I continually try to convince myself that thickheadedness isn’t a prerequisite for employment at the Guardian, but (daily, it seems) those blokes keep letting me down. Dammit guys, gimme one day where you don’t fill your comment pages with foolishness and I’ll consider myself lucky. Is that asking too much?

According to Jonathan Freedland, apparently so. I suppose this post is especially apt right now, coming as it does right after my defense of fisking. So let’s get to it then.

The world has every right to feel angry. Not just with the perpetrators of the Saturday night massacre in Bali, but with the governments who vowed to wage a “war on terror” which would make attacks like it less likely.

Of course, no one is accusing our leaders of having a chance to prevent this act of mass murder and deliberately failing to take it. (No one, that is, except the conspiracy obsessives of radical Islamism, already spreading the word that Saturday’s bombers were US agents, seeking to justify and intervention.)

I’d just like to make the point that I highly doubt you’ll find that the majority of people saying this attack was perpetrated by a Western conspiracy are Islamist radicals. That is of course, unless you lump in a vast majority of the population of the Middle East in that extremist category. It would be instructive to remember at this point that government sponsored newspapers all over the mideast, their “papers of record” all “reported” on, and editorialized on the veracity of the disgusting myth that the Mossad had carried out the attacks. This was the most mainstream of mainstream media, and the vaunted “Arab street” believed it wholeheartedly (not that they wouldn’t have anyway without the collusion of Arab media).

I would also like to point out that it was outlets like the Guardian who issued a full-court press, immediately post-9/11, to treat this as a criminal matter, to seek out and capture the members of al Qeada and try them as we would any other criminals. Repeatedly we were told that the idea of a “War on Terrorism” was a foolhardy and unethical affair.

And yet now those same sources are the biggest cheerleaders for prosecuting exclusively the WOT and disregarding any other concern (ie Saddam) as tangential and unimportant, because of course, the WOT is so very important! I hope you will forgive me if I jump to the cynical conclusion that you merely have a knee-jerk anti-American response to whatever action is proposed. I’m a simplistic American, after all.


But there is much western governments promised to do after 9/11 which would at least have obstructed the path of the men who plotted evil last weekend. Washington called it a “war on terror” and, with remarkably little resistance, most of the world’s people either signed up for it or acquiesced in it. Prevention of horrors like Saturday’s was the new strategy’s primary purpose. Yet all too little of that “war” effort has actually materialised .

I beg to differ.

No, actually, I full-throatedly demand differing. First of all, I would like to know in what warped alternate reality does the phrase “remarkably little reistance” refer to constant, repeated, high-pitched criticisms about the conduct and even the very nature of the WOT as initially outlined by Bush? Any statement made by the president was greeted with derision and “enlightened” scorn by our apparent social and moral betters in the EU. Perhaps, considering just how softheaded and generally cowardly the EU is in its outlook towards foreign policy, we can say that it was “remarkable” that they didn’t try to have the US expelled from the UN or declared a rogue state for its actions. Thank you for your cooperation, fellas.

Secondly, what is maybe an even greater insult to reality is Freedman’s contention that the WOT hasn’t really “materialised.” I thought journalists were suppose to like, watch the news, at least once in a while (although I wouldn’t be particularly shocked were it to turn out that the Guardian actually got all it’s ideas from a Ouji board or magic 8 ball). Let’s read a bit more before we go on to say exactly why this apparent phony phantasm of a real WOT ranks so high on the silliness scale.

This new global gameplan was meant to have two core elements at least according to its British advocates. First would be a ruthless, unblinking pursuit of al-Qaida. In the pained weeks that followed the attacks on New York and Washington, citizens in the US and beyond imagined the full force of the state – its army, police and the complete battery of its secret services – deployed against the new enemy. Nothing would be allowed to distract from this goal. If that meant unholy alliances, so be it. If that meant temporarily shelving other foreign policy interests, OK: hunting down Osama bin Laden and his henchmen was to be the sole priority.

On this view, Afghanistan was merely the beginning. Uprooting the al-Qaida bases that had mushroomed there was necessary, but hardly sufficient. The whole terrifying point about al-Qaida was that it was not located in one targetable territory, neatly confined to one set of borders. Instead it had spread like a vapour to as many as 50 countries, with up to 100,000 militants ready for action. Bombing a few camps would hardly reach this enemy at all.

So essentially what you’re saying is that you want to have more big noises and things that blow up real good like in Afghanistan?

I have to admit, a wide-eyed wish for shiny, blood-spattered carnage isn’t the sort of thing I expect a Guardian columnist to be pining for. It’s a weird and wonderous world we live in.

After all, you seem to be saying that there are no more high-profile, Afghanistan-like military campaigns means somehow that we have given up on the WOT . I don’t suppose you’ve forgotten about that prison in Cuba where there are several hundred guys who used to be cowering in caves now enjoying three squares a day and Muslim services, courtesy of the US Army? I seem to remember you guys were pretty upset about it or something a while back.

