and the perpetrators are criminals and should be so judged.”
It would be interesting to know whether President Obama ever read what Mullah Omar had to say three months before Sept. 11. In his interview with Mr. Zakaria on Sunday, it became clear Mr. Holbrooke hadn’t. Unknown, too, is the Saudi link with Mullah Omar.
Mr. Holbrooke, the diplomatic magician who engineered the 1995 Dayton Peace Accords, ending the Bosnia war, knows from personal experience nothing was possible without the hated Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic. This time, exchange Dayton for Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and the late Milosevic for Mullah Omar. Add Pakistan and remove Afghan President Hamid Karzai. And you may get a peace deal that would enable 44 nations involved in Afghanistan to go home.
This was a direct message to this reporter from Mullah Omar.