We haven’t given up, but what we have done is direct military resources elsewhere since their mass presence searching out Al Qeada would no longer be productive, since we already have shattered thoroughly the main base of operations of Bin Laden’s group. By all accounts, he himself is dead. Vast numbers of his lieutenents have been captured or killed. The ruling entity that harbored them is broken and gone. The operating head of the organization has been cut off, smashed into 50 pieces, burned, and had its ashes scattered to the four corners.

Think of Al Qeada as a toxic spill. It’s a rather simple job of cleaning up the first 95% of that spill. You just send in a bunch of dumptrucks and guys in special suits, and they scrape the shit off the ground and cart it away to like, New Jersey, or wherever. But it’s the last 5% that takes a long time, and getting rid of that is a much more precise and slow process, because now you’re talking about investigations into how much of the stuff has seeped into the ground and whether it has reached the groundwater, etc, etc. This part of the operation is lengthy, expensive and labor-intensive, and not particularly visible. Well, we’re in the 5% stage of the Al Qeada spill now, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it lasted years and we never saw another grand military action like that of Afghanistan. But just because you don’t see lots of bombs dropping and jets going whoosh! doesn’t mean the WOT has stopped, it just means we’ve got a smaller group of guys in white coats quietly and painstakingly doing geological and toxicological analysis rather than a small army shoveling green glowing goop into the backs of trucks.

Which brings us to the second prong of the war on terror many of us thought we signed up to a year ago. This held that if al-Qaida was truly to be defeated, killing or arresting its activists would not do the trick: lopping off a head today would only make another grow tomorrow. Every counter-terrorist struggle in the world, from Algiers to Belfast, had taught the same lesson: in the end, there can be no military victory over an enemy which enjoys even a limited degree of popular support. Instead, there has to be political action. Not an attempt to compromise with the killers – Bin-Laden is hardly demanding roundtable talks – but to win over the constituency that offers them tacit backing: to drain the sea in which they swim.

Hmmm… now this sound suspiciously like the same tired point that’s been beating itself to death since 9/12: the “root causes” hobgoblin . Let’s find out…

That meant, among other things, a new alternative energy strategy, aimed eventually at weaning the west off oil. No longer would the US and others need to manipulate the Middle East just to safeguard their petrol supply. They could let the peoples of the Arab world choose their own governments for once. The US would move its troops out of Saudi Arabia, healing one of the sores Bin-Laden most likes to inflame: the presence of “infidels” on holy Muslim soil. And Washington would pick up where Clinton left off, devoting serious political muscle to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Genuine movement in that area would instantly rob the Islamists of one of their greatest recruiting pitches.

Excuse me???

I don’t exactly recall Bush (or anyone else who actually had anything significant to do with forming policy) saying anything about defeating Islamists through the use of solar powered-cars. That was your (idiotic) idea, and it was rightfully dismissed as jelly-headed folly. It must be nice to live in a fantasy world where everything you believe is automatically agreed upon and implemented by the powers that be.

Bin-Laden was allowed to vanish,

The way a frog vanishes when you stick a firecracker in its mouth.

…along with the Taliban leader Mullah Omar, who escaped the wrath of the mightiest army in the world on board a clapped-out motorbike.

And he’s been raining holy terror on us ever since, huh?

The jump-suited captives at Camp X-Ray appear too low-level to have much useful to say. Nor do the US intelligence agencies inspire much confidence: they remain at war with each other while their political masters tend to hear only what they want to hear.

I wish I had your complete clairvoyance so that I, too, could see with crystal clarity into the innermost workings of the most secretive government agencies and make generalized pronouncements about them. You’ll never hear about all the terrorist attacks that were foiled by these apparent bumbling fools, because they were, well. .. foiled.

None of this is a surprise. For the prosecutors of the war on terror – who promised to focus like a laser beam – have let their eye wander. Like the rulers of Orwell’s 1984, our leaders have urged us to switch our hatred overnight not from Eastasia to Eurasia but from al-Qaida to Baghdad. Now we are to believe Saddam is the urgent, number one priority.


Of course.


Al Qeada, Bahgdad… equally constructed boogeymen, that’s it and that’s all. Anyone who doesn’t see this LOVES BIG BROTHER.

It’s nice that Freedman doesn’t bother going into any of the arguments that make it very clear that Bahgdad is part of a similar, probably linked, and much greater threat than Al Qeada, cuz then he would have to go through the process of looking stupid for another three or four paragraphs trying to belittle them.

Bali has proved why that is a woeful error. A war on Iraq will win yet more backing for jihadism in the Muslim world, apparently concerning all Bin Laden’s most lurid predictions of a clash of west against Islam.

What’s that I hear? Whispers in the background? They’re saying…. ARAB STREET .

Ah… you forget grasshopper, the only way that Bin Ladenism and his bananer claims about a final West v. Islam showdown will seem attractive in the least is if they can produce actual victories, because that’s what will galvanize the Arab street, something that was demonstrated exhaustively in the last year. After the attacks, cheering and rallies. After Afghanistan, silence. All we needed was some tumbleweeds and the picture of the Arab street ghostown would have been complete. The way to dry up Al Qeada’s pool of recruits is to pound it into their thick skulls that taking up Bin Laden’s flag is the fastest road to a quick, painful, useless death.

last update : 23-5-2018

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